The NCP is pos­si­bly fac­ing its worst-ever low. But the Maratha Strong­man, SHARAD PAWAR, is af­fect­ing un­con­cern, and tells Ki­ran D. Tare that he sees the cri­sis as an op­por­tu­nity to re­ju­ve­nate the party. Ex­cerpts:

India Today - - STATES -

QHow do you rate Deven­dra Fad­navis’s per­for­mance as CM? He is a good per­son. But a per­son who is run­ning a state should also be a good ad­min­is­tra­tor and should take care of ev­ery part of the state. But Fad­navis has never given se­ri­ous thought to over­all de­vel­op­ment. When he was in op­po­si­tion, he fought for the for­ma­tion of a sep­a­rate state of Vi­darbha. Now, he says the peo­ple of Vi­darbha will de­cide. Be­ing the CM, he should stand for a united Ma­ha­rash­tra.

Q. Are these hard times for the NCP? Many of your lead­ers have joined the BJP and the Shiv Sena...

The peo­ple in power at the Cen­tre and in the state have a vin­dic­tive ap­proach to the op­po­si­tion. They started [mo­ti­vated] en­quiries and tak­ing [le­gal] ac­tion against oth­ers. Those who were un­able to face the sit­u­a­tion chose to join the BJP or the Shiv Sena.

Q. How do you feel about their choices?

This is the sec­ond time it has hap­pened to me. In 1980,

I had 62 MLAs. Of them, 52 de­serted the party. But I fought back and brought in new, younger lead­er­ship. In the next elec­tion, I got 73 MLAs. This time as well, I am get­ting a tremen­dous re­sponse from peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the youth. This is a good op­por­tu­nity for me to re­build my party with the younger gen­er­a­tion.

Q. At the age of 80, you seem to be car­ry­ing the en­tire bur­den of your party. Where are the younger lead­ers?

My younger col­leagues are con­cen­trat­ing on their re­spec­tive dis­tricts. I have taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for the state, and Jayant Patil, Dhanan­jay Munde and Ajit Pawar are there along with me. I get more ex­po­sure in the media than other lead­ers get.

Q. What is your opin­ion of the Congress? Is the party on its death bed? The Congress is the need of the hour—it is an or­gan­i­sa­tion with roots in ev­ery In­dian state. In po­lit­i­cal life, set­backs hap­pen. In 1977, the Congress was prac­ti­cally routed and the media said it would not come to power again for 25 years. But in 1980, the Congress got a clear ma­jor­ity. This will hap­pen again.

Q. Will you con­sider merg­ing the NCP with the Congress at some point?

I be­gan my ca­reer be­liev­ing in the Gandhi-Nehru ide­ol­ogy. I still re­spect it. [The Congress and NCP] are work­ing to­gether, help­ing each other. We have not thought of a merger, but work­ing to­gether is ben­e­fit­ing both of us.

Q. How do you view the rise of the BJP and the Shiv Sena in re­cent years?

It hap­pens. The real BJP was Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee and L.K. Ad­vani. Some­one laid a good foun­da­tion. Oth­ers are en­joy­ing the fruits. The ac­cept­abil­ity of Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee was also dif­fer­ent.

Q. You have been in op­po­si­tion for 27 of your 50 years in pol­i­tics. Is this time any dif­fer­ent from ear­lier?

Only one thing—pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments [un­der­stood] that an op­po­si­tion was also re­quired for a democ­racy. To­day, peo­ple who op­pose the gov­ern­ment’s think­ing are called anti-na­tion­als. ■

UN­FAZED NCP chief Sharad Pawar

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