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Sharad Pawar: ‘Prime Minister Modi has lost his balance because he realises he is not returning to power’

The veteran politician takes apart the BJP’s “Abki baar 400 paar” campaign and foresees a repeat of the 2004 “India Shining” defeat for the party.

Published : May 03, 2024 15:17 IST - 8 MINS READ

Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) chief Sharad Pawar addresses a public meeting for the Lok Sabha election in Pune.

Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) chief Sharad Pawar addresses a public meeting for the Lok Sabha election in Pune. | Photo Credit: Nitin Lawate/ANI

In an exclusive interview to Frontline, veteran politician Sharad Pawar, who heads a faction of the Nationalist Congress Party, was scathing in his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign. Pawar also claimed that many small parties would join the INDIA bloc after June 4. Pawar also slammed Modi for twisting the contents of the Congress manifesto. Excerpts:

At 84, your nephew Ajit Pawar is challenging you on your home pitch Baramati. Are you fighting the toughest battle of your life?

Not at all. Am I looking like I am fighting a tough battle? We take every election seriously. But I would say this is not a tough election. Back in 1967, when I was contesting for the first time, the opponent was politically very strong. That was a tough election. In 1977, there was a wave against the Congress. That was a tough election, but I won with 65,000 votes. In the 2019 election, when there was a wave still, Supriya [Sule] got a margin of more than one lakh votes.

But the situation has changed; Ajit Pawar is against you.

I accept it. But let’s see how far it goes. It is true that Ajit is against her [Supriya Sule], he is taking all efforts. But I do not understand one thing. He is the Deputy Chief Minister. He has all the mechanisms on the ground. Then why is he spending so much time here?

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For almost 25 years, you have had no connection with the grassroots.

That is true. But that is not a problem here. People know me well and they have seen us all. All these years, I used to do one rally on the last day of campaigning. The same will happen now. We are confident of people’s support in Baramati.

How do you see the BJP’s slogan of “Ab ki baar, 400 paar”?

I don’t see it happening. Their tally will go down drastically from what it is today. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh their tally is going down. Last time there was an understanding between the BJD and the BJP in Odisha but this time they are contesting strongly against each other. In my opinion, the BJP will lose ground there too. Then, in Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab there will be severe setbacks for the BJP due to the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. So, while they talk about this 400 and all, my personal friends in the BJP, who occupy important positions, are expecting 240 to 260 seats.

“The information Prime Minister Narendra Modi is getting from various sources is that the situation is not at all positive for the BJP. That is why he has become desperate and is coming to Maharashtra again and again.”

You think this ”Ab ki baar 400 paar” chant has unsettled the Dalit and minorities of India.

I will say, all communities are disturbed over it. See, in the 2004 election, the entire BJP campaign was designed by Pramod Mahajan. It was called the “India Shining” campaign. That time, my party colleague Praful Patel, who has now changed sides and gone with Ajit Pawar, spent a whole day with me and tried to convince us that we should go with the BJP. I heard all that he had to say and then told him that my assessment was that if he himself were to contest from that [NDA] side, he would lose. He stayed back with us. He became an MP from our side. The 2024 situation is like 2004.

Prime Minister Modi has been asking in his rallies, who will be the Prime Minister from the INDIA bloc?

In 2004, there was no announcement of a prime ministerial candidate from the UPA. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister and ran the government successfully for 10 years. In 1977, nobody projected Morarji Desai as Prime Minister. The Janata Party was not even formed. Jayaprakash Narayan made an appeal and then the government came into existence, and Morarji became Prime Minister.

How well will the INDIA bloc perform?

It is a new alliance as of today. But, after the results, many others would join us. We will sit together, and a formal understanding will evolve.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar during a public meeting for the Lok Sabha election in Pune. Sharad Pawar says he is unaffected by Modi’s comments about him because people have started to understand the reality of the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar during a public meeting for the Lok Sabha election in Pune. Sharad Pawar says he is unaffected by Modi’s comments about him because people have started to understand the reality of the Prime Minister. | Photo Credit: Nitin Lawate/ANI

Prime Minister Modi is campaigning in Maharashtra. He made a comment, “wandering soul”, without naming you. Have his belittling comments diminished the position of the Prime Minister?

