Sharad Pawar may have said more than he meant when he defended PM Modi on Rafale
If Maharashtra often appears to be on the cusp of a political realignment, it is in no small part due to the posturing and shadow boxing of the old warhorse, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party. After stating that people did not doubt the intentions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Rafale deal, Mr. Pawar insisted that the remark should not be construed as support for Mr. Modi. Clearly, when he is not signalling to the BJP, the NCP’s principal rival in Maharashtra, he is messaging the Congress, his current ally. At a time when the Congress was single-mindedly trying to paint the whole deal as murky, the NCP chief struck a discordant note. Even while questioning the cost of the aircraft and demanding a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, he did not take the Congress line that the deal was tainted by crony capitalism. And the clarification on not supporting Mr. Modi came after a revolt within his party; founder-member Tariq Anwar took exception to his remarks and announced his resignation. Whether or not there was a larger political purpose behind Mr. Pawar’s statements on Rafale, the clarification was not a complete retraction of the original remark. Without a doubt, the NCP would like to make the most of the tensions between the BJP and its partner-in-government, the Shiv Sena. Both major groupings in the State have an unsettled look, and Mr. Pawar knows he cannot be seen to be irrevocably tied to the fortunes of the Congress. The Sena might not be doing anything more than trying to drive a hard bargain on seat-sharing with the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls. After the two parties contested the Assembly election separately, and the BJP emerged stronger than the Sena for the first time, the 2014 electoral understanding for the Lok Sabha seats is unlikely to hold for 2019. The Lok Sabha election is more important for the BJP than it is for the Sena, and Sena chairperson Uddhav Thackeray knows that. Through the last four years, the Sena has been a difficult ally for the BJP, often taunting it through editorials in the party organ Saamna . Although the Sena cannot possibly join hands with the Congress, it can hurt the BJP by going it alone. The NCP has never allied with the BJP, but it is not inconceivable that such an option exists for Mr. Pawar. With the mantle of leadership in the Congress passing to Rahul Gandhi, many of the leaders of the allied parties, from an older generation, Mr. Pawar among them, have to deal with changed comfort levels. The NCP is in a position to alter the outcome in many of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, and Mr. Pawar would like both the BJP and the Congress to take note. To interpret his remarks as being supportive of Mr. Modi or opposed to the Congress viewpoint is to miss this point.