Why Sharad Pawar rejected offer to be the Opposition's Presidential candidate

Sharad Pawar hates to lose and he would not have won without a consensus between BJP and the Opposition. What is more, he certainly fancies his chances as a consensus candidate for PM in 2024

Why Sharad Pawar rejected offer to be the Opposition's Presidential candidate

Sujata Anandan

Sharad Pawar, no matter what the “rumours” twirling around him, was always unlikely to be the next President of India. Not because he would not want to be the President but simply because he would not want to lose that election. And this election was one he was unlikely to win in the absence of a consensus between the government and the opposition.

However, that consensus was unlikely, not just because Pawar would be the opposition candidate but because he clearly would not be a rubber stamp President, never mind the limitations of that office. And that is what the BJP-RSS are afraid of - the damage that Pawar could do to them even in an office that is little more than a ceremonial one.

For they are quite aware of his credentials – whatever his politics, Pawar has been a fiercely secular politician, he believes in the Constitution, is Nehruvian and he is socialist to the core. Everything in fact that is anathema to the BJP and RSS.

The BJP has also finally worked out the masterly way in which the Pawars had manipulated BJP to withdraw all cases against Ajit who had sworn himself as Fadnavis’s deputy for 80 hours in 2019. But no sooner had the BJP’s washing machine rinsed him clean, Ajit returned to his family fold. Both Fadnavis and Modi are now convinced the exercise could not have happened without the active involvement of the senior Pawar.

Understandably, BJP-RSS will not trust Pawar further within sighting distance, least of all install him in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Moreover, one should not mistakenly believe that Pawar is about to hang up his boots. At Rashtrapati Bhavan or anywhere else. In response to a query on his possible presidential candidacy, Pawar said he was still too deeply involved in active politics to be satisfied with a possible office of President. Pawar knows he could serve the nation better in active politics at this hour of crisis in the country than ensconced in the stately Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Nevertheless, it is a measure of Pawar’s unique importance to the scheme of things in the country today that the Congress as well as the rest of the opposition should look up to him as their joint candidate. Looking at it from his point of view, 2024 could be his best chance to emerge as a consensus candidate of the opposition, not for Rashtrapati Bhavan but the prime minister’s office.

After long years of angst, there is complete cordiality between him and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, not even Mamata Banerjee or any other opposition leader would come up tops vis-à-vis Sharad Pawar.

It is not just his networking skills that could come in handy in the pursuit of a united opposition onslaught against the BJP but also his ability to look out for the good of the nation as he had done in Punjab while he was Union Defence minister – he had woven the people of the broken border state together with the help of the army and police who were under instructions to be friends to the people and not act like tyrants.

The state, along with many others in the North-East and elsewhere, is once again troubled and there are not too many leaders in the opposition who would be heard and be able to pull them together.

However, it is clear Pawar had paid less heed to his home turf in past years in his ambition for a larger national role for himself. It almost destroyed his support base as his own men began to question why he was unable to realise his goals.

His goal now, therefore, is to secure his home turf and he has succeeded to a large extent in keeping Maharashtra an oasis of secularism and communal harmony. He needs to be on the ground for continued relevance, so Rashtrapati Bhavan is unlikely to be his anchor in the near future.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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