Sharad Pawar, the leader of Nationalist Congress Party and one of the most astute observers of Indian politics, said BJP leader Narendra Modi has done good things for the country, but the Gujarati leader seems to have abandoned the development plank in favor of Hindutva for 2019 elections.
In an interview with Vinaya Deshpande of CNN-News18, Pawar said that ruling combine was trying to ensure its continuity in power by appealing to only one section of the population, instead of trying to keep everyone together.
He said he expects non-BJP parties to come together to stay alive, even as he refused to endorse Rahul Gandhi’s prime ministerial ambitions, claiming that “overwhelming acceptance” to the constituent parties would be the key factor determining who becomes the leader of an anti-BJP alliance.
Pawar had some good things to say about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but also said the leader has shifted his focus from development. He gave Modi the full credit for BJP’s superior performance in the last general election, but said winds were changing.
“This gentleman had concentrated in Gujarat on development. On the national level also, many of the decisions he’s taken, certain decision are beneficial to the country. I’m not arguing about that,” said Pawar.
“My worry is whether, anybody is going to rule the country or a state and if he’s unable to keep the countrymen together, ultimately, the social fabric of the society is coming in danger. That is a very serious thing, and today, people are feeling that that’s what we’re facing.”
He traced the negativity to a move away from the development plank to the Hindutva plank in an effort to win the 2019 elections.
Pawar said the strategy that he believes is being used by the current dispensation is a break from the tradition. Previous regimes too have tried hard to come back to power, but they’ve done so in a way that kept the country together, the NCP leader said.
“Whatever commitments they (BJP) have made, they are unable to execute, and they want, anyhow, to continue (in power) and their total effort is to see that other political parties and other political forces (can be) converted into marginalized forces. That’s why, the total efforts is something different.”
He said the “whole thrust” now was on “creating a more communal atmosphere in India”, which is not in keeping with their initial thrust of development.
“They don’t have a consistent line. Some time, they are showing they are secular, they are not going to harm any minority sections, but we have seen, continuously, their ultimate efforts are to consolidate their position in the name of religious fundamentalism and communalism.”
“They want to consolidate certain sections of the society in the name of religion and they want to take advantage of that… Today’s leadership wants to consolidate his position in a certain section and with that consolidation, he wants to control the country’s reins.”
Pawar said India has had many leaders, but they’ve always tried to keep people together through supporting ideas like secularism.
“Right from independence, irrespective of the leader who came to power, generally their effort was to keep the country together in the name of secularism.
“Their assault on constitution, their assault on secularism is ultimately leading in the direction (of emergency),” he said, adding that he doesn’t emergency to be repeated in the country.
“The Congress leadership has realized that the basic thinking that has been accepted by Indian public at large is democratic rights. And if anybody tries to assault that basic right, then people don’t accept that.”
On efforts to form an anti-BJP front, Pawar said he felt it was impractical to try to cobble together a maha-gatbandhan or grand alliance on a pan-India basis.
“I don’t see any possibility of that type of mahagatbandhan or anything. There are certain of our friends who want that, but that’s not practical,” he said.
“My own thinking, and my assessment, is that ultimately it will state-wise positions. In a state like Tamil Nadu, the No.1 party will DMK, and other non-BJP parties have to accept that. If we go to Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab.. the Congress will be the No.1 party. In Andhra, one has to accept that the Telugu Desam will be the No.1 party, or Chandrasekhar Rao will be the important factor in Telangana.
“All these leaders will come together, because the total thrust of the election was against BJP. And that’s why, not to handle the country’s reins to the BJP, all opposition forces will come together and find some alternative.”
Pawar didn’t rule out the possibility of a government led by the Congress Party, but emphasized that the leader of the alliance will have to have “overwhelming acceptability” to the constituents of the alliance.
Still, if the Congress did very well in the elections, he said, it would gain an upper hand in trying to lead the government, and indicated he was not averse to joining a government led by the Congress.
“Why should we take a negative stand against the Congress,” he asked. “Ultimately, if there’s a minimum common agreed program and there’s a perfect understanding to run the country democratically, with secularism, those who have to come together will come together. I don’t think Congress is a party that doesn’t believe in secularism or democracy.”
However, Pawar didn’t rule out the possibility of a prime minister from outside the Congress Party either. “Once I was also a leader of the Congress Party for some time in the Parliament. At that time, the Congress had more numbers, but we supported Deve Gowda, we supported Inder Kumar Gujral.”
On Rahul Gandhi’s chances of becoming the next prime minister, Pawar said: “I cannot say anything about any individual. Ultimately, at that time, the overwhelming majority, their acceptability is the important thing.”