Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar (82) has been in politics for over six decades and is preparing for the next Lok Sabha elections. The NCP patriarch calls out the BJP for damaging secularism and centralisation of power and is confident that there is a desire among all opposition to parties to come together and take on the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2024. Edited excerpts from his first interview after he announced his decision to quit as the party’s national president on May 1 and withdrew it three days later.
How do you see the outcome of the Karnataka elections?
I was expecting this. The mood of the people was for change. And certain issues like corruption, inflation and unemployment had affected the people badly under the BJP. That is why I was expecting it.
It is an encouraging development for you in Maharashtra also?
This mood for change is not restricted to Karnataka, it is in most of the States. If you see the country… in Kerala no BJP, in Karnataka no BJP, in Andhra Pradesh no BJP, in Telangana no BJP. In Goa, there was no BJP, though they managed to capture power… In Maharashtra, a group of MLAs of Uddhav Thackeray deserted, and the BJP came into power here. Yes, in Gujarat they have a definitive presence but in Madhya Pradesh, there was the Kamal Nath government, and BJP successfully robbed the Congress party and then Shivraj Chouhan became the CM. Then if you come to Jaipur, no BJP, in U.P., yes, there is BJP. In Haryana, if you look at the situation inside, 100%, the BJP will lose in the next election. In Delhi, there is no BJP, in Punjab no BJP, in Rajasthan no BJP, in West Bengal no BJP, no BJP in Bihar. In Himachal, there is no BJP. In Assam yes. So, Assam, U.P., and Gujarat are the States where the BJP is in power by winning elections. BJP is in power in many places by robbing other parties. So, Karnataka is following the national pattern. The question is we have to see what happens in Parliament elections.
And the MVA has become stronger in the last one week in Maharashtra..?
We have to work together. So NCP, Congress and Uddhav Sena, have to go together. Definitely, Karnataka’s results have given us more confidence.
For NCP and Congress, what is the common ground with and the Sena in MVA?
When Uddhav became CM, Congress was there, NCP was there. We decided on a Common Minimum Programme, which was the basis of our alliance and government. And we ran it well.
To be frank, there is no question of any ideological differences between Congress and NCP because both of them have Gandhi-Nehru ideology. As for Shiv Sena, there are things we need to know. When the Emergency was in place and when Congress lost elections across the country, Balasaheb Thackeray supported Indira Gandhi. When no political leader could take such a tough decision, Balasaheb took it. During the Assembly elections that followed, Balasaheb took the decision not to put a single candidate against Congress. After the elections (in 1980) we came to power, we gave four seats to them (MLC seats to Shiv Sena). Even Balasaheb Sena has worked with Congress, it is not that difficult.
Are you taking any initiative to talk to other Opposition leaders outside Maharashtra?
No, we are discussing. (Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish was here. I also had discussions with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav. We talk. Nitish Kumar suggested we should sit in Patna, all non-BJP party leaders and discuss. I will go to Patna.
Looking at the pattern you described, you are confident that BJP can be beaten in 2024..?
I don’t know, but they should be defeated. There is a temple in Nashik, where a new controversy has been manufactured. There is a practice, of Muslim offering flowers and chaddar to the deity at a temple during Urs festival — they don’t enter the temple, but they offer from outside. Suddenly, someone started a campaign that Muslims were entering the temple and putting the chaddar on Lord Shankar. There is a video, in which you can see that the Muslims are just going up to the gate, but the Deputy Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) has constituted a SIT. BJP workers brought water from Ganga and purportedly cleaned the area…It is just one example. So, it is in the national interest, that the BJP should be defeated.
In the last three days, suddenly, there are three communal riots in Maharashtra – Akola, Ahmednagar and Nashik. (Shevgaon in Ahmednagar district (clash over a procession) and Akola (clash over a social media post) witnessed severe communal violence for the past one week over.
About these rallies, there is a perception that the NCP and the Congress are mobilising the crowd and their leaders are upset that Mr. Thackeray is stealing the show…?
We have decided to go together. This is the relationship between all three, so, I don’t see any problem here.
Seat division among the three partners of MVA might become difficult, as all three have seats that they traditionally contested but are now difficult to get..?
There will be certain seats which we will insist on… But, all three will sit together and decide.
Will there be an equal sharing among the three partners?
We have not discussed this yet. A few days ago, we met at my home. We will discuss and decide how to distribute the seats.
Recently, (West Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav said that wherever Congress is weak, they should not contest, and support whoever is strong…
I’m a person, who thinks we have to sit together and discuss all these issues. These are their views I have also read this in newspapers. I have not personally talked to or heard from these leaders. But, we have to sit together.
Basically, it is my earnest desire that all parties come together, if there are certain issues, try to resolve them, and provide viable alternatives at the national level. I feel there are many leaders from different States and different parties. Some of them have personal interests or party interests.
I have the party’s interest. I have contested 14 elections and successfully won all the seats have contested, and for the past 56 years, I’m either in Vidhan Sabha, Lok Sabha, or Rajya Sabha. After getting such a long period, for me, I should try to let others lead.
So, you are indicating that you don’t have personal ambitions?
No, I have no personal ambition. My only ambition is to bring together parties and provide an alternative to the BJP.
In 2004 you were one of the key leaders who came together to form the UPA. Is the situation now comparable to what was in 2003?
At that time there was a leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a thorough gentleman and there was the slogan, India Shining. There was a feeling among the opposition that they have no future. So, a few of our colleagues said don’t worry, we will fight and see...We came to power, and I myself was in government which continued for 10 years.
In Maharashtra, there has been chatter about how the Centre is shifting projects to Gujarat…
Basically, those who are leading at the national level have to see all States equally and should have a national outlook. They have to treat every State equally and they can’t be biased.
What could be the main issues that will be raised against the BJP in the coming months?
When the head of the nation comes to a State and starts his campaigning by saying ‘Jai Bajrangbali and Bajrangbali ki jai’…? BJP is opposed to secularism. Corruption has reached unprecedented levels…People could connect with the “40 % commission” campaign in Karnataka. Unemployment, BJP’s hostility to minorities..these are all issues.
You resigned as NCP president and then decided to continue…
I was thinking about it for almost a year..that I had to stop somewhere. As I said, 56 years in Parliament and Assembly. I said I would resign but work for the party. I have to accept that my judgement had gone wrong. I thought I would convince, but I could not.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar is reportedly very friendly with the BJP?
He is not friendly with BJP. BJP is using all types of tactics, and all agencies to attack Opposition.
He is the Leader of the Opposition, and it is the BJP that is spreading all rumours. He will never go with the BJP.
Do you think Uddhav Thackeray will retain the popular support of the Shiv Sena?
MLAs have deserted Uddhav, but not Shiv Sainiks. Sainiks are eager to teach those who deserted him a lesson.
You came out in support of industrialist Gautam Adani who is being questioned by the Congress?
We have certain important projects in the State. The Dharavi slum redevelopment project. It’s a big project and providing pucca houses for the weaker section. His company is generating power since 2002, his company runs Mumbai airport and the tender has gone to him and work has started. There are ports and other infra projects…
(For full interview,