Two days after the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) brokered peace with the Congress, party chief Sharad Pawar got down to strengthening his party base in Maharashtra. In a bid to woo the Dalit votebank ahead of the 2014 polls, Pawar on Friday signaled a strategic tie-up with the Panthers Republican Party (PRP), which has a sizeable presence in Marathwada.
Pawar was the chief guest at a function hosted by the PRP to commemorate the name change of Marathwada University to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar 17 years ago. It was Pawar, the then chief minister, who cleared the change of name of the Marathwada University in face of enormous political opposition. He lost power in the election that followed. Incidentally, Gangadhar Gade, president of the PRP, was the face of the Dalit agitation in Marathwada.
On Friday, the NCP leader said he would throw his entire political weight behind the Panthers Republican Party to fulfill its charter of demands. "If you forget your egos and unite, there can be a transformation in politics. If we come together, we can create several opportunities for the deprived classes," said Pawar.
Pawar’s decision to announce Gade as an ally points to the NCP's seriousness to expand its base in Marathwada and among Dalits. Gade has also been positioned to replace a long time ally of NCP, Ramdas Athawale, who switched loyalties to the Shiv Sena.
In a jibe aimed at Athawale, Pawar said he had given several opportunities to a Dalit leader, but they did not translate into greater good for the community. He promised to take meetings at the Central level, and direct his nephew Ajit Pawar to take meetings at the state, to fulfill all 11 demands made by the PRP. On his part, Gade slammed his rival Athawale saying it was betrayal of the highest order to join hands with the Sena.
The NCP is looking at Marathwada as its next frontier as it has reached a plateau of power in its home turf of Western Maharashtra and Konkan. It has nine legislators here and has scope to do better in the next polls. The party of sugar barons is also hoping for an image makeover by wooing backward classes.
Pawar made no reference to the recent rift with Congress. Political observers said Pawar's quick immersion into state politics after the tussle points to a focused approach to 2014 polls, where the Congress may or may not be an ally.