Basically, I think he has lost his balance. I think he has concluded that he is not returning to power. Otherwise, why should he take such a stand? In every rally, he attacks me and Uddhav Thackeray. I understand that he will have to come [to Maharashtra]; he will have to campaign. But he doesn’t bother to make any logical statement.

For the first time that I have heard you usesuch harsh words. It seems you are hurt by the Prime Minister’s comments.

No question of hurt. I am happy that he is talking like this. Because it’s the people that have started understanding the reality of Prime Minister Modi.

Modi has addressed around 13 rallies in Maharashtra. There is a buzz that he could be addressing more than 20 rallies, something that no other Prime Minister has done in Maharashtra. Do you think Modi has realised the sharp opposition to him and his party in Maharashtra?

I think the information he is getting from various sources is that it is not at all positive for the BJP. That is why he has become desperate and is coming to Maharashtra again and again.

“In Tamil Nadu, there are 39 seats. They held the election in one phase. In Maharashtra [48 seats], voting is scheduled in five phases. How come this difference? What does the Election Commission want to do through this?”

Modi is also raising the issue of inheritance tax in every rally. Have you read the Congress manifesto? Does it mention such a tax as the Prime Minister is claiming.

He is talking about mangalsutra and all. It is foolishness. There is no mention of any inheritance tax in the Congress manifesto. Sam Pitroda was talking about it in an interview. It could be there in the US or China or Russia. But it has nothing to do with the Congress manifesto. Unnecessarily the Prime Minister is trying to connect it with the Congress. That should not be done.

You think this is trivialisation of a manifesto, which is a public document, and the Prime Minister must avoid saying such things, given the stature of his post?

Absolutely. You use harsh words, but it is correct.

Can this constant campaigning ultimately turn undecided voters towards the BJP?

I don’t think so. Two days back, there was a rally in Khadakwasla in Pune. It comes under Supriya’s constituency. Last time, Supriya was trailing there by 65,000 votes. But our rally was successful. I took feedback from different sections. They said they will vote for Supriya. I asked them, how come they have changed this time. They said that they have realised the hollowness of Modi’s claims. I think people do not get swayed by anything now.

The role of the Election Commission has been questioned. The voting figures of the first two phases comes after 11 days. How do you see it? Is it, in a way, eroding the credibility of the Election Commission?

The Election Commission is an institution. Till recently they had maintained some dignity. But this time, you spoke of the voting data. Also, there is the issue of voting phases. In Tamil Nadu, there are 39 seats. They held the election in one phase. In Uttar Pradesh, there are 80 seats, and the voting will take place in seven phases. In Maharashtra, the voting is scheduled in five phases. How come this difference? What exactly does the Election Commission want to do through this?

Also Read | Can the reunion of Maharashtra’s erstwhile ruling classes challenge BJP’s entrenched dominance?

You think this has been done to help the BJP in campaigning heavily in each seat in Maharashtra?

Not just that. To assess the situation and set unhealthy actions against the opponents.

You mean, the BJP is using investigative agencies and other government machinery against opposition leaders in the middle of the election.

Yes. I can give you 10 such examples. Abhijit Patil of Pandharpur was campaigning for us. I had declared his candidature for the upcoming Assembly election. One day, he got a notice from some department and the sugar stock of his mill was sealed. Later, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called him for a meeting. After the meeting, Abhijit declared support to the BJP and now those notices have been torn up. Another person who was campaigning for us in the periphery of Pune is having a dairy business. He got a tax notice for some Rs.30-40 crore. As soon as he joined the BJP, those notices were thrown away. I am sure that people are now aware of the misuse of government machinery against the opposition. They will reject this kind of politics.

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