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Sharad Pawar as a Presidential candidate? Amid Oppn chorus, the unenthused stalwart

The NCP chief's pragmatic politics, coupled with his pro-reforms agenda, has put him in a different league in national politics leading to even Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling him his “political guru”.

Widely regarded as Maharashtra's tallest leader, Pawar has been one of the seniormost politicians of the country. (PTI/File)

In June 2021, when election strategist Prashant Kishor met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar, it set off speculation that the former was lobbying for mounting bids to get the 81-year-old Maratha stalwart as the President of India.

Pawar, a seasoned practitioner of pragmatic politics, had then dismissed the buzz, saying “When a single party (the ruling BJP) has more than 300 MPs, what will be the result of the (Presidential) election, I know. I will not be a Presidential candidate”.

Exactly a year later, however, there is a fresh chorus of demand from the Opposition camp calling for pitchforking “India’s tallest leader of a small party” into the Presidential fray. A meeting between veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge with Pawar last Thursday seems to have set the stage for the Opposition parties to raise their pitch for Pawar as their consensus nominee in the July 18 Presidential election, with even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also appearing to be on the same page.

Significantly, Pawar himself has been keen on building a unified, anti-BJP Opposition front at the national level, leading to his moves to hold consultations with the leaders of prominent Opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), among others.

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Widely regarded as Maharashtra’s tallest leader, Pawar has been one of the seniormost politicians of the country. The former Union minister and three-time chief minister, Pawar has been the fulcrum of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government since it was formed two-and-a-half years ago.

Pawar is known to have relations with the leaders of a slew of national, regional and local parties across the political spectrum, ranging from TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee to Akali Dal patron Parkash Singh Badal, Telegu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu to National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.

Noting this key feature of Pawar’s political playbook, Sena leader Sanjay Raut recently told The Indian Express: “During his more than five-decade-long political career, there are people who have opposed Pawar to the extreme level but their opposition could never match his deeds and thoughts. He has never allowed politics to interfere with his social and development works. He has extended help to leaders of all parties. He has a knack of helping people in times of trouble and no one can match it.”

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The NCP chief’s pragmatic politics, coupled with his pro-reforms agenda, has put him in a different league in national politics leading to even Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling him his “political guru”.

Pawar’s long political journey is marked with many milestones. He was first elected to the Maharashtra Assembly from the Baramati constituency in 1967. He served as a minister in successive state governments till 1978, when he took over as the CM (from 1978 to 1980). He went on to become the CM for two more times (1983-91 and 1993-95). He has been elected as a Lok Sabha member six times and a Union minister several times in charge of various key portfolios including defense and agriculture.

An erstwhile Congress heavyweight, Pawar parted ways with the grand old party in 1999 after raising a banner of revolt against the party over the projection of the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate. He was expelled from the Congress, following which he floated his own party NCP.

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His political pragmatism and astuteness has however always defined his politics. So, on the heels of his departure from the Congress, the NCP joined hands with the Gandhi-led Congress to form their coalition governments, first in Maharashtra and later at the Centre. This pragmatism was again displayed in November 2019 when forgetting his ideological differences with the Sena he masterminded the formation of the MVA government by involving an unlikely triumvirate of the NCP, Congress and Sena.

It is his ability to spring such surprises and his political networking and doggedness that has led many Opposition parties to believe that Pawar may be their right candidate to take on the nominee of the formidable BJP in the Presidential poll.

Sometime in 2004, an oncologist counselled Pawar, who was then diagnosed with oral cancer, to make his will, saying he had less than six months to live. Recalling those days later, he said the doctor had not factored in his “dogged determination” while giving him that advice.

“Basically, it was a fight. I realised that if I got worried then the disease would devour me. The point of tackling such contingencies in life is to have a go at them in an aggressive fashion and take them head on,” Pawar once said while explaining how he recovered from cancer.

The point, however, remains that Pawar has a keen sense of which fights to pick and which to avoid. The signals that he has sent out so far indicate that he may not be willing to bet on himself in the Presidential race in what many believe is a losing battle for the Opposition.

First published on: 14-06-2022 at 04:42:08 pm
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