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Fear is the key to the NCP

Sharad Pawar is not unaware of ground realities but is playing both sides as he has to protect both his personal interests and political turf

mumbai Updated: Aug 08, 2017 23:59 IST
Sujata Anandan
After Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra would be a big catch for the BJP.
After Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra would be a big catch for the BJP.(HT FILE)

For more than a year now, there has been a fierce tussle in the Nationalist Congress Party over support to the BJP. At a party meeting some months ago, the two sides even nearly came to blows as the independent side accused the BJP supporters of having sold Pawar’s reputation for fierce independence down the drain. “Tumhi sahebana vikat ghetla aahe (You have bought him),” was the exact accusation. The dispute was resolved only when Pawar, who had been listening silently to the altercation, suddenly piped up to say he considered Modi a great leader who would take the country forward by leaps and bounds.

The sarcasm in his deadpan tone was evident to his supporters and that silenced those rooting for the BJP for some months. But NCP workers were right that those with business interests to safeguard in Gujarat and elsewhere, including Maharashtra, had compromised Pawar who was holding out only because of the socialist ethos he had been brought up in and that was ingrained into his personal constitution.

But now with all the arbitrary dealings of the ruling party with the opposition — look at last week’s income tax raid against the Karnataka minister who had financed the sequestering of Gujarat MLAS in Bangalore — fear is what is driving the NCP to support the BJP. The I-T raid against the Karnataka minister DS Shiva Kumar may have yielded nothing but I am not so sure the NCP would have covered its tracks sufficiently to avoid escaping action from government authorities.

While, despite finger pointing over the years, there has been not an iota of evidence against Sharad Pawar, the same cannot be said about others in his party. Pawar has been rendered particularly vulnerable by his nephew’s alleged involvement in a multi-crore irrigation scam and even Congress chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Prithviraj Chavan had enough documents to prove that complicity but they held their fire owing to coalition compulsions. There are others, though. While the ruling dispensation has so far ignored cases in Maharashtra, barring that relating to former public works department minister Chhagan Bhujbal who is already cooling his heels in jail, some relating to NCP ministers in the Union government have already caught their eye though there is nothing yet to suggest they may go much ahead in seeing them to their conclusion.

But that is a message to the NCP to toe the line or face the consequences and, after Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra would be a big catch for the BJP. The NCP ‘s decision to vote for the BJP too in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls ( it has two MLAs in the state and apparently one voted for the Congress and the other for the BJP) is a step in that direction but, as yet, the glass is only half full and Pawar not quite fully in the bag.

But it is unlikely that the NCP will survive this betrayal of its own cause at the grassroots, either in Gujarat or in Maharashtra. In Gujarat, the NCP at best can play third fiddle to the BJP, after the JD (U) which will continue to be of more importance to the ruling party for a long time to come.

In Maharashtra, recent surveys by the Shiv Sena, I am told, are already indicating that the ‘hand’ is rising in rural areas. That is the space that the NCP is conceding to the Congress which may have done nothing right in recent times but the people believe it has done nothing wrong either. After the BJP, it was the Congress that led during the civic polls early this year across Maharashtra and that position is being automatically consolidated with the Sena having to share its urban space with the BJP while the rural might almost completely back the Congress. If the NCP is on the BJP’s side, three parties in the same space would be a crowd for the voters with only the Congress offering them a choice.

Clearly Pawar is not unaware of these ground realities but is playing both sides as he has to protect both his personal interests and political turf. So I would think it is now the turn of the BJP to savour Pawar’s fickleness. What you see is not what you get with Sharad Pawar.