dna editor-in-chief Uday Nirgudkar with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar
In your life, a fighting spirit can be seen. Did you get this from your mother?My mother and father both. My mother was from a common family. She rebelled against the social norms of those times and educated herself. My father was in service but he was associated with the Satyashodhak movement and with Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil, a senior figure in educational sector. It is but natural that these things nourished our minds.Your family has a Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) background. Your mother was a PWP local board member and your brother-in-law is ND Patil. Still, you were attracted to the Congress.My mother was not a PWP local board member. She was elected to the Pune local board in 1936-37 for the first time as a Congress nominee. Around 1948, when the Congress went into the hands of Kakasaheb Gadgil and others in Maharashtra, a section of the party who thought intensely about rural areas felt uneasy. Yeshwantrao (Chavan) was part of that but never quit the Congress. Shankarrao More, Keshavrao Jedhe and others started PWP. Those who were uneasy in the Congress, such as my mother and elder brother, joined the PWP.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In reality, the BJP leaders do not want to remain with the Sena. But after Bihar elections, BJP may start adjusting with the Sena… digest its arrogance and accept its demandsLater Yeshwantrao Chavan inspired you. When did you first meet him?In my childhood, my house had photographs of Stalin, Lenin and Karl Marx but my attraction to the Left did not last long. Yeshwantrao and myself had the same attraction for Nehru and his focus on modern science, technology and democracy as a means of life. This attracted me to Yeshwantrao.You took decisions which would hurt politically but were progressive with long-term social ramifications. Of these, one was the renaming of the Marathwada university. Did it hurt you politically?100 per cent. Marathwada was educationally backward. The first educational complex in Aurangabad was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Milind College. In Aurangabad university, the academic council unanimously decided to rename it after Babasaheb instead of Marathwada. A recommendation was made to the state but no implementation was done during the tenure of the three chief ministers. Then in Marathwada and Vidarbha, the Dalit Panther and such organisations raised the demand and were upset that Mahatma Phule, Punjabrao Deshmukh and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s names were given (to institutions) but despite the academic council’s unanimous decision, Ambedkar’s name was not given. This made me uneasy. I discussed the issue with my cabinet colleagues and SM Joshi gave me the moral strength. We took a decision but that very evening, houses of Dalits were set on fire. They were killed in Aurangabad, Nanded and other places. I had to suspend the decision in the next few days. It was a painful moment.Looking back, what would you call your most revolutionary decision?This can be one such decision. After the suspension, I lost my chief minister’s post and I had to pay the price in my base – Marathwada. When I became the CM in the 1980s, I realised that I had not taken the youth and people from villages into confidence before the decision. I rectified the mistake and took the decision again. The new generation welcomed it.What happened in 1978? The prevailing phrase then was you stabbed (Vasantdada Patil) in the back.The Congress was divided then. There was one Congress led by Indiraji (Gandhi) and one under Swarn Singh and Bramhanand Reddy. In Maharashtra, Yeshwantrao Chavan was our leader and he, Vasantrao Naik, Vasantraodada Patil were a part of the Swarn Singh Congress or Congress (S). We fought polls against each other but the two formed a government to keep the then Janata Party out. Vasantdada was the chief minister from our side and Nashikrao Tirpude was the deputy chief minister. From Day One, the government was not unified. In Delhi, Abasaheb Kulkarni, Annasaheb Shinde and others met at Yeshwantraoji’s place and concluded that we had to exit the government. The responsibility was handed over to me. Accordingly, I, Sushilkumar Shinde, Sundarrao Solankhe and Datta Meghe resigned as ministers. Chandrashekhar, our friend, declared support for us.Yeshwantrao telephoned me and asked me not to form the government. I agreed but Kisan Veer took the phone from me and since they were very close, told Yeshwantrao that if we back down, the political lives of these youth would be devastated and asked me to go ahead and form the government.This back-stabbing allegation has stuck to you. Do you think it would have been better if this has not happened?If this had not happened, the Congress would not have survived here.You went on to the Shiv Sena’s platform in 1984. What had happened then?In those days, textile mills defined Mumbai’s economy and were staffed by people from rural Maharashtra and Konkan. Firebrand leader Dr Datta Samant called for a textile strike. If Samant’s leadership was accepted by the textile sector, the mills would have gradually shut down on the pretext of strikes, and thousands would have been