The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pawar warm-up for post-poll action

Mumbai, April 23: With two days to go for the second and last phase of polling in Maharashtra, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar claimed that India was moving towards a hung Parliament.

“Of one thing I am sure — Atal Bihari Vajpayee will not be able to form the next government with his National Democratic Alliance,” Pawar claimed.

In such a situation, he said: “The million-dollar question is — which way will Mulayam Singh and Mayavati go' Mayavati has been the chief minister of UP thrice with the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party. She may extract a price and support them.”

But what about Mulayam Singh, I asked him as we drove in his Toyota Lexus SUV, with highly effective air-conditioning, to a public meeting in Mazgaon.

“It is clear that Mulayam’s government in UP has the tacit support of the BJP. He accepted a BJP Speaker in the Assembly and that speaks for itself,” Pawar said.

He dismissed Mulayam Singh’s attacks on the BJP during the election campaign.

“That is his compulsion because the BJP is his main Opposition in UP. What he does after the election is more important,” the Maharashtra leader felt.

What would he himself do after the elections given his differences with Sonia Gandhi' Pawar pointed out that his difference with Sonia was only over a foreign-born person leading the country. “She has said that she will not impose herself. So we will see what happens after the elections,” he said.

As of now, Pawar’s target is Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government. In all his campaign meetings, he accuses Vajpayee of deviating from the Nehruvian path both in the domestic and international arena. Despite the recent operation on his jaw, he remains a vigorous campaigner and a powerful orator.

At a meeting to support actor Govinda Ahuja, among the chants of Aala re aala Govinda aala — Govinda (also Lord Krishna) is coming — Pawar talked of corruption being rife under Vajpayee’s rule. He drew a contrast with Nehru’s prime ministership when T.T. Krishnamachary was dropped as a minister for the misdemeanour of trying to influence the Life Insurance Corporation of India.

“Under Vajpayee, there has been the UTI scam, a defence purchase scam, a petrol pump scam, to name only a few. How come nobody was held accountable'” he asked. He made no direct reference to Govinda’s opponent, petroleum minister Ram Naik, who was at the centre of the petrol pump scam.

Pawar’s primary focus were the anti-people, anti-farmer and anti-worker policies of the NDA. “The number of suicides of farmers has been the highest since Independence under the NDA regime.”

He pointed out that sugar mills were closing down because the Vajpayee government was importing sugar from Pakistan; the cotton farmers were in trouble because of cotton imports; mangoes were being imported from South Africa and Australia; grapes from Australia; tamarind from Thailand; and apples from New Zealand. Maharashtra is a major sugar, cotton and grape producing state and this touched a chord with the audience.

He got thunderous applause when he said: “Nehru had set up a ministry of industry because he wanted new factories, introduce new technology and create investment opportunities. This government has replaced that with a ministry of disinvestment. You require brains to set up industry — bechne mein dimaag nahin lagta (brains are not required for selling).”

“Do you know what else they have done'” Pawar asked. To extend the existing port facilities in Mumbai, he said, the state government had started the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. “They have now sold the trade gateway of India to foreigners,” he declared. The audience shouted: “Shame! Shame!”

One of the themes of Pawar’s speeches is the erosion in India’s position internationally. “After our support for American mayhem in Iraq — a long-term friend who stood by us through thick and thin — no one considers us trustworthy anymore. Our reputation is mud,” he claimed.

Did he really believe that, I asked him. “Vajpayee has definitely diminished India’s international profile. I am not against the US but I am certainly against India becoming a stooge of America,” he said, as he left for a late night meeting at Thane.

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