Pawar, often referred to by Modi as his political mentor, also lashed out at the Prime Minister’s pet project, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, terming it as a case of misplaced priorities. The opposition to the Rs 1.08 lakh-crore project has intensified following the death of 23 Mumbaikars in a rush-hour stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station. “I do not think the project will benefit Maharashtra,” Pawar, a three-time Maharashtra Chief Minister, said.
At one point in his press conference, Pawar got one of his associates to play a video clip where Modi, then Gujarat’s CM, was seen saying that the bullet train project was mainly to showcase the country’s strength. “I do not know the project’s benefits. While technological advancements should not be opposed, the solutions must be practical,” he said, while pointing out that an upgradation of Mumbai’s suburban rail infrastructure was the need of the hour.
Earlier in the day, during the party’s state-level executive meeting, Pawar directed his partymen to take to the streets in protest against unfair policies of the BJP government. Later, he also gave a veiled threat to the Devendra Fadnavis government, that the NCP would lead a farmers’ non-cooperation campaign across the state if the farm loan waiver was not implemented before Diwali.
With the BJP suddenly besieged by news of economic distress all around and the criticism mounting on Modi government’s policies, the NCP seems desperate to shed the “popular perception” that it had a “tacit understanding” with the BJP. Pawar’s aggressive opposition on Tuesday to the BJP was being seen as his party’s tactical shift in that direction.
The perception has grown as Pawar’s party bailed out the BJP in crucial moments during the past three years in Maharashtra and the Centre. But party insiders said that the BJP’s waning popularity and the fear of ceding Opposition space to the Congress and BJP’s warring ally Shiv Sena has prompted a course correction from the party.
The plan to overcome this “negative” perception was discussed in detail at the party meeting on Tuesday, sources confirmed. Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter and party MP, was the most vocal in this regard during the meeting, sources said. She complained that the party was not being seen as consistently raising issues against the ruling dispensation and had often toned down agitation plans, sending “confusing” signals to the party rank and file.
Former Union minister Praful Patel, who had recently toured Gujarat, reportedly informed party colleagues that disenchantment against the BJP regime was growing in Modi’s home state too. The party meeting concluded with Pawar directing party leaders to play the role of an aggressive opposition.
Later, Pawar announced to the press that his party was also preparing to launch a statewide agitation against the government over the price rise and the issue of pricing of agricultural commodities. Citing The Indian Express report published on Tuesday on how the downward spiral of the economy had left a trail of job losses across sectors, Pawar said, “This distress is being caused by the way the government is implementing its economic policies.”
Commenting on the September 29 stampede in Mumbai, Pawar recounted how Lal Bahadur Shastri had stepped down as the Union Minister for Railways (in the Jawaharlal Nehru government) after a train incident. “One would have expected the same response from the present Railway Minister (Piyush Goyal), but that didn’t happen.” His parting shot was directed at Modi. “This government believes in big talk. But people have now begun to see through it,” he said.
Objecting to the linking of some NCP corporators and leaders with an alleged extortion racket in which Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Iqbal Kaskar has been arrested, Pawar launched a no holds barred attack against top cop Pradeep Sharma, rekindling his controversial past. Sharma, an encounter specialist, had earlier been dismissed by the Mumbai police and was in jail between 2009 and 2013 for a controversial encounter of Chhota Rajan aide Lakhan Bhaiyya in November 2006. A trial court had later acquitted him in the case. “The allegations (links of NCP corporators) are fake. It is entirely a case of some officer, who has faced suspension and jail term in the past, attempting to correct his image. We will bring it to the notice of the chief minister how somebody is trying to take undue advantage,” Pawar said.
War of words
Pawar also took a dig at former Maharashtra Chief Minister Narayan Rane, who recently quit the Congress to float his own party. Pawar said, “When Rane can’t even induct his own son (Congress MLA Nitesh Rane) in his new party, what is the use of talking about the party’s plan.” Rane countered, saying that he had consulted Pawar before floating his party. “He (Pawar) should not have said what he did, now let it be,” Rane said.