Mumbai: As NCP chief Sharad Pawar turned 80, his close party colleague as well as new ally Shiv Sena on Saturday rued the missed chances of the Maratha strongman to become the prime minister in the 1990s with the former putting the blame on the "darbar politics" in the Congress.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were among others who greeted Pawar on his birthday. Pawar is also seen as the architect of the ruling Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance in Maharashtra.
But the occasion was utilised by Praful Patel, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and a close confidante of its chief, and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut to reflect on how Pawar missed the opportunity twice to bag the country's top post.
In an article published in several newspapers, Patel, a former union minister, claimed that Pawar could not become prime minister in the 1990s because of the "darbar politics" in the Congress. Pawar was cut out to become PM in 1991 (after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination) and in 1996 (after PV Narasimha Rao's term as PM ended with electoral loss for Congress) but the "darbar politics" came in the way which was a loss for the country, Patel said.
A coterie of leaders "misused Sonia Gandhi's name" to nix Pawar's chances in 1991, he claimed. After the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress could have got support from other parties to form the government under Pawar's leadership, but Rao did not let that happen, Patel claimed.
The Congress did not officially react to Patel's article, but a party leader, who did not want to be identified, said Pawar, who had quit the Congress in 1978 only to rejoin in 1986, was not considered loyal to the party. Also, in 1991 bulk of the Congress MPs came from the South and they backed Rao, he claimed. Commenting on Patel's article, Shiv Sena's Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said that "less meritorious people feared Pawar and ensured he did not rise to the top".
He reiterated that Pawar should have become prime minister long back, but added that for him, age is no barrier. Pawar, a four-time Maharashtra chief minister, was defence minister between June 1991 and March 1993.
He quit the Congress in 1999 citing the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi and formed the NCP, but later he joined the UPA government headed by the Congress in 2004 and served as Union agriculture minister for the next ten years when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. Last year, Pawar was instrumental in the formation of the NCP-Congress combine's unlikely tie-up with the Shiv Sena after the Thackeray-led party fell out with ally BJP following the assembly polls.
Speaking at a low-key function organised by the NCP in Mumbai to mark his birthday, Pawar said political workers should never compromise on ideology. He spoke about the need to inculcate the "progressive ideology of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, B R Ambedkar and Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj" in the new generation of political workers, and noted that Phule and Ambedkar put stress on "scientific temper".
The veteran leader also remembered his parents, saying they taught him not to neglect family responsibilities while doing social and political work. "Best wishes to @PawarSpeaks ji on his birthday. May almighty bless him with good health and long life," Modi tweeted in his birthday message to the NCP chief.
"Best wishes to Shri Sharad Pawar on his birthday," Gandhi said on Twitter. Chief Minister Thackeray described Pawar as the "pillar" of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state, and also called him a "senior leader and guide".