The NCP leader once again proved that he is capable of bringing together all Opposition parties in Maharashtra.
Seizing the momentum created by the Save the Constitution Rally in Mumbai on Republic Day, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar convened a meeting of Opposition parties in New Delhi on January 29 as a part of efforts to create a bulwark against the Narendra Modi government. It was a clear attempt on the part of the Maratha strongman to benefit from the Opposition’s united endeavours and thus emerge as its face. Only time, however, will tell whether he will succeed in achieving both unity and supremacy.
This was not the first such move on Mr Pawar’s part though. In fact, he had shown his capacity two years ago. On the eve of his 75th birthday, December 10, 2015, the who’s who of Indian politics, business and the bureaucratic world were present at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. This feat was telling of Pawar’s influence.
The NCP leader once again proved that he is capable of bringing together all Opposition parties in Maharashtra. In Mr Pawar’s brand of politics, no party or ideology is untouchable. However, for the veteran leader, challenges lie at the national level.
“Definitely, he is one of the strongest players in the Opposition today. He is ambitious. I think the game for 2019 will not be complete without Mr Pawar’s moves,” said a senior political leader and one of his oldest colleagues from early ’70s.
But there is one other angle to the united Opposition story: Trinamul Congress president and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is in the race for 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. Recently, speaking to an English news channel, Ms Banerjee’s trusted colleague and Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien claimed that 20 parties are already in touch with them. “In such a condition, you need one skill: networking. And, as Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi had said during his (Mr Pawar’s) birthday function, there is no person better at networking than Mr Pawar in today’s India,” the leader added.
Still, political observers believe that Mr Pawar has a long way to go. One of the main challenges before him is to get rid of credibility deficit. The NCP chief’s hobnobbing with the BJP has raised questions over his moves.
Nikhil Wagle, one of the veteran leader’s strongest critics, thinks that 2019 would present one more opportunity for Mr Pawar to become Prime Minister. However, he thinks there are two major hurdles. “The biggest one is his credibility. Everyone knows that Mr Pawar is close to Mr Modi. He needs to take a strong stand against this dispensation to put the other Opposition parties at ease,” said Mr Wagle.
Mr Wagle also pointed out that getting strong regional satraps on board would be another challenge for Mr Pawar. “Without Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee in this camp, further developments are not possible. It remains to be seen how he will manage these leaders,” said Mr Wagle.
On the other hand, senior journalist Pratap Asbe, who has covered Mr Pawar for the longest time, thinks differently. “It is not Mr Pawar but the Congress that should take the lead in forming the Opposition’s united front. They should accommodate the aspirations of smaller parties. Otherwise, this talk of anti-fascist unity will seem like daydreaming,” said Mr Asbe.
As far as Mr Pawar’s public posturing is concerned, he continues to claim that chances of him becoming the PM are next to nothing. But if one goes through the statements made by other leaders from his party, including his number two, Praful Patel, they are already building up the crescendo.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, somewhat sceptically, pointed out that such attempts to build up unity in the Opposition are not new. “But time and again they have failed to keep the flock together. Every one of them (political parties) is ambitious. So, despite the need of a strong Opposition, such attempts have never succeeded,” said Mr Raut.