|Nitin Gadkari and Sharad Pawar
Nagpur, Oct. 15: For Sharad Pawar and Nitin Gadkari, business is sweeter than politics.
The former BJP chief on Saturday hosted the Union agriculture minister and NCP chief at the unveiling of new ventures by Gadkari’s Purti Group of Industries.
Pawar pressed the button at a Nagpur hotel to inaugurate Gadkari’s new ideas: Purti’s LPG brand and E-10 (ethanol-blended) low-cost fuel in a joint venture with the Essar Group and the Biomass Pellet project.
Aware that his presence had raised many eyebrows — the NCP and the BJP are political rivals — Pawar quipped: “There are no untouchables in politics and for social causes.”
While Gadkari praised Pawar for always being “supportive of constructive work”, the NCP chief responded by appreciating the BJP leader’s efforts to steer the socio-economic development of Vidarbha.
The two have been cosying up for some time — in January, the minister had dropped in at a Gadkari-led farm exhibition in Nagpur. Last year, Gadkari had praised Pawar at a Pune event.
Pawar is a veteran in controlling the sugar sector while the BJP leader is a recent entrant. Two years ago, Pawar had let Gadkari take over a sick co-operative sugar mill in Wardha that otherwise would have been managed by his local aide Suresh Deshmukh.
The Purti group has interests in sugar-power-ethanol, a triad in which Pawar has been long interested. The group runs three sugar mills today.
On Saturday, Gadkari declared a tie-up with the Essar Group for launching 100 petrol pumps across the country which would sell cheaper ethanol-blended fuel.
It is, however, the sweetener that blurs the political and ideological lines in Maharashtra.
Gadkari’s party, the BJP, is singling out Pawar’s NCP for the political and economic mess in the state: from the party’s role in the gigantic irrigation scam now being probed by a one-man committee to the virtual takeover of sick co-operative sugar mills by private companies run by NCP ministers.
But while Pawar’s party is alleged to be the single biggest benefactor of the takeover of what is a legacy of the state’s robust co-operative movement, Gadkari too has managed to seize control of two sick mills in Vidarbha.
The Gadkari-Pawar duet put BJP state chief Devendra Fadnavis, who was present, in an awkward situation. Fadnavis had described Pawar as “the Lalu Yadav of Maharashtra”.
The state BJP, led by Lok Sabha deputy leader Gopinath Munde, is training its guns on the NCP inside and outside the legislature. Munde is facing within his family a revolt sponsored by Ajit Pawar, Pawar’s nephew and deputy chief minister. Munde’s nephew recently crossed over to the NCP. In sugar politics, Munde is not a bystander; he controls at least 10 sugar mills in home turf Marathwada, where the NCP is making political inroads.
It is also no secret that Munde and Gadkari are not on the same page within the party.
By agreeing to grace the Purti event, Pawar sent a message that he and Gadkari are in the same boat at least for business. “I am not contesting the Lok Sabha elections any more,” Pawar said, looking at Gadkari. “I am searching for a partner who shares my view of working in rural areas; you (Gadkari) are a good social entrepreneur, but you must work in the rural parts of Nagpur rather than urban areas.”
At that point, Praful Patel, Union industries minister and Pawar’s close lieutenant, chuckled: “Saheb, it’s your last innings and Gadkari’s first.”