?Is life worth a sari??

Updated on Apr 20, 2004 08:36 PM IST

Sharad Pawar says he feels ashamed that 22 people died for one sari.

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Sharad Pawar is back after a stint at the hospital for surgery and is keeping a punishing schedule with a doctor in tow. "I had to secure special permission from the EC to do so," he told Sujata Anandan at the end of a hard day's work on the first day of his return to the campaign trail. Excerpts:

What gives you the energy to set such a tremendous pace for yourself shortly after you were discharged from hospital?
(Smiles) Because I am committed to the cause.

What cause?
I feel sorry about some of the things that are happening in the country. Look at the Best Bakery fiasco. Where are we heading? Did our forefathers fight for freedom for this? Where is the feel good for rural inhabitants of this country? I feel ashamed that 22 persons died (in the Lucknow stampede) for one sari. Is the price of life just one sari? I expected Vajpayee to announce that he would not contest from Lucknow, but instead he justified the incident by saying he saw nothing wrong the sari distribution function.

Your illness had the Congress-NCP combine very nervous.
Congress candidates were more worried than the NCP. What can I do if they have no second-rung leaders? We have plenty of them in the NCP. In my absence Chhaghan Bhujbal, R.R. Patil and Ajit Pawar were doing a good job. The second-rung got a chance to show their mettle.

So will you name one of them your heir?

The criticism against you is that you are like a banyan tree and do not allow anyone to grow in your shadow.
You cannot thrust a leader upon anybody. I have a quiver full of them (second rung leaders). One of them will rise to the top eventually. But he must do so on his own. People will not accept anyone I impose upon them.

How many seats do you think each alliance might win?
I have not travelled the rest of the country and I do not trust media reports so I cannot say. But I can tell you that the NDA will lose substantially from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Delhi and of course, Maharashtra (he's giving Congress-NCP 35 seats). They may gain marginally in Punjab, but that will not be enough. Their position will be far worse than in the dissolved House.

If the Congress-led alliance does well won’t there be a dilemma? Sonia Gandhi will not work under anybody and very few might want to work under her.
I don't think anyone will take rigid positions on this. We may elect some other leader. There are many leaders. Or we may sit across the table and resolve the issue. I do not think this problem is intractable.

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