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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

24 years later, it’s Sharad Pawar vs BJP again

The Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) in connection with an alleged Rs 25,000-crore scam in the Maharashtra State Cooperative (MSC) Bank filed by the ED against Pawar, his nephew Ajit and others has kicked up a political storm, just as the campaign for the Assembly elections gains momentum.

mumbai Updated: Sep 26, 2019 08:08 IST
Navi Mumbai, India - Sept. 15, 2019:NCP Chief Sharad Pawar held a party Workers meet ahead of State Assembly Election at Ganpat Seth Tandel Maidan Seawoods in Navi Mumbai, India, on Sunday, September 15, 2019. (Photo by Bachchan Kumar/ Hindustan Times)
Navi Mumbai, India - Sept. 15, 2019:NCP Chief Sharad Pawar held a party Workers meet ahead of State Assembly Election at Ganpat Seth Tandel Maidan Seawoods in Navi Mumbai, India, on Sunday, September 15, 2019. (Photo by Bachchan Kumar/ Hindustan Times)(Hindustan Times)
         

For the second time in his five-decade long political career, Sharad Pawar has a case filed against him, and for the first time in connection with allegations of corruption.

“This is the second instance of a case being filed against me in my life. In 1980, I had been arrested after I had undertaken Jalgaon to Mumbai march over the problems of farmers,” Pawar said on Wednesday, declaring he would himself go to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in Mumbai on Friday, to ask them if they need any information from him.

The Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) in connection with an alleged Rs 25,000-crore scam in the Maharashtra State Cooperative (MSC) Bank filed by the ED against Pawar, his nephew Ajit and others has kicked up a political storm, just as the campaign for the Assembly elections gains momentum.

There may or may not be a link between Pawar and the MSC Bank scam (which is expected to be probed), but the development will be used by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to corner the NCP chief, who recently started a statewide tour to revive the Opposition to take on the saffron combine. Pawar will now have to spend some of his time clarifying the allegations against him. This could be similar to the BJP’s campaign against him before 1995, when he was accused of links with the underworld.

In the run-up to the 1995 Assembly elections, BJP leader Gopinath Munde had launched a campaign against “criminalisation of politics” during the tenure of then Congress government alleging then chief minister Sharad Pawar had links with the underworld. The entire poll campaign of the BJP-Sena was aimed at telling voters how Pawar needed to go from power if the state had to be improved. It turned out to be an important factor, as the Congress lost power to the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.

Twenty-four years later, there is a similar offensive against Pawar. This time, the issue is corruption in the cooperative sector of Maharashtra. Although chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has categorically denied any political motive behind the ED action, his party colleagues have started pointing out how Pawar and his colleagues have been responsible for the mess in the cooperatives sector. During the election campaign, the saffron combine will find it easy to corner Pawar saying how the sugar barons and bigwigs in state’s cooperative sector have been usurping benefits in the name of farmers.

How will Pawar counter this?

In 1995, Pawar chose to ignore the allegations of the Opposition, saying he need not come clean on the “frivolous” allegations. In 2019, the response of the Maratha strongman seems to be different. He seems to have decided to take the opponents head-on. That was why he declared that he would be himself visiting ED office on September 27. It is quite possible that the NCP will use the issue to garner sympathy for the veteran politician especially in rural Maharashtra. It is also likely to use even the Maharashtra pride card. “I will cooperate in the investigation, but let me tell you something. This is Maharashtra of Shivaji. It is not our culture to bow down before the throne in Delhi,” said Pawar.

The election, being touted as one-sided, has just started becoming interesting.