Maharashtra’s political heavyweight Sharad Pawar has always displayed a strong penchant for being unpredictable in his political game plan. His recent move, to request Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reduce his ministerial burden to concentrate more on party work, has caught the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and even his critics unawares. The timing coincided with his appointment as the International Cricket Council president and the ensuing parliamentary session within a fortnight.
As expected, the Congress party downplayed Pawar’s move. But, the BJP and the Shiv Sena — Pawar’s main opponents on his home turf — attacked him and called upon the Prime Minister to appoint the Maratha leader as a minister for cricket. Nonchalant Pawar, however, countered his critics by arguing that he did not see any problem in simultaneously discharging his ministerial responsibilities.
Undeterred by criticism, the 70-year-old Maratha leader, who has never tasted electoral defeat in his political career spanning over 40 years, has refused to budge. He strongly believes that by devoting more time for the NCP — which he had formed after his suspension in May 1999 from the Congress for raking up the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin - he could expand the party’s base and establish direct contacts with the gen-next.
Pawar also wants Manmohan Singh to allocate two more ministerial berths for proper division of work. Curiously, Pawar’s decision has brightened the scope of the much awaited Cabinet reshuffle wherein the Prime Minister is expected to ease out non-performers and those who have only become a burden on the ministry.
The astute politician that he is, Pawar has killed two birds with one stone. He has re-emphasised that he is one of the few leaders who can wear many hats and at the same time keep leaders from various political parties in good humour. Besides, he would not succumb to Congress gimmicks to force a merger of the NCP into the Congress.
By seeking a decision from Manmohan Singh in a fortnight, Pawar has set a deadline to settle the issue. Meanwhile, he is all set to play his new innings as the ICC president, only the second Indian after Jagmohan Dalmiya to assume the coveted post in world cricket. He has ambitious plans to take cricket to China, the US, Russia, other East European countries and Africa. Pawar, who has rejected racism or politics at the ICC after former Australian prime minister John Howard’s outburst, also proposes to keep the existing three formats of cricket — Tests, One Day Internationals and Twenty20 — intact.
Pawar’s appointment as ICC boss and his decision to relieve himself of one of the ministries comes after he weathered controversies over his families’ and his own link-ups to the Indian Premier League (IPL) bids. Pawar and his MP daughter Supriya Sule had repeatedly maintained that they were not involved any way in the controversial bids. The recent bidding for IPL Pune revealed his 16 per cent stake in City Finance. Likewise, his 0.05 per cent stake in Royal Challengers Bangalore alone is worth Rs 6 crores.
The Congress allegedly made every attempt to put Pawar on the mat, but the NCP supremo got a breather when the Congress had to divert its attention on the Bhopal issue and Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson. After the flip flop on the issue and various statements by a number of Congress leaders, the campaign against Pawar fizzled out and it made him enjoy the Congress party’s poor attempt to come clean in the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Pawar survived a number of controversies in the past. The veteran leader attracted a lot of criticism from opposition and NGOs for a spate of farmers suicides in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In May 2007, the BJP had also levelled allegations against Pawar for his alleged involvement in a multi-crore wheat imports scam.
In the mid 1990s, Pawar had been embroiled in the controversy over investment by the then US energy major Enron for setting up a 2,000-Mw power project in Maharashtra. He was later instrumental to settling of all legal disputes with now defunct Dabhol Power Company and reviving the project in its new avatar.
Pawar has had major achievements in his career, too, from formulating policies for agri and agri businesses, horticulture and industrial development to putting in place a policy for empowerment of women in 1995. Pawar, who became the chief minister of Maharashtra at the age of 38 in 1978, held the post in 1988 after his return to the Congress, and later in
1990-91 and 1993-95. He put Baramati on Maharashtra’s political map. It was a rural agricultural region until then.
There is, therefore, no denying the fact that the Maratha strongman has overshadowed Maharashtra politics and, thereby, the country’s power play in the last four decades.