- Sees opportunity in coop scam to re-emerge on national political scene
- Pawar tries to milk the ED’ s case against him;
- Only politician offering to go to the ED office, even without summons
- But unlikely to go too far—may face the INC wall.
Mumbai: He has been one of the most colourful—and resourceful—politicians in post-Independence India, often having foes in his own parties and friends in others. In the same league as former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and ex Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, however, Sharad Govindrao Pawar missed the buses to such top destinations, apparently because of the trust-deficit he enjoyed across India’s multi-colour political spectrum.
He was lying low since 2014 when the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, emerged on India’s political horizon, turning multi-colourism into an increasingly saffron discourse.
Seventy-eight-year old Pawar, thrice Chief Minister of Maharashtra, had represented the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency since 2009. Eight-term MP, he had opted out of electoral race in May 2019. Now, his supporters want him to contest the Satara Lok Sabha by-election on October 21 in western Maharashtra. This way, he may return to active national politics to lead the Opposition space in New Delhi.
So far, in the Kashmir-saturated, Modi-fied and Shah-managed political discourse, however, he was finding it difficult to throw his hat in the ring. The upcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections, too, did not provide him much succor, even to play as a kingmaker, as the western state is almost set to return the BJP-Shiv Sena combine to power.
He may, therefore, have been ‘pleasantly’ surprised when he got a rare chance to take, perhaps, a last shot in national politics when, on the directive of Bombay High Court, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed an FIR in a Rs.25,000 crore cooperative bank scam against 70 accused, including Pawar.
And who knows better than Pawar how to fish in such troubled waters?
So, he became India’s first politician to announce he would go to the ED’s office in Mumbai on Friday, even though the investigative agency had not summoned or even invited him! At a time when Opposition politicians, particularly Congress leaders, are crying hoarse against the BJP-led NDA Government, accusing it of using government agencies against political adversaries, Pawar, therefore, stood out as a veteran offering himself to the ED—and the latter trying to keep him at an arm’s length!
Why is the ED—and the BJP Government led by Devendra Fadnavis— reluctant to launch a probe to discover any possible role of Pawar in the scam? The veteran has already reignited the Maratha pride by saying that Maharashtra never surrendered to Delhi—indirectly invoking the Shivaji-versus-Aurangzeb tussle in the 17th century, at a time when the State is racing towards the Vidhan Sabha elections in October.
Clearly, the ruling BJP thinks the ED’s case came at a most inopportune time. It is wary of Pawar’s expertise in mobilizing the Opposition, which may upstage its carefully-laid-out chessboard. If he is arrested, which is unlikely, the BJP might lose Maharashtra and see the return of the NCP-Congress combine to power. That is why the BJP, and Fadnavis, have carefully avoided their own fishing in troubled political waters at a crucial time.
That the BJP’s blow-hot-blow-cold junior partner, Shiv Sena, is also trying to turn screws on the Modi-Shah-led party, came to the fore when Sena MP Sanjay Raut ‘sympathized’ with Pawar, almost accusing the BJP of political vendetta, in a last-bid to bend the BJP to cough up more Assembly seats to the Sena for contest.
While the scam case could take months, even years, to come to any conclusion, why is Pawar ready to ‘invade’ the ED’s office? And why is the BJP Government trying to prevent Pawar from becoming a political martyr and magnet for the Opposition? The Maharashtra Government issued prohibitory orders around the ED office, deployed heavy police force to prevent the NCP workers from gate-crashing, and the ED even appealed Pawar not to come! Particularly when nobody has summoned him. For now, he heeded the ED’s appeal and decided not to go.
Of course, the case will reopen after the Assembly polls but Pawar realized that this is time to make political capital out of the sudden opportunity he was blessed with.
With spring in his feet, Pawar is as inscrutable now as he always was.
Looking at his political background, and the virtual political vacuum at the Centre, he may now offer himself as the only Opposition leader who could stitch together an effective alternative to the NDA. In other words, he could be the ‘national’ leader of the UPA! He may hope to gather other parties like the SP, BSP, RJD and others under his umbrella, and, thus, force even the Indian National Congress (INC) to shed its hallucinations of being an “Indian” or “national” party.
In the event, it would be the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who could take on a nationalist BJP-NDA combine. In still other words, it is the NCP, and not INC, which truly represents the legacy of the Mahatma Gandhi-led party of the Independence Movement!
Remember, Pawar had floated the NCP in 1999 as the party of Congress leaders who opposed the leadership of a “foreign-born” Sonia Gandhi. Sonia has returned as the Congress ‘interim’ President recently…and may keep her little kiosk next to the Pawar mall. On the contrary, she may strike a deal with the BJP to keep her fief and family safe!
That is, perhaps, why Pawar is unlikely to be more than a flash in the pan.