Sharad Pawar delivers performance for ages against BJP in Maharashtra, single-handedly raises sunk Opposition to position of respectability - LiveNow24x7: Latest News, breaking news, 24/7 news,live news

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Saturday, 26 October 2019

Sharad Pawar delivers performance for ages against BJP in Maharashtra, single-handedly raises sunk Opposition to position of respectability

While watching the Maharashtra  exit polls on the news channels showing a clean sweep by the BJP-Shiv Sena — so goes the anecdote as narrated by one of his young aides — a usually calm Sharad Pawar quipped in Marathi: “He khare asel, tar mala udya pasun Maharashtrat nighayla lagel.” (If the results come true, I can’t rest, I will need to start travelling in Maharashtra from tomorrow).

Pawar said he was neither happy nor sad when the results came two days later on 24 October.

“Not happy” because the results were not clearly in the favor of the Congress-NCP alliance.

Drenched in rain, NCP chief Sharad Pawar addresses an election rally in Maharashtra's Satara. Image credit: @NCPspeaks

Drenched in rain, NCP chief Sharad Pawar addressed an election rally in Maharashtra's Satara. Image credit: @NCPspeaks

“Not sad” because the results did not go as per the exit poll predictions, but instead brought a big cheer to his party, which until a month ago looked low on morale and seemed as if it would disintegrate.

In his first interaction on counting day, Pawar made his intentions clear: “We have decided to promote new faces all over the state, for which I will soon be travelling.”

At 79, he has no intention to rest or stop, an indication to his party rank and file of all ages that they have their task cut out, to use a small opening he sees in the mandate to regain the party’s lost territory and reassert his and his party’s regional identity. For the new entrants, this was an election where he virtually ran a module on how to do your politics when you are down.

A redoubtable Pawar demonstrated with élan how to emerge from defeat with your head held high.

Remember, it was the same Pawar, who along with the Congress, that faced a near rout in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and suffered a big blow in the last Assembly election.

In politics, you must search for an opportunity till the very end, one of Pawar’s close sympathisers quotes him as always advising his colleagues. In other words, never give up.

The BJP gave him a full toss, when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) named him, along with twelve others, including his nephew Ajit, in the alleged irregularities in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank. And he, expectedly, hit the cherry out of the ground.

Pawar senior had never been on the bank board of directors. The agency — at whose behest, one wonders — chose a timing to Pawar’s advantage. The same day, Pawar told a press conference he was surprised about being named in the case but would present himself to the ED office. He meant what he said. Later that week, as the Model Code of Conduct took affect, he announced he would visit the ED office in Mumbai. And then the entire State machinery asked him to call off the plan since it posed a law and order problem.

Pawar called off the visit, but had already won the sympathy of people and recharged his cadres. The 2019 campaign had begun, and a party that looked like it would disintegrate after the high-profile defections of the past two months pulled its focus on the man who would rally a sunken Opposition to a position of respectability.

Almost a hundred election rallies that went non-stop since 8 October, Dussehra, touching every single region of the state, Maharashtra saw Pawar at his combative best.

The BJP and Shiv Sena will form the government, but the NCP president catapulted himself to the centripetal position in state politics just when it seemed like his party was eroding.

In the final tally, Pawar’s NCP won 54 seats and made sure that at least six Independents from its bench got elected, but in one shot, he achieved many other political goals. Of all, the NCP’s absolute vote was marginally higher than Shiv Sena’s, though its seat tally was fewer by two.

One, he recollected his party’s splintering base in the western, northern and central sugarcane parts.

Two, though a regional front, he emerged as the dominant partner in the Congress-NCP alliance: the Congress won 44, only three more than its 2014 tally, which would have a bearing on selecting the leader of Opposition as well as the ensuing legislative council elections six months from now.

Three, Pawar taught many defectors a lesson: 13 of them lost. As he said in his first reaction after the election results: “People don’t seem to have liked arrogance.”

Most notably, Udayanraje Bhosale, the Satara heir of Chhattrapati Shivaji, who defected to the BJP on the eve of the elections and contested on a BJP ticket in the bypoll, who was elected to the Lok Sabha in May 2019 on an NCP ticket and was seeking reelection from the same constituency. Pawar went to the people seeking to “correct his mistake” for trusting the man who did not value his seat (the throne of Shivaji).

In the Maratha bastion, Pawar fielded his close friend, an eighty-year-old former administrator and MP, Shrinivas Patil, and among the rare men Pawar trusts. Patil won by a huge margin.

That iconic image of 2019 Maharashtra Assembly election: a reticent Pawar standing amidst the heavy showers without an umbrella addressing a packed rally in Satara, completely drenched, his old friend, equally wet, standing by the side of his podium, taking the battle to Bhosale.

The image symbolised Pawar carrying a spirited if lonely Opposition fight back, a lame-duck Congress not even presuming it was fighting back.

The last Maharashtra saw Pawar in such an avatar was in 1985, according to many watchers, when he campaigned tirelessly for an alliance he headed against the Congress. The experiment of the Progressive Democratic Front, an alliance his Congress (U) had with the erstwhile Janata Party.

This was also the first time in three decades that Pawar returned to the state elections in full steam without bothering about the equations in Delhi, something that the other regional satraps  such as  Mamata Bannerjee, or the K Chandrashekhar Rao, have done election after every election.

Like in 1985, his 2019 campaign was aggressive and innovative, his speeches replete with satire and poise.

For example:

When an acerbic Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis thundered at a rally in the western Maharashtra belt that there was no ‘pehelewan’ (wrestler) opposite the saffron alliance, the Maratha patriarch retorted in one of his speeches in Marathwada, politely and sarcastically:

“The chief minister says there’s no wrestler opposite the BJP-Shiv Sena; he is not aware that I am the president of the Wrestling Association of Maharashtra. I make pehelwans”

Or this:

“People deserted us, they think they will drown us, I am not bothered about those who left us for the pull of power, we will make sure we promote new and young faces state-wide.”

Despite an all-out attack by the BJP and Modi-Shah duo, the Pawar campaign uplifted the morale of the workers and inspired his rank and file: his grand-nephew Rohit went into the BJP’s stronghold of Karjat-Jamkhed and defeated Fadnavis confidante Ram Shinde; in Parli, Dhananjan Munde felled his cousin and Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pankaja; in Pune, Ajit sprung to his best and pulled back some of the lost turf, winning 12 of the 21 seats in the district.

And the fact that the BJP and Sena seat-tally dropped and the Congress-NCP’s inched close to a formidable hundred despite a number of factors was all due to Pawar’s one-man-show. He put his best resources where he had the best chance of winning: in the party's core areas, and wasted no energy or money in the areas where he sensed no chance of victory.

This was otherwise a lackluster election lacking in public fervor or enthusiasm where the outcome, that the BJP and Shiv Sena would return to power, was foretold.

The outcome however was not without drama: Pawar hitting the brakes on the BJP juggernaut.

The writer is an independent journalist based out of Nagpur and Roving Reporter of the People’s Archive of Rural India

October 26, 2019 at 02:48PM

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