Sharad Pawar has confused his admirers. The Maratha warrior has a legion of admirers for his robust commonsense and political tactics. When he advised Rahul Gandhi not to harp on Veer Savarkar, it was well taken by the Congress leadership which was well aware of its Maharashtra partner Shiv Sena’s sentiment for the old revolutionary. Rahul Gandhi stopped raising the issue ever since Pawar’s advice.
But the same Rahul would not follow the second suggestion from Pawar who supported Adani saying that the American company Hindernburg may have targeted him. The Maharashtra strong man followed his Adani take by another piece of advice on Modi’s educational qualifications. He said it is too trivial an issue to be raised against a person of Narendra Modi’s caliber. He could have conveyed the same message in a more nuanced way in which he is an expert. He could have faulted Modi for furnishing wrong declaration about his educational qualifications and left it at that.
The three loaded statements of intrigue made by Sharad Pawar in a span of a week forced political observers doubt his intentions. Is he moving nearer to Modi? What is that he is going to gain by doing so?
All said and done, Sharad Pawar today is a highly respected opposition leader. His party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), may have lost the national tag, but his statue remains truly national. In case the opposition parties muster enough seats in 2024 elections to be able to form a coaliton government at the Centre, it would be Pawar rather than Rahul Gandhi who would be more acceptable to other opposition parties. Rahul might even give in as he is not very ambitious. The way Pawar carved out Maha Vikas Agadhi in Maharashtra and made it work till Shinde ditched his Shiv Sena boss, had proved that the former defence minister is a very shrewd politician who can manage contradictions. He would be the right choice of the opposition for the post of prime minister. And Sharad Pawar knows it very much. Why should he forego the obvious advantage just before elections for no apparent reason? What would be the benefits he is going to get by getting closer to Modi who is likely to sit tight on the gaddi, if possible, at least till 2029. Unless it is compulsive for him to defend Adani, there is no net gain for Pawar from the controversial statements he made. He is not craving for a cabinet postition at the Centre. He was a Cabinet minister in charge of defence and other portfolios. If at all something attracts him in Delhi, it is the top post which he aspired for along with Arjun Singh way back in 1991, post-Rajiv assassination and before PV Narasimha Rao proved a Chanakya by asserting himself and running the minority government adroitly. After seeing PV in office for some months, Pawar got reconciled and moved to Mumbai as chief minister. Arjun Singh persisted in his ambition and succeeded in poisoning Sonia Gandhi’s mind against PV. Pawar remained relevant while Singh died a sad man. Now the chances of Pawar realising his dream are certainly more than what they were over thirty years ago.
The task before Pawar now is absolutely clear. He should help the opposition parties reach electoral understanding by being practical and optimistic. The regional party which is on the top in a particular state should be allowed to decide the composition by accommodating others without sacrificing its advantage. There could be a broad policy paradigm within which the opposition parties can articulate on various issues in different states. Alliance basing on a Minimum Programme could be charted out after the polls when every party knows where it stands.
The euphoria exhibited by the mainstream media that Modi is sure to win for the third time is misplaced. Would the BJP get the same number of seats it got in 2019 elections? It is most unlikely. It cannot get as many seats as it got in Maharashtra, Bihar, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. What it loses in these states cannot be made up from its gains from South India despite its best efforts. It might get a couple of seats more in Telangana. There is no other South Indian State, barring Karnataka, from which it can hope to get a single seat. Instead of talking in terms of alternative personality, the opposition leaders need to talk about an alternative vision. Main thrust should be on reclaiming the republic and the idea of India. One should remember that 64 percent of the voters did not vote for Narendra Modi or the BJP even in 2019. If only the opposition parties can play their cards well, the election results would be quite interesting. Only a politician of Sharad Pawar’s stature, genious, guile and wisdom can make it happen.