“I am neither the head master nor the remote controller of this (MVA) government. In evolved democracies governments can’t be run through remote controls,” said NCP chief Sharad Pawar in an interview last year when asked whether he was the power behind the throne in Maharashtra.
🗞️ Subscribe Now: Get Express Premium to access the best Election reporting and analysis 🗞️
While Pawar has been vociferous in denying any role in the day-to-day functioning of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, the 83-year-old Maratha stalwart remains the fulcrum of this coalition government.
The NCP supremo’s residence, 2 Silver Oak, a two-storey bungalow located on a cul-de-sac at Bhulabhai Desai Road in South Mumbai, is the place where a slew of politicians, bureaucrats, top police officials, industry doyens, among others, make a beeline these days, which is a testament to the influence exerted by Pawar on the Shiv Sena-led MVA government, which includes the NCP and the Congress.
The Sena president and Maharashtra Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray, a governance neophyte, has relied heavily on the political and administrative advice of Pawar, who has played a pivotal role in shaping the ideas and directions of the MVA government over the last two-and-a-half years.
This role of Pawar was in full display on April 6 when the former Union minister called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his Parliament Office for about 25 minutes. After the meeting, the veteran leader said that he conveyed to the PM his concerns over the Enforcement Directorate (ED)’s recent action against Sena MP Sanjay Raut besides complaining to him about the delay by Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari in approving the 12 names recommended by the Uddhav Thackeray Cabinet for nomination to the state Legislative Council.
The meeting however triggered speculation as to whether Pawar, who had once been publicly acknowledged by PM Modi as his “political guru”, was trying to build a new relationship with the BJP. The meeting came in the backdrop of several probes launched by various central agencies against a number of MVA leaders including members of the extended Pawar clan and two senior NCP leaders Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, who are now in jail.
Pawar has a network across political parties and has extended help to leaders from all political parties, says Sanjay Raut. “During his more than a five-decade long career in politics, there are people who have opposed Pawar to the extreme level but their opposition could never match his deeds and thoughts. He has never allowed politics to interfere with his social and development works. He has extended help to leaders of all parties. He has a knack of helping people in times of trouble and no one can match it,” Raut told The Indian Express.
Noting that Pawar has a long experience in running the government at the central and state levels, Raut said: “So he can and should give advice and suggestions to the government. Also, he has been instrumental in forming this government.”
Sometime in 2004 an oncologist counselled Pawar, who was then diagnosed with oral cancer, to make his will claiming that he had less than six months to live. Pawar, recalling those days later, said the doctor had not factored in his dogged determination while giving him that advice.
“Basically it was a fight. I realised that if I got worried then the disease would devour me. The point of tackling such contingencies in life is to have a go at them in an aggressive fashion and take them head on,” Pawar once said while explaining how he recovered from cancer.
His party members claim that this “determination and propensity to tackle adversity head on” in Pawar is what led to his April 6 meeting with PM Modi. Many in political circles also believe that with the NCP in such a dominant position in the MVA, it does not suit Pawar and his party’s interests to rock the MVA boat, at least for now.
Pawar has clearly emerged as a major influence over CM Thackeray. Last month, the Sena expressed its displeasure with the NCP for allegedly going soft on the BJP even when senior Sena leaders and their family members were being “targeted” by the central agencies. Soon after this issue was taken up with Pawar, summons were issued by the Mumbai police to BJP leader Pravin Darekar in connection with a bank fraud case. The NCP-controlled state home ministry also set up an SIT to look into allegations of extortion by the ED officials.
Last month, NCP leader and housing development minister Jitendra Awhad and CM Thackeray, during the budget session of the state legislature, had announced that the government would build 300 flats in suburban Goregaon for MLAs from rural areas. As the decision drew flak from various quarters including the Opposition, Pawar said the government should not construct houses for legislators but create a separate quota for them in the houses built by the MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority). Deputy CM Ajit Pawar then said the state government may not go ahead with this move if people are opposed to it.
Earlier this year, after the Maharashtra Cabinet brought in the state’s new wine policy, allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets and walk-in stores, Pawar took a cautious view stating that the government can reconsider the policy following opposition from the civil society and activists like Anna Hazare. Now, the government has published the draft rules of the policy, seeking suggestions and objections from the public by June 29.
A senior Sena minister highlighted that Pawar has an “in-depth understanding of issues and its challenges”. “His guidance to the government on various issues helps us in taking well-informed decisions. His vast experience in the state and at the Centre is valuable and helps in our decision-making,” the minister said.