Tight rope walk by Pawar

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar has once again reminded its poll ally the Congress Party that it cannot take UPA allies for granted on important issue like setting up an inquiry commission to investigate snoopgate. Though Pawar was away from Delhi, he coordinated his move, got one more UPA ally on his side and created atmosphere of confusion among Congress hawks who were bent upon pinning down BJP presidential candidate Narendra Modi and his aide Amit Shah. A day after Pawar took strong objection to the Centre’s proposal to appoint a judge to probe the ‘Snoop gate’ scandal, the Congress has given up its idea of appointing a judge before the results were out on May 16 making it clear who will rule Delhi for next five years.

Apparently, Pawar spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and advised him against such a step which would go against the UPA-II and prove very costly. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibbal had to give up their idea of appointing a judge as it would have required cabinet nod. According to Praful Patel, Pawar’s right hand man, the decision was taken by the union cabinet to institute an inquiry into ‘snoop gate’ way back in December 2013, but the government did nothing about it for so long. The NCP says they are not against the inquiry, but its timing is absolutely wrong as there is no time left before the results of the general elections will be out by May 16 and Shinde talked about appointing a judge before May 16.

The Congress Party in Maharashtra which is quite aware of Pawar’s ways of handling things in a shrewd ways was upset calling it a violation of the ‘coalition dharma’. This is not for the first time Pawar has taken ambiguous stand slightly different than the Congress while considering Narendra Modi. At the beginning of campaign for election 2014, the Congress began raising the issue of 2002 communal riots and Modi’s controversial role in it. Pawar and his general secretary Praful Patel observed that when the court has passed judgment then one should not question it again.

As heat and dust over election campaign began gaining momentum, he changed the track and began lambasting Modi and his polarising policies. He hit out at the RSS supported Modi, asking voters in Maharashtra whether they would like to hand over the country to ‘chaddiwala’ slang describing RSS volunteers who don khaki half pant for their daily parade.

Pawar who runs a state government in Maharashtra with the Congress for last 15 years is always on tenterhook and know the quicksand of coalition politics. He is keeping his options open and do not want to be seen totally committed to the Congress alliance leaving very little scope for maneuvering. He has to remain in power to ensure smooth sailing of his party in near future. It will be difficult for him to survive his party if it is out of power since power is a very strong cementing force. This is also true for another Congress ally – the National Conference which is surviving in terror torn Jammu and Kashmir .Clarifying its position National Conference leader and J&K CM Omar Abdullah tweeted that setting up an inquiry in the ‘dying hours of UPA-2’ was wrong.

Pawar is making his presence felt with very measured statements about Modi and his election campaign apart from his poll rhetoric against the saffron brigade. One can understand his vulnerable situation where he is running a state government with the help of the Congress Party for last 15 years and not a single year has passed without Pawar hitting out at the Congress on some important issue, but still remaining as a senior ally of the UPA for last ten years.

In case, the NDA comes to power in Delhi in post-election era, he will have to deal with Modi and team. So he is taking care to keep them at a good distance but not unnecessarily ruffling their feathers….on the contrary, he is extending indirect support in crucial issues affecting Modi – clean chit by the court in 2002 riots and in snoop-gate inquiry.

Similarly, he cannot also take on the Congress and create distance. He has to take measured step like he did in opposing the timing of the appointment of the judge for snoopgate inquiry but added that his party is not basically opposed to the inquiry.

Keeping good relations with the Congress is also must for Pawar has the coalition government in Maharashtra still has to go a long way before it faces voters in second half of the 2014. He cannot afford to irk the Congress beyond a point or else face fall of the coalition government. Depending on the outcome of the election results on May 16, he would chart his strategy for the future. Will he go along with the Congress in the coming assembly elections if the Congress does not form a government in Delhi or break away and contest the elections on his own strength? He is in no hurry to endorse the NDA even if it comes to power but keep a safe distance and keep the alliance amused about the stand.

He had adopted equidistance from the Congress as well as the Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra when he fought 1999 elections, but ultimately formed the coalition government in the state. Pawar has excelled in the art of governance in a coalition governments by playing blow hot blow cold. Without waiting for the outcome of the elections 2014, Pawar held a meeting of his top functionaries and asked them to keep the party ready for the coming assembly elections.

Pawar knows that he can always change his track and negotiate for better deal. In coalition politics, what counts is how you play your cards amidst confusing atmosphere rather than how many seats you control.

Prakash Bal Joshi

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