Three days ahead of Maharashtra polls, NCP chief Sharad Pawar Sunday said the Election Commission should hold a referendum in the Vidarbha region over the demand for a separate state. “The NCP will respect the separate Vidarbha verdict if a majority vote for it,” Pawar said.
While he went on to clarify that for now his party stood for a unified Maharashtra, Pawar’s referendum demand appeared to be a bid to counter the support the BJP is drawing in Vidarbha by backing separate statehood.
The NCP chief also showed a surprising softening of stand towards the Shiv Sena, noting that Uddhav Thackeray had taken pains to build the party after the death of his father Bal Thackeray. “He toured statewide to expand the party’s base. The Shiv Sena had a role to play in the BJP’s success in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha polls,” Pawar said.
He added that he would be happy if Uddhav and cousin Raj come together, quipping that “it would also lessen troubles faced by others”. “It can only be a happy occasion when two brothers come together,” he said.
The NCP chief again sought to quash rumours of his joining the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, sparked off by the Congress charge of a “hidden pact” between the NCP and BJP. Pawar said he was not interested in any ministerial berth. “I would be turning 75 in a couple of years. I have already served 25 years in government while being in active politics for over 48 years,” he said.
However, he was reticent when asked about the NCP’s post-election strategy. The party, he stressed, would get a clear majority.
Pawar accused Modi of “not maintaining” the sanctity of the Prime Minister’s post, while insisting that there was no bad blood between them.
He objected to the “personal allegations” levelled by Modi in his campaign. “None of the earlier PMs ever stooped to such level.”
Advising the PM to appoint a full-time defence minister, Pawar said: “While every national leader has the right to express his party’s ideology before people, there are some national issues like internal security which cannot be ignored.”
He objected to the live telecast of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech by Doordarshan. “This was never permitted previously, even during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era. I would like to ask, would other political and community leaders get the same platform to propogate their ideology?”
Again attacking the BJP for its ‘Kuthe Neun Thevla Maharashtra (Where have you taken Maharashtra)’ election campaign, Pawar said it hurt the sentiments of Maharashtrians and would backfire.
He said the BJP should not have sought votes in the name of Maratha warrior king Chatrapati Shivaji. “History textbooks in Gujarat have an incorrect reference on Shivaji,” Pawar said.
Talking about the broken alliance with the Congress, he admitted that the NCP was prepared to contest polls in just 130 of the 288 seats, banking on working out a tie-up. Now it is fighting from 280 seats. “I must admit we had a tough time finding candidates for the additional 150 seats. I also admit to gaps being visible in the party’s poll campaign in these seats,” the NCP chief said, adding, “It appears that the Congress and BJP were prepared in advance to contest polls independently.”
The Congress appeared to have decided to sever ties with the NCP immediately after the Lok Sabha polls, Pawar went on. “Their own party secretary, S J Valmiki, recently said the decision had been taken three months ago.”
Rubbishing former CM Prithviraj Chavan’s contention that the corruption taint against NCP ministers had hurt his government, Pawar questioned why the Congress had persisted with the alliance then.
Asked why the NCP had not pulled out earlier, Pawar claimed his party always acted in the interest of political stability. “But the understanding required to run a coalition government was lacking in Chavan,” he said.
Talking about NCP leader and former Maharashtra home minister R R Patil’s controversial rape remark, Pawar said it could not be justified in any manner.