Hosting the next I.N.D.I.A. meet, will never join BJP: NCP chief Sharad Pawar

In his first unambiguous statement after the NCP split, Sharad Pawar clears the air on where he stands

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

Sujata Anandan

Every time Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar come together, publicly or privately, the rumour mills run rife that the Nationalist Congress Party president is joining the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Now, finally, after a meeting between uncle and nephew at the home of a close industrialist friend of the former, Pawar Sr made it clear that that is not happening—now or in the future.

On Saturday, 12 August, Ajit attempted to make a hush-hush visit to his uncle at the home of this Pune industrialist and even attempted to evade prying cameras by exiting the meeting lying supine on the back seat of his car.

On Sunday, 13 August, when Pawar Sr inaugurated an IT park in Solapur that was set up by the same industrialist, he savaged both the media and his nephew by asking less than politely, “What is wrong in an uncle meeting his nephew even if they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum? The meeting was no secret. I am the patriarch of my family. If any member of my family wishes to meet me anywhere, why make such a song and dance or secret about it?”

But what he said next is more significant. He told reporters that despite his well-wishers urging him to join hands with the BJP, he had no intention of doing so because the NCP’s electoral base was entirely secular and any form of association with the BJP would destroy that base and hence his party.

While not commenting on how then Ajit Pawar was expected to benefit from his alliance with the BJP, Pawar said, “I and Uddhav Thackeray are jointly hosting the next [Indian Nationalist Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA)] meet in Mumbai on August 31, where the Opposition will initiate discussions on the modalities of the alliance’s agenda going into 2024. We have already begun the process. There is absolutely no question of going back on it.”

Since Ajit broke away from the core of the NCP, this is the first categorical statement from Sharad Pawar on where he stands in the power stakes. It has put to rest the disquiet among the Maha Vikas Aghadi allies, who were worried about which way Pawar would swing.

Uddhav Thackeray today said Ajit’s frequent meetings with his uncle may be familial, but they were also mischievous, as they tended to tarnish Pawar Sr’s image and reputation.

His unequivocal statement comes after Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole urged him to leave no room for ambiguity in his dealings with his nephew. Soon after Pawar Sr cleared his stand, Shiv Sena (UBT) spokesperson Sanjay Raut rushed to his defence, saying, “If Narendra Modi can hold an unscheduled, secret meeting with Nawaz Sharif (former Pakistan prime minister), what is wrong with an uncle meeting a nephew behind closed doors?”

The underlying point of that statement was that the Pawars are family while Modi and Sharif belonged to countries hostile to each other. Raut added his own bit of mischief to the mix, though, by saying Pawar Sr was probably extending an invitation to his nephew to attend the next INDIA meeting.

The MVA already met last week to finalise the details of the meet that will take place at a luxury hotel in the suburbs. Congress leader Ashok Chavan had chaired the meeting with representatives of both the NCP and Shiv Sena (UBT) along with a host of other Congress leaders, including Patole, present to fine-tune the details.

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