jobless. George Fernandes, myself asnd Balasaheb Thackeray decided to join hands to take the strike out of Samant’s hands. We succeeded then but unfortunately what we feared eventually happened.Modi made irresponsible, below the belt statements during elections. He should not have lowered the dignity of the PM’s post. In my 50 years of politics, I never saw Jawaharlal Nehru, VP Singh and Manmohan Singh use Modi like languageYou rejoined the Congress in Aurangabad in 1986. Is it true that Rajiv Gandhi kept you waiting for one-and-a-half years? He did not mention your name even once in his speech. Why?After Indira Gandhi’s death, Rajiv Gandhi expressed a wish that I should work with him. When I went for final darshan at her home in Delh and offered my condolences to Rajiv, he held my hand and said, “Sharad, I think enough is enough. Now the time has come, we have to work together.” I said we are with you in your crisis. Then polls were declared and we fought separately. I had no desire to contest the Lok Sabha polls and was the leader of the Opposition. There was a sympathy wave in Rajiv’s favour and there were doubts if the Opposition could survive. In those circumstances, to increase my colleagues’ confidence, I decided to contest. We met regularly. This cemented the decision to join hands and he assigned the responsibility to Arun Nehru. Arun told me in the first meeting that he was not amenable to me returning to the Congress as it would hurt both. But since the leader had said this, we had to finalise the modalities. We decided on the Aurangabad meeting. It is true that Rajiv Gandhi did not take my name but I was told that the family never took names on party platforms. So I never felt anything about it.Why did you clash with people close to you, such as Sonia Gandhi, Vasantdada Patil, and your contemporaries in the Congress, such as Antulay?All of them supported me later. Coming to Rajiv Gandhi, when we came together, I was not holding any post. I was in Goa when he called me at 3.30am and in his typical style asked me what I was doing. I said one sleeps at 3.30 in the morning. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was working. I said you are the prime minister, you have no choice, you have to work. He called me to Delhi. When I reached there, I was called to his home from the airport and was asked to take charge as the chief minister the next day. Shankarrao Chavan was the CM but had been moved to the centre.Do you think if this serpentine journey had been avoided, this Marathi manoos would have become the prime minsiter in 1991?I do not think so. In each of these times, there were reasons for the crisis. You spoke about Sonia Gandhi, now our relations are good. When the issue of making her the (Congress) president came up, we all felt that Sitaram Kesari had to be replaced. This included me, Anthony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and some more Congressmen. But one thing rankled me. When I was in Maharashtra, a meeting of the Congress parliamentary party was called and Pranab da (Mukherjee) put forth a proposal to change the Constitution so that an individual who was not a member of Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha could be the leader of the parliamentary party. After this was done, Soniaji was given the leadership of the Congress parliamentary party. I felt this was inappropriate.When I was in Maharashtra, Pranab da put forth a proposal to change the Constitution so that an individual who was not a member of the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha could be the leader of the parliamentary party. After that, Soniaji was given the leadership of the Congress parliamentary party. It was meant to stop meThis was akin to stabbing Sharad Pawar in the back…This was meant to stop me. Then Sonia Gandhi gave a letter asking me to lead the Congress in the Lok Sabha. I was uneasy. Differences started when there was a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and Sonia Gandhi read a prepared speech that said the BJP was raising the issue of her foreign origins and if this was affecting the Congress party, she will have to think about it seriously. It was decided that the opinions of all in the working committee members would be sought. (PA) Sangma, who was close to Sonia Gandhi, said if leadership is given to you, there will be opposition and the Congress will have to pay the price. Tariq Anwar supported it. I felt these questions would surely come up but we can answer them. The meeting was later adjourned. I took a flight to Pune. At the airport, journalists surrounded me and said that Sonia Gandhi had resigned before the Congress office after we spoke about this. There were demonstrations outside the Congress office and demands were made to expel three of us. We three then met in Delhi and prepared a detailed letter for Sonia Gandhi, in which we said we are not opposed to her foreign origins, but these questions will come up. After getting the letter, the working committee expelled us for six years. We then formed the NCP.Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha and Biju Patnaik came to power in their states on their own. The NCP, however, never managed to cross 70-75 seats in the 288 member Vidhan Sabha. Why?We are in the 50-69 range. Our weakness includes Mumbai, which has 36 Vidhan Sabha seats. NCP’s base is rural and consists of the Marathi manoos. But the Marathi manoos in Mumbai and Thane is connected to the Shiv Sena.This base that you are talking of has a caste colour, despite the leader being progressive. Why?Our support base essentially consists of farming communities in Marathwada and western Maharashtra, which are largely Marathas. But we have many people (from other communities). Jaidutta Ksirsagar is a Teli and opposition leader Dhananjay Munde is a Vanjari.If someone opens his mind, such as Aamir Khan, people attack him. He is Muslim, therefore, a soft target for these fringe elementsYou had warned about the impact of drought in the coming summer. You were the agriculture minister for years, your party was in power and when the Congress was in government, your loyalists held portfolios of irrigation and power. Despite this, why weren’t the problems around agriculture in Maharashtra solved?In Maharashtra, agriculture faces limitations regarding water. Expert committees said 65 per cent of the state will stay rain-fed. Maharashtra has the largest number of dams in India but due to the scarcity of water, the problems have not been solved.Are you promoting dynastic politics in NCP?I do not believe in dynastic politics. We are very much clear that people have to choose their leaders. Anyone in our party who is ready to work hard, is capable of expanding the party base and has a knack to solve people’s issues can be a leader. There are several in our party who are capable of leading. Late home minister RR Patil was one of them. Unfortunately he is no more. Besides, Jayant Patil, Dlip Valse Patil, Ajit Pawar, Jaydutta Kshirsagar and so on are there.But you have to choose only one as party leader?The above-mentioned leaders have the potential to lead the party. When the party workers feel that this leader can add more votes, he will be elected and accepted as a natural leader. Why people had to chose Indira Gandhi? Because she helped them get elected. She was a crowd puller. Same is the case with BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In the recent general elections, BJP leaders and workers chose Narendra Modi as their leader, despite having a senior leader like LK Advani.After Bihar elections result, do you think that the third front is again getting stronger? Will such a jumbo alliance succeed?I was 100 per cent sure the combination of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Congress will win the elections. The reason is that each one has its stronghold and solid base. If the Congress and NCP come together against the BJP, we will surely defeat the BJP and can come to power. If the regional parties come together in respective states, they can give a strong fight to the BJP. That can change the political picture of the entire country.Do you think that in Uttar Pradesh also, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati will come together?Not all, they will never come together. There is a possibility of the Congress and SP coming together or BSP and Congress and left forces may join hands.You had said that the mid-term poll was likely to happen?The mid-term elections will not take place at the centre because Narendra Modi has enough numbers to run a stable government. I predicted mid-term poll in Maharashtra because BJP had no majority and was surviving on the props of Shiv Sena. I think the BMC elections scheduled in 2017 will be a turning point for the state politics. BMC is crucial for the Sena. In BMC, Sena is in a strong position. At the same time, the BJP is also spreading its base so there is likely to be a stiff competition between Sena and BJP. That will widen the rift and finally cause the separation. In reality, the BJP leaders do not want to remain with the Sena. But after the Bihar elections, BJP may start adjusting with the Sena and digest its arrogance and accept its demands.Many people have returned their government awards in protest against the intolerance in the country. What is your take on it?People’s opinion and government’s stand are two different things. A recent controversial statement by former Army chief VK Singh, now a central minister, was unfortunate. Some one from BJP also said if you are eating beef, then you should go to Pakistan. These statements were made by the ruling party leaders as well as by people who are in the government. The sad part is no one is there to contain them. If someone opens his mind, such as Aamir Khan, people attack him. He is Muslim, therefore, a soft target for these fringe elements. I read that BJP president Amit Shah warned these fringe elements. If it is true then it is the right step. The PM must have also have given suggestions to contain these elements. I did not find anything wrong with artists returning their awards.Modi had come to Baramati during Lok Sabha elections and lambasted NCP. He even called it the Naturalist Corrupt Party. Now the same Modi is praising you.Modi made irresponsible, below the belt statements during elections. He was the prime ministerial candidate. He should not have lowered the dignity of the post. In my 50 years of politics, I never saw Jawaharlal Nehru, VP Singh and Manmohan Singh use Modi like language. During his tours, it is Modi’s responsibility to maintain the dignity of the country and its people.