Sharad Pawar – Not the master of all he surveys?
Sharad Pawar has, for years, had a favourite comparison for the Congress. The party is like a zamindar of yore who once stood on his terrace and took pride in the fact that as far as the eye could see, and even beyond the horizon, everything belonged to him. Now he sits there dismally as the space shrinks and his territory gets confined to his garden wall and what he now sees beyond belongs to someone else. Yet he can’t do a thing to regain his lost territory because the people no longer care for him as master, and he desperately tries to cling on to his shrinking space, hoping a miracle will restore what once belonged to him.
Sadly, that is exactly what is happening today to Pawar and his NCP. I can’t help but think of him as the zamindar desperately trying to hold on to his property while all his family retainers and minions desert him for warmer climes. I believe he brought this upon himself in more ways than one.
The NCP’s very nature is such that its leaders cannot survive without power. Most of them are sugar barons – a fact that Pawar deliberately exploited when he was planning to split the Congress and form the NCP. He planned months ahead by manipulating his nephew Ajit into the position of the apex co-operative bank chairman, who then deliberately held on to the loan applications of sugar co-operatives to arm twist their promoters to join NCP.
The co-operatives’ nature is such that they cannot afford to be on the wrong side of the government and most sugar barons are wholly dependent on their politics to run their businesses and vice versa. So, many of them joined Pawar not out of love for him or for the NCP, but to safeguard their interests. They had faced five years of pressure by the Shiv Sena-BJP regime during their first term in power, but then the ruling alliance wasn’t too well versed in the ways of the sugar barons to break the backs of the cooperatives. Soon after the 1999 elections (which were a few months after NCP’s formation) when Congress unexpectedly emerged in the lead, these barons compelled Pawar into an alliance with the mother party, so they could return to power and safeguard their businesses.
Now with no signs of the Congress reviving before the assembly polls, and the NCP clearly unable to make it without riding piggy back on the Congress, many NCP leaders are having second thoughts about Pawar’s ability to return them to power.
The BJP has been working overtime for the past five years to break the NCP’s stranglehold over the co-operative sector, including those related to agricultural marketing committees – and, by extension, the farmers. It has succeeded to a large extent in superseding these bodies by placing its own people in positions of authority. So it is but natural that those wishing to safeguard their interests should join the ruling alliance, as they had joined Pawar for the same reasons in 1999.
Moreover, they are concerned about Pawar’s health and ability to go on until the Congress-NCP return to power and have no faith in the abilities of the GenNext – Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule – to deliver the goods to them in the future.
There are other ways too that Pawar has only himself to blame. His series of flirtations with Narendra Modi and the BJP has blurred the ideological lines for many from NCP who would rather make their own arrangements with the Sena or BJP to safeguard their interests than subject themselves to Pawar’s blow-hot-blow-cold shenanigans that leave them on tenterhooks.
The fact that Pawar’s detractors have been making him the butt of jokes – recently there was a WhatsApp forward claiming Pawar would recharge the mobile phones of drought-affected farmers for free – shows they no longer stand in awe of him. He is still the last man standing for the NCP-Congress. But Maharashtra’s political dynamics has undergone a sea change. And Pawar is no longer its uncrowned king. Many princelings are waiting to take over.