Sharad Pawar: Misquoted or deliberately misleading?

Spats break out between the two NCP factions as Pawar Sr sharpens his attack against the rebels—only to backtrack!

NCP chief Sharad Pawar addressing the media on 6 July 2023 in New Delhi (photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
NCP chief Sharad Pawar addressing the media on 6 July 2023 in New Delhi (photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Sujata Anandan

A week before the Indian Nationalist Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) was to meet in Mumbai, an event hosted by Sharad Pawar, the Nationalist Congress Party president set the cat among the pigeons by saying his nephew Ajit Pawar continued to be a leader of the party.

Now, Pawar is not estranged from his nephew in the way that former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is from his cousin Raj Thackeray or former colleague Eknath Shinde. So he had everybody in a frenzy, wondering what he was up to.

A day later came the clarification: He had only responded to his daughter Supriya Sule’s statement that there was no rift in the family and it was only the BJP that was creating problems between them. Which might be very true, but Pawar is often ambiguous even in his own native tongue—so it is likely he was both misunderstood and misquoted. Or intended to mislead.

To be fair to him, even when he is unambiguous, he is often misrepresented. For example, ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Pawar was quoted as saying he wished to become prime minister but since the NCP could not get enough seats, he needed to tie up with the Congress.

Turned out what he had actually said was in reply to a question: “Do you think you will become prime minister?”

His answer: "How can one become PM unless one has a large number of seats, and the NCP cannot get that many. So we are tying up with Congress to defeat the BJP."

The agency that misquoted him ended up with a lot of egg on its face and had to clarify and admit to making an unforgivable professional error.

But then there are times when Pawar deliberately misleads by speaking only half-truths. Like in the troubled decade of the 1990s, when he was Union defence minister and he allowed two notified criminals to travel in his government aircraft. He denied knowing their names (which might have been true), but later pictures surfaced that showed them cosying up to him at a public event. He wriggled out of that one by saying, “Hundreds of people come and speak to me at public meetings. I cannot be expected to know all of them.”

After getting into much trouble over such dissembling, Pawar changed course; but now seems to have fallen into old habits again.

However, now with barely four days to go before the Opposition meet, a war of words has broken out in the NCP between the two groups, with Pawar stating that while he believed in second chances, a third chance would never be given to his nephew.

“There was the case of someone taking oath one day early morning (Ajit with Devendra Fadnavis in 2019)," Pawar has said. "When he returned, I accepted his apology and excuse that he was misled. Now there can be no further forgiving of such transgressions.”

Sharad Pawar’s earlier statement that Ajit and the others are not with the BJP in the interest of serving the people or development, but only to save their skins has further widened the gap between the patriarch and his nephew and the latter’s supporters.

Given that Pawar has already told his nephew not to use his pictures on Ajit Pawar's platforms and is also insisting that there is no split in his party, only some people quitting and joining up with the BJP, the Ajit faction was not quite happy to start with and is now immensely worried.

So they are coming up with all sorts of personal attacks against Pawar Sr—the latest being Hasan Mushrif, who blames Pawar Sr for his exit because the NCP president did not stand by him when the Enforcement Directorate came knocking at his door.

Now Sharad Pawar has pushed back saying,  “You commit mistakes and invite action and the party must stand by your wrongdoing?”

For Mushrif specifically, he had a sharper response. “Anil Deshmukh, Nawab Malik, Sanjay Raut all did no wrong, yet were thrown in jail. They bore up like men. You did not even have to go to jail and you can’t even bear a knock at your door?”

A wide chasm has now opened up between the two sides, and it is unlikely to be bridged very soon. These contretemps have also pushed Pawar Sr firmly into the arms of INDIA, and brought some peace and comfort to the Shiv Sena (UBT) and Congress leaders.

But they too are not beyond adding to the confusion. While the BJP continues to insist that Pawar will eventually join hands with them, Congress leaders are challenging the BJP and saying these spats show Ajit will return to the fold sooner rather than later, because of the diminishing returns his faction would get from their association with the BJP. 

In any case, Pawar Sr seems to prefer to keep the pot boiling.

However, it would seem he has taken Congress leaders into confidence, with state Congress chief Nana Patole asserting they have full confidence in Sharad Pawar and are not concerned with family disputes.

Congress’s leader of the opposition Vijay Wadettiwar has also been in a  war of words with the BJP. But the Maha Vikas Aghadi seems to be brimming with confidence about their unity, ahead of the INDIA meet on Thursday, 31 August.

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