Sharad Pawar is one of the tallest Opposition leaders in the country and is likely to play a crucial role if an anti-BJP front takes shape ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Pawar, who has often been a step ahead of the BJP in Maharashtra politics, is the latest Opposition leader the BJP is lining up to attack.
This comes after the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, which is also part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, was considerably weakened in the rebellion led by incumbent Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, who formed the government with the BJP’s help. Linking Pawar to a scam, BJP leaders said, would also harm the Sena, which is looking to retain the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The poll dates have not been announced yet.
BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar on Tuesday demanded that Pawar be investigated in a time-bound manner for allegedly interfering in the Patra Chawl redevelopment project in connection with which the Enforcement Directorate arrested Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut in August for alleged money laundering. The legislator made this demand in a letter to Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
According to BJP insiders, this line of attack not only puts the veteran leader on the defensive but also boosts the party’s claim that Pawar and the Shiv Sena that had been working closely in Mumbai for more than a decade and thus the Sena’s decision to leave the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2019 had nothing to do with the BJP not following through on its promise to make Thackeray the chief minister of the state.
The BJP has also signalled its intention to push Pawar back by deploying Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to his turf Baramati, which is represented in Parliament by the NCP chief’s daughter Supriya Sule, on a three-day tour that started on Thursday. Sitharaman is the Union minister supervising the party’s efforts to take Baramati from the Pawars. Not just Sharad Pawar, the BJP is also targeting his grand nephew Rohit Pawar, who is the MLA from the constituency of Karjat-Jamkhed. According to ruling party insiders, the strategy is to launch coordinated, continuous, all-round attacks to create an impression that Pawar and the NCP are under siege.
Two of the NCP’s senior leaders, Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, are already in prison in corruption cases. Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar is linked to sugar factories that the ED recently raided in connection with the Maharashtra state cooperative bank scam and the Income-Tax Department too raided premises linked to his relatives.
Pawar on Wednesday said he welcomes any inquiry against him. However, he asked, what action would be taken against his accusers once he came out clean. Senior NCP leader Jitendra Awhad said Pawar had attended official meetings on almost every project in Maharashtra. “An official meeting for which minutes were drawn and concerned government officials were present is being used to defame Pawar and the NCP,” he said.