Ahead of Union Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman’s much-anticipated visit to the Pawar family bastion of Baramati in Pune district, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said the Minister was ‘welcome’ to the constituency while hinting that the BJP perhaps felt anxious about not being able to win Baramati in past elections.
Speaking in Mumbai, Mr. Pawar said that every political party had a right to expand in order to secure its future.
“In this context, if a party feels anxious about a particular region or a constituency [alluding to Baramati], then there is nothing wrong about that party trying to strive harder to enhance its presence. So, if Ms. Sitharaman’s Baramati visit comes with this object in the BJP’s mind, then it is her right to tour the constituency,” said the NCP chief.
Mr. Pawar said that the current MP of Baramati – NCP leader Supriya Sule, who is Mr. Pawar’s daughter - had already welcomed Ms. Sitharaman.
He recalled the past visits to Baramati of BJP heavyweights including the late Arun Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
“Mr. Jaitley had stayed at my place. The PM himself had come here, too, so did the then President Pranab Mukherjee. So, I am happy that the Union Finance Minister too is coming here,” remarked Mr. Pawar.
Ms. Sitharaman will be touring the constituency from September 22 to 24, holding as many as 21 sessions of interaction with party cadre in the Assembly segments of Khadakwasla, Bhor, Purandar, Baramati, Daund, and Indapur.
According to BJP sources, she is to visit the constituency again five-six times over the next 18 months.
Ms. Sitharaman’s visit is part of the BJP’s ‘Pravas’ campaign to shore up its base in 144 Lok Sabha constituencies across the country ahead of the 2024 general election.
Sixteen of the 144 LS constituencies are in Maharashtra of which Baramati, hitherto the impregnable bastion of the Pawar family and the NCP, in particular is on the BJP’s radar.
When questioned about the BJP’s strenuous efforts to supplant the Pawars in Baramati, the NCP chief drily remarked that perhaps the BJP “was worried” about the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.
Mr. Pawar asserted that the current political situation in the country was “not favourable” for the BJP.
“It is possible that they are concerned about their electoral prospects and hence have taken up this campaign of focusing on key Lok Sabha seats where they have no presence. The BJP has no government in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It had to overthrow governments in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh by poaching MLAs and breaking non-BJP parties. It does not have governments in key States like the West Bengal and the Punjab. The current political situation is not very favourable for them,” he said.
Following the BJP’s political ascendancy in the State and at the Centre after the 2014 Parliamentary and Assembly elections, seemingly innocuous ‘non-political’ visits to Mr. Pawar’s Baramati by top BJP brass have been read as a stratagem to keep the ruling party’s then ally, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, in check.
In February 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Mr. Pawar, heaping praise on the ‘Baramati model of development’.
That same year - in October and November - Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis followed suit with their respective visits to Baramati, paying fulsome tributes to Mr. Pawar’s “commitment to development”.
On each occasion, the visits, ostensibly to discuss agriculture-related issues, were timed when relations between the BJP and the Shiv Sena had hit a new low.
However, political equations in the State have dramatically altered since then with Mr. Thackeray formally severing ties with the BJP in 2019 to form the MVA alliance created by Mr. Pawar.
After Eknath Shinde’s revolt in the Sena toppled Mr. Thackeray’s MVA government, the BJP has been straining every sinew to dislodge the NCP and the Thackeray-led Sena from their citadels – be it Lok Sabha constituencies like Baramati or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), where the Thackerays have held sway for over two decades.