Dilip Walse Patil's gibe at Sharad Pawar amounts to hitting your godfather below the belt

Walse Patil's taunt directed at Pawar is surely deliberate mischief-mongering, for as Pawar's former personal secretary, he is well aware of the state's electoral history

NCP chief Sharad Pawar (photo: National Herald archives)
NCP chief Sharad Pawar (photo: National Herald archives)

Sujata Anandan

At least politicians in Maharashtra should know that the state has voted, for decades, only for mainstream parties.

From Independence to the mid-1990s, it was always the Indian National Congress that was ahead of all others. Even during the 1970s’s experiment with coalition parties in the aftermath of the Emergency, it was the Congress that, though short of a majority, pipped the combined opposition to the post.

This was as true of the Shiv Sena until 1995 as it was of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Only their combined alliance brought them more than the two or three Assembly seats they were winning until then. Growing saffronisation mainstreamed both the parties, eventually bringing them to power. But Sharad Pawar and his supporters always knew that as Congress offshoots, they stood no chance in Maharashtra.

This was obvious in 1978, when Pawar first split the Congress on a mandate that was not his own, but belonged to the faction within the Congress that was opposed to Indira Gandhi. Mrs Gandhi's faction was, however, still a few seats ahead of her rivals; even so, she had to join forces with the other Congress (O) to form the government.

But when Pawar set out to contest the next election on his own, without the backing of either of the Congresses, O or R, all he got was around 57 seats in the Assembly.

Twenty years later, after winning 42 out of 48 seats in the Lok Sabha at the head of a Congress that had inducted Sonia Gandhi as its president, Pawar thought he could now finally do it on his own. Yet after splitting the party again and setting up the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), all he got was 58 seats in 1999 — one more than in 1978. The Indian National Congress that year led with 75 seats in the Assembly, with the Shiv Sena in second place with 71 and the BJP far behind with 48 despite stalwarts like Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde leading its campaign.

It has been clear ever since that the NCP needs the INC to keep itself in power, and barring the one experiment in 2014 of supporting the BJP when it trailed the INC by three seats, Pawar has never swayed from his alliance with the mother party—which he clearly knows is crucial for his survival.

So Dilip Walse Patil, who recently switched over to the BJP along with Ajit Pawar, should have had these facts at his fingertips. Given that he was Pawar’s private secretary through the 1970s and was accommodated with a ticket to the Assembly only after Pawar’s re-merger with the Congress in 1986, Walse Patil’s insinuation that Pawar has never been able to win even a simple majority as NCP leader in the Assembly is both mischievous and disingenuous. 

The very reason for the NCP joining hands with the INC to form a government soon after the split was because everyone in the party knew they might go extinct without such an alliance.

Just as the two saffron parties, the Shiv Sena and the BJP had to come together to mainstream themselves, the NCP knew well enough that without the INC, it could not claim the regional space that was then fully occupied by the Shiv Sena. And without the INC, the NCP would be considered on par with one of the numerous off-shoots of the Janata Party that had already receded into oblivion.

So why is Walse Patil needling his mentor now? Simply because he personally hails from a region that has a substantial Muslim population that is already alienated from the BJP.

In addition, Pawar’s recent statement that none of the NCP men who broke away from his party actually care about development or the people’s welfare, that they are with the BJP merely to save their own skins from the Enforcement Directorate, has greatly damaged the Ajit Pawar faction. Ot was, of course, already under siege, what with Pawar Sr mopping up all the sympathy and popularity. His exhortation to his nephew to not use his pictures at their meetings has distanced his nephew’s faction even further from the mainstream.

Pawar’s statements against Narendra Modi and the BJP are becoming sharper and more critical by the day. Facing a credibility issue over where exactly he stands, he has been relentless in emphasising his place in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

Walse Patil’s constituency is mostly agrarian, and farmers in Maharashtra today are largely hostile to the BJP. That is a good enough reason to knock his mentor’s vote-catching abilities, as Pawar is highly popular among farmers.

Having said that, it is also true that while all other regional leaders— including those who came after Pawar first split the Congress—have led their parties to power at least once, if not twice, in their respective states, Sharad Pawar has not managed this even once.

Even breakaway Congress leaders like Mamata Banerjee, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, N Chandrababu Naidu and others have won their states without any support. Even the nationally insignificant Asom Gana Parishad managed to win its state, and ensure regional impact, more than once.

It is a sore point with Pawar, and Walse Patil knows this well. He was merely hitting his political godfather below the belt.

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