MA­HA­RASH­TRA: PAWAR ON

The NCP supremo ral­lies op­po­si­tion lead­ers and takes up the farm­ers’ cause in a bid to make a come­back in state pol­i­tics

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare

When NCP chief Sharad Pawar stood be­side oth­ers, in­clud­ing Sharad Ya­dav, Omar Ab­dul­lah, D. Raja and Hardik Pa­tel at the ‘Samvid­han Bachao’ rally this Re­pub­lic Day, many saw it as a ges­ture that did not re­flect his iconic stature. Ear­lier, on De­cem­ber 12, when Pawar, un­ex­pect­edly, joined a protest march de­mand­ing re­lief for the state’s be­lea­guered farm­ers, it was his first ma­jor po­lit­i­cal out­ing in the state in years. All sig­nals that the Ma­ha­rash­tra strong­man is look­ing to make a po­lit­i­cal come­back in his state.

Ad­dress­ing farm­ers at the protest march in De­cem­ber, the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party (NCP) supremo had urged them not to pay power bills till they re­ceived the full loan waiver promised by Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis. On Jan­uary 2, a day after the caste vi­o­lence in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Kore­gaon Bhima, Pawar blamed ‘Hin­dutva forces’ for the trou­ble; on Fe­bru­ary 22, in a tele­vised con­ver­sa­tion with Ma­ha­rash­tra Navnir­man Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thack­eray, he ad­vo­cated reser­va­tions based on eco­nomic sta­tus.

But Pawar soon re­alised his sug­ges­tion could irk the Marathas, who com­prise 70 per cent of the farm­ing com­mu­nity. He quickly changed his stance to sup­port quo­tas for farm­ers of all castes. The for­mer chief min­is­ter and Union min­is­ter dis­missed sug­ges­tions that his pres­ence at the Jan­uary 26 rally was a climb­down. “Elders like me de­cided to give our bless­ings to their (younger lead­ers’) ef­forts,” he said.

Some an­a­lysts say Pawar’s un­usual en­gage­ment in Maha-

rash­tra pol­i­tics after years of hi­ber­na­tion could well be catalysing the agrar­ian un­rest against the Fad­navis gov­ern­ment. They be­lieve that with Congress lead­ers Prithvi­raj Cha­van and Ashok Cha­van lack­ing any mass con­nect and NCP lead­ers such as Ajit Pawar and Su­nil Tatkare fac­ing cor­rup­tion charges, Pawar is look­ing to fill the vac­uum. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst He­mant De­sai says Pawar’s re-en­try has built the mood against the BJP regime.

The NCP chief, who met Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi twice in past weeks, has made it clear that, de­spite wide­spread spec­u­la­tion to the con­trary, the party would stand by the more ‘ac­com­mo­dat­ing’ Congress and spurn the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He de­nied be­ing un­der pres­sure on ac­count of the on­go­ing probe against nephew Ajit Pawar or Tatkare in the Rs 26,000 crore ir­ri­ga­tion scam in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

But se­nior state gov­ern­ment sources say a com­mit­tee set up to ex­am­ine the al­leged scam, in­volv­ing 12 ir­ri­ga­tion projects in the Konkan re­gion, has pointed fin­gers at Ajit Pawar. While state ir­ri­ga­tion min­is­ter Girish Ma­ha­jan hasn’t di­vulged de­tails, BJP na­tional pres­i­dent Amit Shah is­sued a warn­ing dur­ing his Mum­bai visit on April 6. “Wait for the ac­tion. The state gov­ern­ment still has one year to com­plete in its ten­ure,” Shah said.

On Pawar’s po­lit­i­cal move, his close aide and NCP leg­is­la­tor He­mant Takle says, “Some­one had to take on the gov­ern­ment. Pawar has been do­ing that for six months. He is not work­ing to get po­lit­i­cal space.”

An­a­lysts be­lieve the ex­pected di­vi­sion of the 35 per cent Maratha vote base largely be­tween the Congress and the NCP will help the BJP. In such a sce­nario, Pawar is look­ing to bank the 11 per cent Dalit votes po­larised by Dalit leader Prakash Ambed­kar, who heads the Bharipa Bahu­jan Ma­hasangh. There is even talk of his back­room deal with the NCP.

NCP in­sid­ers say Pawar is also back­ing Raj Thack­eray to weaken the BJP in Pune, Thane, Nashik and Mum­bai. He is, per­haps clev­erly, echo­ing Thack­eray’s line of at­tack: that Naren­dra Modi is push­ing his home state’s in­ter­ests, against those of Ma­ha­rash­tra. How­ever, what could be a damper for Pawar’s am­bi­tions are the cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against his own party lead­ers—in­clud­ing nephew Ajit Pawar. This was an is­sue that cost the NCP dearly in the 2014 elec­tions when it was re­duced to a his­toric low in the state assem­bly.

NCP IN­SID­ERS SAY PAWAR IS BACK­ING THE MNS AGAINST THE BJP IN PUNE, NASHIK, MUM­BAI

MUM­BAI

MANDAR DEODHAR

JOIN­ING FORCES Pawar with Sharad Ya­dav, Omar Ab­dul­lah, San­jay Niru­pam, Hardik Pa­tel and oth­ers at the Samvid­han Bachao rally in Mum­bai

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