Sharad Pawar’s shirt just got whiter!Updated: Aug 01, 2017, 15:01 IST
After last week’s capitulation to Narendra Modi and the BJP by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, one can safely say there are just two men left standing - or at least half-standing - and one woman standing firm against the powers that be: Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
I am not much qualified to comment on Banerjee but, of the two men, I would put my money on Uddhav Thackeray to be more honest, less dissembling and take the fight for survival to the finish. Yet, Nitish Kumar’s desertion of the secularist camp, however fragmented the opposition that act might have rendered, could be a boon to Sharad Pawar - that is, if he still has the political instincts to sense the opportunity and, for once, make a honest bid for it.
Whenever I sit down to analyse the Maratha warlord, I am always struck by how much cleaner he emerges from other’s sins – to turn that famous detergent ad catchline on its head, ‘My shirt is whiter than yours’.
I began life as a journalist looking at Pawar as the ‘eater of the shrikhand of bhookands’, as Chhagan Bhujbal had so evocatively put it when he was with the Shiv Sena. Pawar, as chief minister in the 1980s, had dereserved some 280-odd plots of land in Mumbai for private development and a huge scandal ensued as even some of his own party’s MLAs raised a hue and cry in the Assembly, necessitating then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to order an enquiry into the same. Soon, though, Gandhi was ousted from power, and when some of Pawar’s rivals in the Congress tried to pass off a doctored copy of the NN Vora committee report as indicting Pawar over a hawala racket, he sued all the newspapers and magazines (including two that I worked for) for Rs100 crore each -- I will get every last paisa of that money from them and invest it in Baramati, he had then told me with grim determination -- forcing them to apologise and withdraw the allegations when they could not prove any of it. Soon everybody forgot about Pawar and the plots and, somehow, over the years, he began to look cleaner than many in recent governments across the country.
There is, however, one persistent trait of his that even his faithful loyalists struggle to defend. That of his self-centred politics that led him to give up his mentor Yashwantrao Chavan, his betrayal of promises to supporters and his quick silver changes of sides to suit his best interests. But now the lightning speed with which the Bihar chief minister has swung from one end of the pendulum to the other, somehow, once again, makes Pawar look less politically promiscuous and his shirt whiter in that department. Pawar was never as uncircumspect as Kumar about Modi, so that he would never have to eat his words as Kumar has had to do. And despite his recent flirtations with Modi, his commitment to his socialist ideology is fierce - else he would not have been able to resist the immense pressure on him from some of his acolytes to join hands with the BJP. Unlike Nitish, he is more rooted to his constituency which, he knows, may forgive a flirtation or two with the saffron forces but never countenance sleeping with the enemy.
But while the holier-than-thou Nitish Kumar was still the darling of the liberal secular forces in the country, as the most credible face to run against Modi in 2019, Pawar had not a chance in hell that they would look upon him as anything more than an untrustworthy ally. But now, neither the Congress nor any other opposition party can do what Pawar can - weave them together and become the glue that holds them together to make the 2019 battle hard fought one. I have a sneaking suspicion that, perhaps, Pawar’s moment in history has finally arrived.