In 1999, after Jayalalitha brough down the one and half year old Vajpayee Government by a single vote, the prospects of Sonia Gandhi (who is Italian Born) becoming the Prime Minister were real. Three Senior Congressmen, Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar and Purno Sangma, in a closed-door Congress meeting, raised objections to a foreign born person occupying the highest chair. (Whether Pawar’s objection was really to the foreign origin or whether this was merely a political ploy to bring himself centre-stage, one cannot say). Sonia was enraged at this affront to her authority (after all, who can offend a Gandhi in the Congress and get away with it?) and showed these three the door! The NCP, supposedly the “Nationalist” Congress Party, thus came into being!
Now, 10 years later, questions are being raised about the raison d’etre of the NCP! Let’s see why:
1) Just one year after its formation in 1999, the Congress and the NCP had no qualms about joining hands to form a coalition government in Maharashtra, which ran “successfully” for the entire term.
2) They then fought the 2004 Maharashtra Assembly elections together and again continued the Government for another five years.
3) And now, they are all set to fight the 2009 Assembly elections as well.
4) In the meantime, the NCP has also fought the 2004 and 2009 General Elections with the Congress and become an integral part of the UPA with Sharad Pawar becoming the Agriculture Minister in both the stints.
5) Now, Purno Sangma, who wants to make sure his next generation’s career is well taken care of, has apologized to Sonia for his misdemeanor 10 years ago. Obviously, after Sonia visits his son’s wedding and takes Agatha Sangma under her tutelage, he would be hard pressed to say such a thing.
So, the issue is, why is NCP still alive?
If the foreign origin issue, raised so evocatively by Pawar and his cohorts in 1999, was such an important issue, then pray, why didn’t they pursue it? When in 2004, Sonia was all set to become PM, did we hear any murmur from the NCP?
The other day, when Praful Patel was asked the question about the continuation of the NCP, he deflected it by giving a standard vague reply that they were partners in secularism or something to that effect. Pray, what has secularism got to do with this? Do they need to exist as a separate entity just to promote secularism? If that were the objective, wouldn’t it be better if they unite and form a single entity? Why struggle and try to find a feature distinctive from the Congress?
I’ll tell you why!
If NCP merges with the Congress, Sharad Pawar loses his bargaining power. Today, whenever he senses that the Congress is on a weak wicket, he can always try and flirt with the third front, fourth front, fifth front and so on, like he did during the 2009 election campaign. That way, he can remain in power whichever combination comes to power. (He is rumoured to have even been in talks with Bal Thackeray by playing the Marathi PM card).
a) wooing Agatha Sangma, Purno Sangma, Tariq Anwar,
b) putting the CBI after Padmasinh Patil,
Sonia is trying to nullify exactly that – Pawar’s bargaining power!!!