State NCP President Sunil Tatkare in an Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor Shubhangi Khapre speaks about how an alliance with the BJP is impossible and how his party needs to take lessons in marketing to win the Maharashtra Assembly elections.
HUBHANGI KHAPRE: Have you set a target on how many seats the NCP plans to contest in the upcoming Assembly elections?
SUNIL TATKARE: After I got elected as the State President, along with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, I moved around the state holding meetings in the state. Local workers according to the ground situation, conveyed to us about contesting particular seats. Based on this input, I worked out how many seats the NCP should be contesting after discussing with the DCM. We put forth this number in front of the state Congress leaders during the Coordination Committee meeting. However, there was no discussion after that. Later, our leader Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi decided that both the parties will have a pre-poll alliance. We had put our demands on how many seats the NCP expects. I have given my inputs as the head of the party in the state. However all decisions of seat sharing will be taken at the Central level.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: The vote share of the NCP has been steadily going down since its inception. On what basis do you claim that the party has a strong following in the state?
SUNIL TATKARE:The NCP was formed in 1999 and is the only party which has got success in such a short span of time. Since then it is a fact that our electoral graph has gone down. But if you look at our overall performance, we have grown. We are touted as a Western Maharashtra centric party. Today we are strong in Marathwada, Vidarbha, Konkan, Khandesh where we control various zilla parishads and municipal corporations. But it is a fact that the only barometer of a party’s success is its performance in elections. How many people you gather in rallies is immaterial. Particularly in the 2014 Loksabha elections, all major political parties except some like the Biju Janata Dal, the Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK have felt the pinch. This was not a victory of any single party but it was Modi ‘wave’. The NDA projected Modi while in the UPA no leader was projected. When results came out it was only because of Narendra Modi that the NDA swept to power.
SHUBANGI KHAPRE: Will the Modi factor matter in the assembly polls?
SUNIL TATKARE: It won’t matter in the same intensity. Expectations of people are different in general elections. In state elections, the scenario changes. In general elections people choose a party while in state the candidate is important. In the last 15 years, the Congress-NCP has given good performances in the state. You can see the number of development work and projects that has come up in Mumbai. If we are able reach out on a development platform to the voters, they will have no option but to vote for the Congress-NCP alliance.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: The NCP has complained that many projects did not take off as Congress sat on files. In view of these differences, do you think the alliance works?
SUNIL TATKARE: We have a conscious alliance with the Congress based on secular principles. However, in an alliance there are different opinions and every party has its own agenda. When you are in an alliance, you have to make compromises. We are now facing assembly elections and we need to do so together with confidence. Differences are always there but you need to tide over them. There are differences in the Sena-BJP too.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: You have been the only political party which has been in power since inception. However, many leaders like Babanrao Pachpute are quitting now because of the fear that the NCPs days in power are numbered.
SUNIL TATKARE:People quitting a party is a phenomenon that happens after a party suffers a debacle. It happens to all parties. The BJP faced it and even the Shiv Sena has experienced this. In the end, this is politics. Everyone has his or her own ambitions and this makes them switch sides. But I do not think that such switch-overs will affect our performance.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: The NCP seems to have a perception problem. How will you correct that?
SUNIL TATKARE:There are no problems of image for the NCP. We were attacked for this so called irrigation scam. Let me tell you that all these allegations were motivated. We published a white paper on these allegations. We set up a special investigation team. An action-taken-report was submitted. Whenever I have explained the government’s stands I was never cross-questioned by the members of the opposition. When you become strong naturally, you become a target and face allegations. This is what has happened in the the case of the NCP as well.
MANASI PHADKE: Why was it that only one company F A Enterprises was getting civil contracts in the irrigation projects?
SUNIL TATKARE: There are certain rules in the respective irrigation corporations as to how many contracts a a single company can get in one financial year. I do not think that any of the rules which had been laid out were violated.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: Do you think Ajit Pawar needs to be more careful before he speaks in public
SUNIL TATKARE: Every one has their own individual style. He has his own way of communicating with people and people from the rural area like it. There have been lot of personalities in Maharashtra’s polity who had a unique way of communicating with the public. However there was something that he said about which he is regretful to this day. He has publicly spoken about his regret for using these words and he said all this in his own inimitable style. Sadly he has been painted and presented in a particular way but if you spend time with him he is actually not the way he is portrayed to be.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: You will be facing anti-incumbency of 15 years. How do you plan to tackle this?
SUNIL TATKARE: We have been in power for 15 years. Anti-incumbency will be there. In the last elections, we fell short of presenting what we did. Marketing is a skill that we are still trying to develop. Challenges are definitely there. It is a difficult challenge but not impossible. We need to reach out to the people showing what we did. In the last five years, we had to distribute close to Rs 13,000 crore due to various environment and agriculture related crisis. Sometimes we had high yield of agricultural production, sometimes heavy rainfall. Inspite of this, the state managed to maintain its development growth rate. But as I said earlier, we fell short of putting this in front of the people. But I assure you that we will not repeat this mistake again.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Is the NCP ideologically open to alliances other than Congress? In the recent past, both Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel have made statements which could be construed as favoring Modi.
SUNIL TATKARE: Never will we have an alliance with the BJP. In 1999, when we got separated from the Congress, the political situation was such that we could have easily joined the NDA Government. Pawar Saheb could have got a post with the Centre and the NCP could have easily joined hands with the BJP-Shiv Sena and come to power in the state. No one could have blamed us. Inspite of all this, Pawar Saheb gave preference to ideology than power. There is no substance in talks that we will join hands with the BJP.
SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: Are you convinced that the Maratha reservation decision will stand legal scrutiny?
SUNIL TATKARE:It will stand legal scrutiny. It was not done to garner votes. I would also be lying if I said that such decisions do not help the governments electorally. The benefit that Modi got was he took decisions that benefited large sections of the society. While taking this decision, we were pretty sure that it needed to be done without affecting the reservations of the OBC. On the question of the need for reservation to a community when the state have had so many Maratha chief ministers already, I would like to say that if some people of a community become CM that does not mean they do not do anything for the poor and vulnerable sections of that same community. One of the most important features of our Indian constitution is the effort to eliminate economic disparity. These reservations were done keeping this principle in mind.