The younger leaders from the Pawar family — Supriya Sule, Parth Pawar and Rohit Pawar — met Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Pune on Friday morning, signaling a shift in the equation between two of the most prominent political families in the country. It also reflects a considerable softening of NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s stance towards Rahul, years after he famously stated that the Gandhi scion will have to prove his mettle in politics before he could take charge of the Congress party.
During Rahul’s short visit to Pune — he arrived from Nagpur on Thursday night and left for Chandrapur on Friday evening — he took time out to meet Congress and NCP leaders separately. The two parties are leading the opposition front in the state to take on the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP combine.
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The NCP delegation that met Rahul included Pawar’s daughter and candidate from Baramati Lok Sabha seat Supriya Sule, his grandson and Maval candidate Parth Pawar, and Amol Kolhe, the NCP candidate from Shirur. Rohit Pawar, grandson of the NCP chief and a Zilla Parishad member, city NCP unit chief Chetan Tupe and district party unit chief Pradeep Garatkar also attended the meeting.
The NCP had broken off its alliance with the Congress in the 2014 assembly elections, with Pawar placing the blame for the rupture in ties squarely on the shoulders of Rahul, who was then the vice-president of Congress. The NCP chief had claimed that Rahul was trying to marginalise the Congress’s alliance partner.
The cracks in the alliance, however, had started appearing months before the NCP’s departure. While the Congress and NCP managed to hold their peace and contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections together, Pawar had raised eyebrows when he skipped a campaign rally in Mumbai where he would have had to share the dais with Rahul. Both then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Pawar were scheduled to address the rally, but Sonia couldn’t attend it due to medical reasons and had sent Rahul instead.
But changing political realities, and probably the BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly polls, has made both parties aware of the fact that they needed each other if they wanted to beat the saffron alliance. Pawar has since significantly altered his stance on Rahul, at least publicly, going so far as to praise him and Sonia at an event in December last year.
The NCP chief had said people should be proud of the two Congress leaders as they had continued to remain in public life and “serve the poor” despite the assassinations of members of their families, late prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
According to sources, in the run-up to the elections this year, Rahul and Pawar have often held discussions on the political situation in Maharashtra, as well as pre-poll alliances with other parties.
“Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was in Pune. It was our duty to discuss political issues with him as he is the president of our alliance partner. All the NCP’s Lok Sabha candidates in Pune district, as well as the in-charge of the party in the city and district, met him,” said Chetan Tupe, city NCP chief.
The meeting between Rahul and NCP leaders lasted for about 20 minutes, during which the Congress president was introduced to the party’s Lok Sabha candidates and office-bearers, said Tupe. “Parth Pawar informed Rahul about the rising unemployment in Maval. Others spoke about the drought situation, farmers’ issues and inflation…,” said Tupe, adding that NCP leaders told Rahul that the BJP was trying to divert attention from the government’s “failures” by raising other issues.
Giving details of what transpired during the meeting, Tupe said Rahul told the NCP leaders that the alliance candidates should not be swayed from taking their agenda of welfare to the people, even if the “opponents stooped low”. Rahul and Sule both urged the NCP candidates and office-bearers not to get affected by the criticism of opponents.
Congress’s Lok Sabha candidate for Pune, Mohan Joshi, who met the party chief with other party leaders, said Rahul had sought information on the election campaign in the city. “He asked us to work hard for the Lok Sabha elections while assuring us that he would visit again to campaign in the city,” said Joshi.
The Congress chief also met party corporators and office-bearers of the city Congress. “He discussed the Congress’s election manifesto with the party leaders and urged them to take it to voters. The Congress chief said the Pune seat was a prestigious one and everyone should work to ensure that the party candidate wins it,” said Ramesh Iyer, spokesperson of the city Congress.