Did Ajit Pawar outmanoeuvre his uncle Sharad Pawar, arguably the sharpest tactician in Indian politics? Or did the NCP supremo acquiesce to the wishes of his nephew? Is Sharad Pawar the real brain behind the political coup in Maharashtra?
The jury is out on all these questions, but the dramatic political developments in Maharashtra could only add to the deep mistrust the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi have for Sharad Pawar.
Over the last fortnight, as the Congress central leadership swung from denial to reluctance, and finally to willingness on joining hands with the Shiv Sena, and held protracted discussions with the NCP to arrive at a deal, there were occasions when doubts did emerge in the minds of the Congress’s key interlocutors regarding Pawar’s intentions and role.
Pawar’s initial advice to the Congress to not act in a hurry, his party’s decision to seek more time from the Governor several hours before the deadline was to end, and his meeting with PM Narendra Modi last week were all developments that the Congress struggled to make sense of. And the difficulty in understanding gave rise to suspicions.
Sonia’s mistrust of Pawar in fact, dates back to a time before May 1999, when he split the Congress on the grounds of her foreign origins, in order to prevent her from being projected as a prime ministerial candidate.
Pawar was himself a strong claimant for the Prime Minister’s post then, as also back in 1991. In 1991, he had to make way for the crafty P V Narasimha Rao as the majority of the MPs, and especially Sonia Gandhi — who was not in politics then — backed Rao.
The trust deficit became apparent when Sonia, after she took over as Congress president in 1998, started relying on the likes of
P Shiv Shankar rather than Pawar, who was then Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. Then came the 1999 show down.
“In my opinion, Sharad Pawar, as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, expected the party to request him, instead of Sonia Gandhi, to stake claim to form the government. After Sonia’s elevation as the Congress president, she consulted P Shiv Shankar on all important issues rather than Sharad Pawar. This sense of alienation and disenchantment may have been responsible for his statements on Sonia’s foreign origin, and his subsequent exit from the party in 1999,” Pranab Mukherjee, the former President and veteran Congressman, wrote in his three-volume autobiography.
Pawar became part of the UPA in 2004, and even offered the Chief Minister’s post to the Congress in Maharashtra, despite his NCP getting more seats than the Congress in Assembly elections of that year. But this was not to be a permanent reconciliation.
Cut to 2010. Pawar was often found at the receiving end of the Congress’s barbs over his performance as Agriculture Minister. The NCP believes the Congress did not defend him strongly enough when he and his family were embroiled in IPL controversy around the same time.
In 2012, the Congress sent out another message of its lack of trust in him, when it made A K Antony the number 2 in the cabinet pecking order, relegating Pawar to the third slot after Pranab Mukherjee took over as President.
The last word on Maharashtra has likely still not been heard. But as things stand on Saturday, the trust deficit between Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar is likely to have only increased.