In terms of numbers in the state assembly, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party stands fourth after the BJP, the Shiv Sena and the Congress. Still, in the past one year since the assembly elections, the NCP chief has kept all parties guessing and sometimes, influencing their moves.
A classic example is what has happened in the past week.
First, Pawar made it clear that he didn’t think it necessary now to support the BJP-led government in the state in case the Sena pulled out. He even slammed the BJP-led government at the Centre and in the state over their failure on various fronts. Two days later, he hosted Union finance minister and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley as the latter paid a two-day-visit to Pawar’s hometown Baramati in Pune district. Attending a function organised by Vidya Pratishthan, an educational institute founded by the NCP chief, Jaitley publicly praised Pawar’s Baramati model of development and opined that it should be replicated across India.
Exactly a year ago, as the assembly elections threw a fractured mandate, the NCP surprised everyone by declaring support to the BJP, even before the results were fully out. Later, his party also helped the central government in the Rajya Sabha where it did not have a majority.
In February this year, the BJP returned the favour with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Baramati and appreciating Pawar. He even revealed how Pawar was always helpful to him when he was the chief minister of Gujarat and the latter was Union agriculture minister in the UPA government.
The friendship however seemed to be taking a backseat in the past couple of months with the state government giving the anti-corruption bureau a go-ahead to take action against NCP leaders facing allegation in irrigation and Maharashtra Sadan irregularities and the NCP launching attack on the government over its handling of drought in the state.
At the same time, the relations between the NCP and the Congress too seemed to be improving again. The two parties even decided to contest elections for Kalyan civic body as well as eight seats to Legislative Council together.
Now, Jaitley’s visit to Baramati and his praise for Pawar has again led to speculations of NCP-BJP coming closer.
So what is happening?
As far as Pawar’s friendship goes, he always had friends in the BJP—former PM Vajpayee, L K Advani, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Pramod Mahajan prominent among them.
In fact, seniors in NCP point out how late Mahajan was one of the few friends Pawar had consulted with before forming NCP in 1998-99.
Those who know Pawar’s brand of politics point out that his decisions won’t be guided by his friendship in rival camps. It would be determined by what the NCP stands to gain politically.
Party insiders say the NCP may support the BJP government from outside if (at all) Sena pulls out and join it after sometime.
However, Fadnavis is strongly opposed to this as he doesn’t want the baggage of NCP’s scams on his head. This is why he wants to continue alliance with Sena even though the relations between the two parties are not exactly cordial following Sena’s latest offensive. It also explains why Pawar is friendly with BJP’s central leaders but keeps criticising the state leadership.
A major section in the Congress-NCP also thinks the current government will lose popularity in two to three years. If that happens, there are chances that Pawar will prefer joining hands with the Congress to win power in 2019.
As it looks today, both the options are open for Pawar. And he is in no hurry to take a decision.
Till then he would love to keep everybody guessing what his next move would be.