Pune: Sending a subtle message to the Congress party not to alienate potential allies by taking extreme positions on contentious issues and hence give political space to its rival Bhartiya Janata Party, Nationalist Congress Party supremo and Congress ally Sharad Pawar said the United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, could return to power by “reassociation” with estranged partners such as Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, and by seeking the support of the Left parties. Pawar is already reading some conciliatory signals from both Congress and the Left.
Though campaigning is on mid-way into the elections, a clear trend is yet to emerge. The nation goes into the second phase of polling on Thursday, when 49% of the 714 million electorate would have exercised their franchise.
Pawar, giving his assessment of the elections so far in an interview to Mint, said the “general mood” of the nation was “favourable” to the UPA because of its many rural initiatives and deft management of prices.
Finally, barring Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Pawar did not see any aggressive campaign from the opposition. In fact, he said, “They are a demoralized lot.”
But Pawar’s prescription was not without a caveat. “We have been telling them (Congress party) not to take extreme stands. Already I see some changes in Manmohan Singh and human resource minister Arjun Singh’s statements. They were guarded and positive,” he said. Similarly, he pointed to “positive statements” from West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Pawar’s assessment is based on the assumption that Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and the Left parties “can never act in a manner that might give BJP the advantage”.
The Maratha leader, addressing a large public meeting in Satara, 110kms from Pune, appealed to the electorate to vote for one combination. He was quick to remind the voters, largely comprising farmers, that unlike elections to the provincial assemblies where in case of a hung assembly the Centre could impose a federal rule through the state governor, no such provision existed in the case of parliamentary elections.
Pawar, who is Union agriculture minister, refused to react to voices within his Nationalist Congress Party, or NCP, that claimed that Manmohan Singh was the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress party and not that of the UPA.
He refused to comment on remarks made by some of his party leaders who wanted Pawar to throw his hat into the ring. Pawar said, “it would not be proper for me to react” to such reports. He said any electoral alliance would have its own set of problems. Among other places the NCP was in a seat-sharing alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra and Goa. And both required each other. “I don’t want to send any signal… We are in the battlefield,” he said.
Pawar, who is known for his strong networking skills and maintaining friendship across political spectrum, said, “It always helps to talk.” When the elections were announced the NCP leadership took a conscious decision that a meeting of all the UPA partners should be called to form one joint front. Pawar said, “I had even suggested Manmohan Singh as our leader.”
The plan did not work. The Congress decided that it won’t have a national alliance with regional parties and instead would go for state-wise alliances. He said a pre-poll front would have resulted in “many more seats” for the UPA. But now the front may have to “possibly ask for the support of the Left”. Turf war between the Congress and regional parties was the main reason of conflict as they were both aiming for the same support base. Pawar said, “When there are disagreements, there is no need to take a strong line.” For instance, he believed that the nuclear deal was in the interest of the nation. But if the Left parties opposed it he respected their view. He still thinks there was no need for taking rigid stands.
Pawar is happy that the BJD is out of the NDA’s ambit. He said, “I am happy that Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has also disassociated itself from the BJP.” All this, he feels, would strength the anti-BJP front.
Naidu’s exit from the NDA is not recent. Still, Pawar’s stand on current rivals of Congress and his efforts to bring them together under one roof indicates his preparations for post-poll eventuality, which is still wide open.