The Telegraph
Sunday , January 12 , 2014
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Pawar as PM: Shinde’s courtesy, ‘not controversy’

New Delhi, Jan. 11: Few think it was a trial balloon.

When senior Congress leader Sushil Shinde said he would be happy if Sharad Pawar became Prime Minister, he was neither teasing his party nor doing the veteran from Maharashtra a favour.

It was minimum courtesy to the “guru” who transformed an ordinary boy into a top politician.

A seasoned Maharashtra politician who knows both said Pawar and Shinde would “never” speak against each other. “If you ask Pawar what if Shinde became Prime Minister, he would express happiness. For Shinde, Pawar is the same ‘saheb’ who made him. You wake him up from deep slumber and he would give the same reply. He didn’t say Pawar should be PM, he said he would be happy if he became PM.”

Congress leaders refused to react, aware that Shinde, a diehard Gandhi family loyalist, would never do anything against the party scheme.

Mohan Prakash, AICC general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, said: “I have nothing to say.”

Several other senior leaders and one spokesperson ridiculed the media for turning a “gesture of courtesy into a political controversy”.

Pawar’s NCP didn’t try to exploit the controversy either. “We are with the Congress and the UPA and Pawar has said several times that the NCP does not have the numbers to claim the PM’s post,” senior leader Tariq Anwar told The Telegraph.

“Shinde has been a colleague and a friend for decades. How will he say he would be sad if Pawar became PM? We all know Pawar saheb has the leadership qualities to become PM and we all would be happy if he does. But Shinde’s remark is just a matter of courtesy.”

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik pointed out that Pawar would not even contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. “We are grateful for Shinde’s comment, our leader has the capability to be a good PM. But we are aware of our party’s strength, and we want to clarify that Sharad Pawar is not in the PM race,” Malik said.

Pawar had told a party meeting earlier this week that “people want new faces” and he was opting out of the Lok Sabha polls, but said he might seek a seat in Parliament’s upper House.

Shinde, responding to queries at an event in Solapur today, had said: “I will be happy if Pawar becomes PM. He has been trying since 1992. But because of Delhi’s politics, he hasn’t been able to do so.”

Shinde and other leaders from Maharashtra believe that Pawar could have become Prime Minister in place of P.V. Narasimha Rao or even later had Sitaram Kesri not been made Congress president.

Pawar wouldn’t have rebelled against Sonia Gandhi had he not nursed the dream of becoming Prime Minister. But that is history and Shinde wasn’t floating a trial balloon ahead of the 2014 general election, widely expected to throw up a deeply fractured mandate that can propel any leader to the top.

But some leaders suspect the balloon might be part of a plan. The NCP-Congress combine is slipping badly in Maharashtra and the sudden rise of the Aam Aadmi Party has added to the concern.

A section of the NCP has already launched a whisper campaign suggesting that Pawar could be a strong contender for the Prime Minister’s post if the party won around 15-20 seats.

“If this balloon attracts and lures voters, who would mind?” said a Congress leader, hinting that the party would play along if a rumour helps.

Shinde has reasons to keep Pawar in good humour. Pawar represents Madha, one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Solapur district. Shinde holds the other.

Pawar’s exit from the electoral scene may adversely affect the Congress-NCP combine. So, keeping the hope of a prime ministerial candidate from the region alive could be a tempting idea.

But most leaders in the Congress and the NCP insist that Shinde would have spoken in the same vein even under a different political situation.