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Political face-offs didn’t sour Vajpayee’s friendship with Pawar

Despite being on opposite sides, Vajpayee and Pawar respected each other’s political acumen

mumbai Updated: Aug 17, 2018 01:12 IST
Faisal Malik
Faisal Malik
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Vajpayee,BJP
In spite of the role Sharad Pawar played in the no-confidence motion of 1999, the equation between Vajpayee and Pawar remained cordial.(HT FILE)

n 1999, a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee faced a no-confidence motion after 13 months in power. Faced with some formidable resistance from regional leaders like J Jayalalithaa and Mayawati, the government fell because it was short of one vote. One of the politicians who played a key role in bringing the Opposition together was Sharad Pawar, then a member of the Congress party.

“Pawar was so confident about the future of Vajpayee government that a day before, he had predicted that the government will be short of one vote, as per his calculation, which turned out to be true the next day,” said journalist Anant Bagaitkar, who at the time covered national politics for a prominent Marathi daily.

And yet, despite being on opposite sides, Vajpayee and Pawar respected each other’s political acumen.

“His passing away is a personal loss, having spent numerous years in our parliamentary life together, and an irreparable loss to our country,” said Pawar, who formed his own party, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 199.

On Wednesday, when the All India Institute of Medical Sciences released a notice saying Vajpayee’s medical condition was critical, Pawar wished him a speedy recovery on Twitter: “Deeply concerned with the critical health condition of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji! He is one of the greatest Indian leaders we have seen.” Hours after the veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader passed away on Thrusday, Pawar described him as a “Bharatratna” (jewel of the nation). “I pray eternal peace for his departed soul,” said Pawar.

In spite of the role Pawar played in the no-confidence motion of 1999, the equation between Vajpayee and Pawar remained cordial, with Vajpayee recommending the NCP leader’s name for committees like the joint parliamentary committee set up to probe allegations of pesticide residue in soft drinks.

A close aide of Pawar’s remembers Vajpayee and Pawar meeting during that time, after the no-confidence motion of 1999 and before Pawar formed NCP. “Only both of them know what they had discussed but Pawar was considering the option of joining the NDA. Senior BJP leader, the late Pramod Mahajan, a personal friend of Pawar’s and a protégé of Vajpayee, was in touch with him [Pawar] during those days,” said the aide. Pawar’s decision to not join the NDA didn’t affect the two leaders’ friendship.

“Even when he was prime minister, Vajpayeeji made it a point to fly down to Mumbai to attend 61st birthday celebrations of Pawar saheb in 2001.

He had also appointed the NCP chief as vice chairman of the National Committee on Disaster Management following Kutch earthquake,” said Nawab Malik, chief spokesperson of NCP.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 01:12 IST