Sharad Pawar, a senior leader of the opposition bloc, stirred up a hornet's nest by sharing the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Maharashtra today (1 August).
Despite the objections of his allies and several other parties, Pawar decided to attend the event anyway.
In the background of ongoing bitter acrimony between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition in Delhi, Prime Minister Modi and Sharad Pawar surpisingly greeted each other warmly on stage at a function in Pune.
At the beginning of the event, Prime Minister Modi approached the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) veteran, and the two leaders engaged in a friendly conversation.
Pawar even grinned and patted the Prime Minister.
The presence of Sharad Pawar, a prominent opposition figure, alongside Prime Minister Modi is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the opposition's I.N.D.I.A alliance, which consists of 26 parties.
The alliance is currently preparing for its third meeting in Mumbai, following previous gatherings in Patna and Bengaluru.
The Lokmanya Tilak Smarak Mandir Trust organised an event where Prime Minister Modi was honored with the Lokmanya Tilak National Award, with Sharad Pawar as the chief guest.
Among the attendees on stage were Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Deputy Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, and Ajit Pawar, the rebel nephew of Sharad Pawar who recently joined forces with the BJP.
Prime Minister Modi acknowledged Ajit Pawar and patted him on the back.
During his speech, the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of trust in fostering development, stating that an atmosphere of mistrust hinders progress.
He also highlighted Lokmanya Tilak's talent for identifying young individuals, citing Veer Savarkar as an example.
Speaking earlier, Sharad Pawar discussed Lokmanya Tilak's dedication to achieving total freedom for the country and his early days in Pune.
Pawar highlighted Tilak's efforts to unite the masses through journalism, with his newspapers Kesari and Maratha playing a crucial role in fighting against the British. Tilak strongly believed in the freedom of the press and advocated against any form of pressure on journalists.
Prime Minister Modi and Sharad Pawar shared a stage together for the first time in seven years. Despite the Congress and Shiv Sena urging him to skip the event, Pawar felt obligated to attend as he had extended the invitation to Prime Minister Modi months ago.
Given the recent split in his party and the betrayal by his nephew, the allies believed Pawar should have opted out of the event. They blamed Modi's BJP for enabling this situation.
The Shiv Sena, led by Uddhav Thackeray, expressed their disappointment with Pawar's decision to attend the event.
They believed he could have chosen to distance himself from the function in order to address the doubts raised against him.
The Uddhav Thackeray's Sena stated in its mouthpiece Saamana that,"PM Modi accused the NCP of corruption and then engineered a split in the party and muddied the politics in Maharashtra. Still Sharad Pawar welcomes Modi...this has not gone down well with some people. This was a good opportunity for Sharad Pawar to turn his back on the programme and clear the doubts about him among people."
The Sena further believed that this was a missed opportunity for Pawar to distance himself from the controversy and address the doubts people had about him.
Bhuvan Krishna is Staff Writer at Swarajya.
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