At a recent Idea Exchange programme with Loksatta, Sharad Pawar discusses the split from the Congress, Prithviraj Chavan’s chances and Narendra Modi. Excerpts
On Cong-NCP split
The Lok Sabha election results were right before us. I had said this election was not going to be easy and we will need to face it together. I had a meeting with Sonia Gandhi two months ago, and she, too, appeared inclined towards a coalition… Praful Patel and I, and A K Antony and Ahmed Patel from the Congress had two or three meetings. We asked for 144 seats. Of course, this number was not final.
There is always some argument over seat-sharing in a coalition… Since the beginning, we did not get the response we expected. There was no correspondence even as the deadline for filing nominations drew close. When Praful Patel contacted them, Prithviraj Chavan communicated he would meet us the next morning. The NCP presented its proposal in the meeting, but there was no reaction. Chavan left for Karad the next day.
The same night, we got to know that the Congress had declared its first list of candidates. It included two candidates for constituencies claimed by the NCP. That is when we felt the Congress had something in mind… Saturday was the last day for filing nominations. We began our preparations on Thursday. At this point, the BJP’s announcement of the split with Shiv Sena came like a bomb blast… There was a possibility of our party members being enticed with candidature by the BJP or the Sena. We had to declare our decision to contest on our own in a hurry… Sonia Gandhi was inclined, but the coalition broke due to the new leadership.
On Prithviraj Chavan’s chances
Prithviraj Chavan is a good person. It will not be difficult for him to get elected from Karad, which has been represented by Yashwantrao Chavan, Anandrao Chavan and Premalakaki Chavan. He might have lost in 1999, but he will win the Vidhan Sabha election, because it is a different feeling for the people to have a CM from your own town. This will work in his favour.
On Congress old and new
Some friends in the Congress keep advising us to merge with the Congress. We never take this advice seriously, because it will never happen…The leadership of the Gandhi family acts as a source of energy for the Congress. The Congress came to power twice under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. Even though questions are being raised regarding the leadership of the family, I don’t see the situation changing. Sonia Gandhi had come to my Delhi residence with a proposal for a coalition in 2004, even when relations were not very cordial between us. The perspective of the new leadership seems to be somewhat different. It is difficult to understand who is involved in the decision-making process in the Congress now. There is no guarantee that those who are close to the new leadership will remain there tomorrow.
On meeting Modi
I first met Narendra Modi in New York in the 1990s at a rally organised by the United Nations. I was with Chandrashekhar and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Industrialist Laxmi Mittal too was there. There were around 200 young men in saffron and a youth was overseeing arrangements for them. This young man was Narendra Modi. Mittal’s father introduced me to him. He told me that Modi is excellent with management. I have known Modi since then.
On Modi and Manmohan
According to India’s traditional beliefs, a ruler should be a very influential figure. If he is influential, all his decisions are accepted by the citizens. People of India are convinced Narendra Modi is an influential leader. People are more attracted towards Modi than towards Dr Manmohan Singh. This got marketed very well during Modi’s visit to the US… Modi spent more time in New York. But there was a sense of belonging for Dr Manmohan Singh in America. He adopted liberalised policies due to which Russian influence ended. That is why the American government always respected Dr Singh.
On a possible tie-up with BJP
Rumours that the NCP will join hands with the BJP are wrong. The NCP will win with a thumping majority and will not need anybody’s support. The NCP has never wavered from its secular stand. In 1999, the Shiv Sena and the BJP invited us to join hands with them. Even though I had been ousted by Congress then, I still backed them. We are prepared to sit in opposition but not to join hands with any communal party.
Translated by Gautam S Mengle and Dipti Singh