Rubbing NCP the wrong way is part of a pattern: of Congress hauteur and tone-deafness to allies
From the UPAs point of view,it would seem that the ostensible snubbing of Sharad Pawar by the Congress,which has reportedly caused heartburn in the NCP,was avoidable,if not injurious to health. The put-down lay in the apparent designation of Defence Minister A.K. Antony as the governments No. 2. According to the previous and official order of precedence,Pawar came third,after Pranab Mukherjee. After Mukherjees exit,therefore,it may have been in the order of things if Pawar expected to take his place. At the bottom of it,however,this is not a matter that hinges on technical quibbles over who is more senior,Pawar or Antony. It is,instead,about the Congresss political handling or rather,mishandling of one of its most steadfast allies,which also partners it in government in a very crucial state.
Sharad Pawars NCP has travelled a long way from its strident beginnings in the campaign against the foreign origins of Sonia Gandhi. From the Indo-US nuclear deal in the previous UPA government to FDI in retail that appears to be ballooning into a contentious issue under UPA 2,the NCP has shored up a reputation as the UPAs least troublesome ally. Most recently,Pawar reportedly took the lead in drumming up support for Mukherjees presidential candidature from an array of parties,from Shiv Sena to TRS. In this outreach,Pawars equations with players across the political and ideological divides arguably came in handy. From the UPAs perspective,it is this ability to win friends and keep them,apart from crisis-handling skills,that strengthens his claim to fit Mukherjees role.
In the present instance,the Congresss rebuff to Pawar cannot be attributed to its desire to keep the governments No. 2 position. Its attempts to rub its ally the wrong way are part of a syndrome. The party has seemed clueless in its relationship with all its allies,be it a difficult one like Mamata Banerjee,or a stable one like Pawar. The Congress continues to show hauteur and tone-deafness towards its partners that,in a coalition era,may well keep returning to haunt.