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Sharad Pawar’s mantra: Anti-BJP parties must give up anti-Congressism

NCP chief Sharad Pawar believes the Congress, for its part, should also recognise strength of regional players and be realistic in its dealings with them.

opinion Updated: Apr 05, 2018 16:33 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
Sharad Pawar,Anti-BJP parties,Congress
NCP chief Sharad Pawar (left) after a meeting with West Bengal chief minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee with at Parliament house in New Delhi. (PTI File Photo)

Sharad Pawar’s political heft comes as much from the strength of his Maharashtra-centric Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as from his administrative and legislative innings spanning over 50 years. He is the senior-most among Opposition leaders parleying to knit up an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party front for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

But what is the NCP chief’s strategy to realise a workable coalition? A source privy to his thinking has said that he is cognisant of the Congress’s centrality to the proposed alternative and is committed to facilitating such a platform without seeking any office.

In his talks with other Opposition leaders, Pawar has been underscoring the imperative of giving up anti-Congressism to fight the BJP. “The Congress is required for the country. It cannot be bypassed. Even in its weakened state, it alone has the pan-Indian reach other parties lack,” he has been telling them.

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Pawar believes the Congress, for its part, should recognise the strength of regional players and be realistic in its dealings with them. His reply to a senior Congressman who asked him about the Congress’s downside was: Don’t treat regional players such as the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and NCP with the “arrogance of a kulak dispossessed of his land but overwhelmed by memories of his lost holdings”.

The allusion was to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, where the Congress has tended to seek space beyond its electoral reach. For example, in the recent bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, it set up candidates against the SP-BSP combine.

Pawar’s interlocutors in recent weeks have included Congress president Rahul Gandhi, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and the Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu.

In fact, the Congress president, with whom Pawar has had a couple of meetings, promised to revert to him with a plan after discussing the issue internally with party colleagues. As talks progress, the NCP leader’s close rapport with Sonia Gandhi -- whom he considers “pragmatic and reasonable”— could be helpful. He is understood to have told his colleagues that Rahul Gandhi appeared serious about assembling Opposition forces on a common dais, and that even Mamata Banerjee is committed to a united fight against the BJP.

To reassure his party, which has a history of joint ventures with the Congress, Pawar stated in internal discussions that he expects equal status in seat sharing in Maharashtra. Statistics from the last two elections add force to his demand: compared to the NCP’s 41 seats, the Congress got 42 in the assembly polls they fought separately. Again, in the 2014 general elections, fighting on their own strengths, they won four and two seats respectively.

Likewise, in recognition of the Congress’s primacy in Karnataka, the NCP has decided against “unnecessary” candidates that will weaken the anti-BJP challenge in the May 12 assembly elections. His advice to other parties is no different: treat the Congress in Karnataka the way you want to be treated in the states where you are stronger.

vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Apr 05, 2018 07:44 IST