All puppets on NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s strings
‘Pawar now seems to have outmanoeuvred all other political parties in the state’mumbai Updated: Nov 14, 2017 18:00 IST
Many years ago, in this very column, I had described Sharad Pawar as a cat with nine lives. He was then the Union agriculture minister lurching from crisis to crisis, both in terms of personal reputation and government failures and still managing to come out on top. In the past three years, if I ever believed he had lost his way in the thick of the BJP’s domination of the country, I may be forgiven for judging him as a normal human being, not a superhero. But, last week, it became very apparent that Pawar has been running rings round the government, both in the Centre and the state and is not a cat but a master puppeteer.
A few weeks ago, I would have said Pawar was straddling two boats — flirting with the BJP and at the same time attempting to maintain the socialist ethos of his party — and in danger of falling between the two. But Pawar now seems to have outmanoeuvred all other political parties in the state, including the BJP and the Shiv Sena, with the Congress already a willing puppet on his strings.
Despite going out on a limb to waive the loans of farmers in the state, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is not just struggling to claim the credit for it, he may already have handed the advantage to Pawar by placing the blame for every farmer’s protest at Pawar’s doors. The NCP chief has grabbed that credit with both hands, turning the criticism on its head to look like a compliment, and is now asking for more — the write-off of long term loans for farmers (only short term loans were waived off). Fadnavis is damned if he concedes to the demand and damned if he doesn’t.
Pawar, however, may have already wooed this agrarian community, which had earlier been alienated from the NCP, back to his side. For, last week, he pulled off something that should have been impossible for a man out of power and not quite an ally of the ruling dispensation — he took high ranking officials from the Union agriculture ministry to farmers in Nashik and organised a successful meeting between the two to seek ways out of the farm crisis. Pawar even sat down between the two and interpreted from Marathi to English and back again, extracting several assurances from the officials for support in production, exports and horticulture to the farmers. This was something that the government should have done long ago but now anything the government does in follow up of the promises, farmers are unlikely to give the credit to anyone but Pawar. And if the government stalls on the promises, they risk handing a political tool to Pawar who is likely to make full electoral use of it in the near future.
But this is not all that continues to keep him vested as the uncrowned king of Maharashtra. Why else would Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and his party MP Sanjay Raut call upon him last week after Fadnavis cocked a snook at them saying they were free to stay in government or quit but they could not dictate terms to him any longer? The Sena is troubled by Narayan Rane’s potential entry into the government after Fadnavis’ promised reshuffle before the winter session of the legislature. Obviously, the Sena has painted itself into a corner and they were seeking solutions from Pawar who later said even if the Sena pulls out of the government, the NCP would not come to its rescue.
At the commencement of this government in October 2014, the NCP had offered suo moto support to the BJP under the pretext that they did not want instability in Maharashtra. But now both the Sena and the BJP may have inadvertently handed the strings to Pawar who is increasingly confident of doing better at the hustings than in 2014. He has a constituency of farmers and Marathas all built up again and is also now veering to an alliance with the Congress which is the third among the parties who are all now in some way or the other dependent on him for their survival. That they are all puppets on his string is evident from his persuasion of the Shiv Sena to contest at least 40 seats in the neighbouring state, as a bargaining chip with the BJP, after they had already publicly announced they would stay away from the Gujarat polls.
Labelling Sharad Pawar a cat-o-nine-lives, then, is so passè. He is clearly the ring master of them all.