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Widening divide between Congress and NCP could hurt the Opposition in Maharashtra

The bitterness between the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress is likely to grow in the coming days

mumbai Updated: Aug 14, 2017 19:16 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
mumbai,mumbaicolumn,mu7mbai news
In fact, when Pawar was forming the party in 1998-99, joining the NDA was one of the options before him.(HT)

The events that took place in Gujarat and New Delhi in the past few days are likely to have an impact on Maharashtra politics.

The bitterness between the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress is likely to grow in the coming days. It started with the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat, which saw senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel narrowly escaping defeat. While NCP insisted that one of its two legislators had voted for Patel (the other one told the media that he had voted for the BJP candidate), the Congress leaders in New Delhi said they did not believe so. Following this, Pawar skipped a meeting of opposition parties called by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. It has (once again) started speculations that the NCP will soon join the BJP led National Democratic Alliance. Will Pawar do so after advocating secularism all his political life? This question is doing the rounds in state’s political circles though not many were surprised with the bonhomie between Pawar and the BJP.

It is not something new. In fact, when Pawar was forming the party in 1998-99, joining the NDA was one of the options before him. And there was a reason behind it: The NCP was as much a product of Pawar’s ambition as it was a fallout of Pawar’s tussle with some senior leaders in the Congress top brass in the late nineties. After the 1998 Lok Sabha elections brought the BJP government to power, Pawar was made the group leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. He became Opposition Leader on the floor of the house, which started a tussle between him and his adversaries in the party top brass.. This tussle ultimately led to Pawar quitting the party a year later. Pawar had never hidden his prime ministerial ambitions and it apparently kept making the Congress top brass uneasy, say his aides. Ahead of every Lok Sabha election between 1999 and 2009, there used to speculations that Pawar would be the choice to lead a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition at the Centre. At the same time, he was not an enemy of the BJP. Late Pramod Mahajan was a good friend of Pawar and he was well aware of Pawar’s plans to quit the Congress and form his own party. Even after he split from the party, there were speculations that Pawar would join the Vajpayee government. Somehow, it didn’t work out. According to BJP insiders, Pawar-Mahajan would have favoured a BJP-NCP alliance government in Maharashtra as well. However, 1999 Assembly polls threw such a mandate that NCP and Congress had no option but to come together to form the government. That also formed the base for his entry to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as a constituent. Pawar stayed with the UPA till 2014. The selection of Prithviraj Chavan as chief minister started the second spell of trouble between Congress and NCP. The NCP leaders blamed Chavan for various documents related to irrigation and Maharashtra Sadan scams reaching the hands of Opposition leaders as well as anti-corruption activists. On the other hand, Chavan has been maintaining that there were no secrets left in the government after the right to information law came into existence.

The bitter tussle reached such a stage that both Pawar and his nephew Ajit decided to end the alliance with the Congress ahead of assembly elections (“I will ensure that Chavan doesn’t remain CM before the assembly is dissolved”, Ajit Pawar had told his close aides days before the decision was taken in 2014).

Ultimately, the two parties contested separately which turned out to be one of the reasons for their loss.Since then, the Congress has not made any efforts to ensure that NCP stays with them. On the other hand, after its 2014 victory, the BJP leadership has been nurturing Pawar. It also yielded results as the NCP often did not close ranks with the Opposition when BJP needed help in Rajya Sabha where it did not have the majority.

The BJP will be happy if the NCP floats a separate front to contest the next assembly elections, say people in both parties. That will reduce the Congress’ share of Opposition votes and prove to be advantage BJP.

Of course, a lot depends on what Pawar thinks. He has been hobnobbing with the BJP but has always been cautious enough not to join its front so that his traditional voters stay with his party. He will also wait for the outcome of the assembly elections in the next two years ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If the NCP joins the NDA it won’t be a bad news at all for the Congress since the latter can get most of the opposition space in the state. However, if NCP contests separately, it surely will hurt Opposition’s prospects.

First Published: Aug 14, 2017 18:44 IST