Sharad Pawar doesn't waste words when he speaks and every word of his is considered important in Maharashtra’s politics.
So, when Pawar decided to be the chief guest at an event where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being felicitated, it was seen as more than just an act of political courtesy.
Pawar is a part of the opposition alliance called I.N.D.I.A, which is determined to defeat Prime Minister Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls. Sharing the stage with Prime Minister Modi thus held various implications.
For starters, Pawar was seen alongside the man ultimately responsible for the split in his party (and even family). In fact, Ajit Pawar had even welcomed the Prime Minister with a broad smile on his face.
Naturally, Pawar senior’s presence left the Uddhav Thackeray (UBT) camp bewildered. The UBT camp criticised Pawar's attendance at the event, expressing their disapproval in the mouthpiece Saamana.
The Thackeray Sena was also the only party from the state not represented on the stage in Pune.
But back to Pawar. He praised Prime Minister Modi from the stage, and not only that, he openly referred to Shivaji Maharaj as the Founder of ‘Hindavi Swarajya’. ‘Hindavi Swarajya’ is not a phrase that Sharad Pawar is recorded to have uttered in many years.
A loose definition of it would mean ‘the eradication of foreign rule and the rule of people of Hind’ (essentially Hindus).
Notably, Sharad Pawar had left the Congress party in the late 90's citing new party president Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins.
During his praise for Shivaji Maharaj, Pawar mentioned the Chhatrapati’s ‘surgical strike’ in apparent reference to a raid on Mughal general Shaista Khan that Shivaji Maharaj himself led, in April 1663. However, Pawar's mention of the surgical strike was interpreted as an approval of the Modi government for carrying out its own surgical strike in 2016 September.
While Pawar was the chief guest at the event, veteran Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was also present.
According to reports, Shinde was also involved in the decision to present the Lokmanya Tilak award to Prime Minister Modi.
Unease In I.N.D.I.A?
Pawar's presence has once again made many in the I.N.D.I.A camp anxious because previously too he has taken stances that differ from those of most opposition leaders.
Recall the Adani case, where Rahul Gandhi and numerous Congress leaders criticised the business tycoon. However, it was Pawar who spoke favorably about Adani, thereby undermining the notion of Opposition unity.
Even when the opposition decided to meet at Bengaluru, Pawar missed the first day of the meeting, giving rise to speculations.
Now that Pawar is openly sharing the stage with Modi, despite opposition from his allies, it has miffed many because Pawar is going to be the host of the opposition leaders' next meeting in Mumbai.
Tuesday's (1 August) camaraderie between Pawar and Modi has reinforced the belief among many that nothing occurs in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) without Pawar's approval.
How else could someone share the stage, smile, and appear content in the presence of a man (Modi) accused of causing the NCP's division and taking Ajit away from Sharad Pawar?
Pawar is not ruling out any possibilities; he is part of the opposition alliance while also maintaining good relations with Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Many, including members of the Sharad Pawar faction, believe that Pawar himself extended the invitation to Modi for the Pune event.
What Does All Of This Mean For Maharashtra Politics?
The Uddhav camp is feeling somewhat isolated due to an ongoing exodus of leaders, especially from Mumbai, which was considered Uddhav's stronghold. Sharad Pawar's felicitation of Modi hasn't done anything to calm nerves.
Uddhav is holding rallies in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to gain support from North Indians, but there's no guarantee that rally attendees will vote for UBT.
The exodus is only expected to increase when elections for the BMC are announced, with many predicted to switch sides. Eknath Shinde has already started denting UBT's prospects in Mumbai.
On the other hand, the Congress is being aggressive, particularly regarding controversies related to Phule and Gandhi. However, Devendra Fadnavis has managed to diffuse them, preventing them from becoming major issues on the ground. Even so, the Congress lacks a prominent face to mobilise its cadre effectively.
In the current scenario, the opposition is without a prominent leader in Maharashtra — except for Sharad Pawar. And he was last seen smiling and shaking hands with Prime Minister Modi.
Varun Singh, is a Mumbai-based journalist and tracks politics and other important news from the western region of the country. Varun has spent close to 18 years in journalism.
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