Are the BJP and the NCP playing a fixed match in Maharashtra?
- The NCP marked Monday for its jail bharo campaign in Marathwada
- Sharad Pawar called for protest against govt apathy in tackling drought
- Pawar, his nephew Ajit and party leader Sunil Tatkare, however, stayed away
- The campaign was led by Pawar\'s daughter Supriya Sule
- The BJP says the NCP is trying to deflect attention from charges against party leaders
- Ajit and Tatkare have been named in the state\'s irrigation scam
- Chhagan Bhujbal faces charges in Maharashtra Sadan scam
- Experts feel the BJP and the NCP don\'t really want to oppose each other
- Modi didn\'t campaign against Pawar\'s daughter Supriya Sule last year
- When the BJP fell short of seats to form govt, Pawar offered unconditional support
- Probe against NCP leaders hasn\'t been fast enough
When Sharad Pawar recently said that Nationalist Congress Party activists would court mass arrest to protest the Maharashtra government's inaction in tackling the Marathwada drought, people expected him to lead from the front.
However, neither Pawar nor his nephew Ajit were seen taking charge at the party's jail bharo campaign in Marathwada on Monday. It was left to Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule and some second-rung NCP leaders to rally supporters.
This has raised questions over how serious the party is about the drought or, for that matter, about opposing the BJP government in the state. Some even say the campaign was an effort by the party to deflect attention from corruption charges against top NCP leaders.
"What did Sharad Pawar, the self-proclaimed saviour of farmers, do as the Union agriculture minister for so many years?" asks Madhav Bhandari, the BJP's chief spokesperson in Maharashtra.
As a central minister, Pawar may have been away from the state. But his party partnered the Congress in running the state for a decade and a half up to mid-2014.
The NCP, in fact, held the critical irrigation portfolio and has drawn much flak about the way it handled the ministry.
"The Anti-Corruption Bureau has summoned Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare for questioning in connection with the irrigation scam. Now the NCP is desperately trying to save them and divert people's attention away from the core issue of corruption," Bhandari says.
Pawar and Tatkare held the water resources portfolio in the previous Congress-NCP regime. Their role as ministers came under the scanner when former chief minister Prithviraj Chavhan said there could be possible cases of corruption in the state's irrigation projects.
On Monday, both Ajit and Tatkare stayed away from Marathwada, 'monitoring' the jail bharo from far away Mumbai. Among those who helped Sule manage Monday's show were leaders like Dhananjay Munde and Jitendra Awhad.
Pawar wants to groom Sule so that she can take charge of the party. Also, he wants to promote Awhad as NCP's new OBC face after Chhagan Bhujbal ran into rough weather regarding the Maharashtra Sadan scam, says Abhay Deshpande, a senior journalist and political analyst.
BJP and NCP make a show of opposing each other, but neither would make life difficult for the other
Bhandari called it an internal dispute of the Pawar family. "Ajit Pawar and other leaders knew the movement will fail and they will have to face public ire. So, they conveniently kept away," he says.
But Deshpande hints at something else. "The indication is clear - The NCP doesn't want to create serious problems for the government. The BJP is also happy to provide them the opportunity to garner some mileage in the name of farmers," he says.
Ever since the two parties snapped ties with their respective allies before last year's elections, the BJP and the NCP have functioned in a way that they could cut the Congress and the Shiv Sena down to size.
While the NCP was unhappy ever since Chavhan brought up the irrigation scam issue, the BJP was looking for an opportunity to pay Shiv Sena back for the humiliation it received for 25 years.
Narendra Modi campaigned extensively in the state before last year's polls, which reduced the Congress merely two Lok Sabha seats from the state.But the star campaigner left out Baramati - the constituency of Sule - from his itinerary. A rally by Modi there would have ensured her defeat, experts have said.
"Though the BJP managed to emerge as the single-largest party, it was not in a position to form the government on its own as it had snapped ties with Shiv Sena. But Pawar's unconditional outside support clinched the deal for them," Deshpande says.
It was a signal to the Shiv Sena and the Congress that they were redundant.
The BJP may have slammed the jail bharo campaign, but Deshpande points at how corruption cases against Bhujbal, Ajit and Tatkare are not moving fast enough.
"The inquiry against Bhujbal kept BJP supporters happy but the charge sheet was filed only after preliminary inquiry, thereby avoiding his arrest," Deshpande says.
The BJP and the NCP may keep opposing each other in public, but it doesn't look like they will ever go the whole hog to land one another in serious trouble, he adds.