Sharad Pawar’s ‘regional parties merge with Congress’ remark meets with approval from Maharashtra Congress

Mr. Pawar, who had split the Congress in 1999, spoke of how several regional parties could consider the option of merging with the Congress

Updated - May 08, 2024 10:21 pm IST

Published - May 08, 2024 09:47 pm IST - Pune

NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar. File

NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar. File | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Nationalist Congress Party (SP) chief and former Union Minister Sharad Pawar’s remark that several regional parties could merge with the Congress in the near future has triggered speculation of Mr. Pawar’s own NCP (SP) faction assimilating within the Congress fold.

In an interview with a prominent English daily, Mr. Pawar, who had split the Congress in 1999 by walking out and founding the NCP, spoke of how several regional parties would associate more closely with the Congress over the next two years or consider the option of merging with the Congress. Mr. Pawar said he did not see any difference between the Congress and the NCP (SP) given that both were ideologically similar.

Mr. Pawar’s remarks were met approvingly by Maharashtra Congress leaders, with Leader of Opposition and senior Congressman Vijay Wadettiwar on Wednesday calling the 83-year-old NCP patriarch an adherent of Gandhian ideals who understood the need for a strong Congress in the country in order to preserve democracy.

“Sharad Pawar is fundamentally an adherent of Gandhian thought. His political birth was in the Congress and he has been nourished in the Congress’ arena, mentored by Y.B. Chavan [Maharashtra’s first CM],” Mr. Wadettiwar said, adding that Mr. Pawar was aware of the need to strengthen the Congress in the country in order to make the country strong.

Remarking that no one could efface Gandhian ideals, the Congress LoP launched a broadside on the ruling Mahayuti coalition (of the BJP, the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP), referring to it as “unseasonal rain”.

“Some parties come to power like unseasonal rains, destroying crops, playing havoc with livestock and farmers…the Congress is like the constant rain. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance will be wiped out in this election. The people have decided to give the reins of power this time to the INDIA bloc because they are fed up with a government with dictatorial tendencies [Narendra Modi-led Central government],” Mr. Wadettiwar said.

Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said that many regional parties were looking expectantly to the Congress to take the lead and that it was within this context that Mr. Pawar may have made his statement.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister and Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde took shots at Mr. Pawar’s remarks, stating drily that the rival Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) had anyway started acting like the Congress as it was speaking the same language of the grand old party.

“It is only a formality before the Sena (UBT) merges into the Congress,” Mr. Shinde said.

Rumours of the NCP (SP)’s merger with the Congress have been in the air ever since Mr. Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar split his uncle party’s in July last year to align his rebel NCP faction with the ruling Mahayuti government. Sharad Pawar also lost control of his party and the NCP’s iconic ‘clock’ symbol after the Election Commission awarded both to Ajit Pawar’s faction. As a one-time option ahead of the Rajya Sabha election, the Election Commission approved a new name – ‘Nationalist Congress Party-Sharadchandra Pawar’ – for the NCP patriarch’s group.

In February this year, however, the top leadership of the NCP (SP) had refuted speculation that their faction would be merging into their ally, the Congress.

Speculation of Mr. Pawar’s NCP merging into the Congress is not new; in 2019, just before the Maharashtra Assembly election, veteran Congressman Sushilkumar Shinde had hinted at a possible merger, stating that both the Congress and the NCP belonged to the same ideological tree while expressing hope that the two Congresses would come together in the future.

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