Sharad Pawar's Show Of Strength: Ambitions Move From PM To President?
The full array of leaders at Sharad Pawar's birthday celebration
NEW DELHI: Sugar baron Sharad Pawar has done the impossible. And in a dramatic political statement brought all foes, friends on to the same dais to demonstrate the strength of his support, and his ability to get warring individuals and political parties smiling and shaking hands in full public view.
They were all there---President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Left, the middle, the Right all giving up their “I will not be seen dead with him or her” reservations, to smile in celebration of Pawar’s 75th birthday. So were the industrialists--Adani, Ambani, Bajaj, a list of who’s who from the corporate world. Ministers and Chief Ministers, MPs and MLA’s all flocked to Vigyan Bhawan for the precise 90 minute ceremony where the President, PM and Sonia Gandhi spoke exceptionally well, and very warmly of the Maharashtra leader who has survived ill health, allegations of deep corruption to remain the only one in todays political milieu with the ability to command such a gathering.
Why? The question might have been irrelevant for others, but not for Pawar, who is political to the core and not one to pull out the plugs without a reason. Why did he need to demonstrate his strength, the goodwill he has amassed over the nearly 50 decades in politics, and despite the charges of corruption that might have dogged him but never caught him.
The obvious reason is the book release and the birthday. Both an occasion to make a statement, of course. But with Pawar, a man renowned for his politics as was evident in the composition of the gathering, the reasons have to be more than this. He has tried several times in the past to emerge as a consensus candidate for the post of Prime Minister, but luck has always defied this ambition. Circumstances have not held together and he has had to be content with playing sec0nd fiddle to even novices---like Sonia Gandhi in 2004---in politics.
The Lok Sabha elections are to be held only in 2019, and again Pawar knows better than all others that he will not be a player then. One, because he will be too old by then (79 years); and two, the NCP is not likely to emerge as a major force to be able to act as the nucleus of a new formation. But then politics has a strange dynamics in India, and nothing is over even when it is over. Pawar has always poised himself as a consensus candidate for warring groups to look at as a possibility. This has been behind his politics, where he has kept lines open with all political parties and leaders in the hope that if opportunity offered itself, most leaders would accept him. His bad luck has been that the opportunity he has so assiduously worked in the hope for, has remained elusive to say the least.
However, the post of President of India falls vacant in 2017. And Pawar, known for his pragmatism, seems to have got one eye firmly fixed on Rashtrapati Bhawan. The present incumbent Pranab Mukherjee is a Congress appointee although he has been taking care to sign off on all legislations, death sentences sent to him by the NDA government. However, given his antecedents it will not be unreasonable to say that Mukherjee might in all likelihood get the second term he is looking for. But will Pawar? Or will the BJP led government prefer one decisively their own to be in office as head of state?
Again the question of consensus arises, as the non-BJP opposition can be expected to set up a candidate of its own. More so, as the Presidential elections will come just over a year before the Lok Sabha polls, and could acquire a controversial hue. So who better than Pawar as the consensus, clearly acceptable to all, as the array of forces on the dais so effectively demonstrated. This is not to say this will happen, but to point out that this as one of the reasons behind the big political celebration.
The Vice President post falls vacant next year, but this is not likely to be an office that Pawar will be keen on. Besides its a nominated post, and the BJP will in all probability bring in a person from within its own.
Meanwhile, for now, the NCP remains a “staunch ally” of the Congress, as mentioned by both Sonia Gandhi at Vigyan Bhawan and later by Pawar in a media interview. Here he said that the next Lok Sabha elections will be contested by the nCP in alliance with the Congress party. PM Modi has his own special links with Pawar, having visited him earlier in Baramati, and showering praise on him now in New Delhi as the man who has kept Mumbai’s underworld at bay.