MUMBAI: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar had the opportunity to become the Prime Minister on not once but two occassions, but was denied by his detractors in Congress, claimed Praful Patel, an NCP leader and close confidente of its supremo. He claimed that Pawar couldn't get the top post primarily due to 'Darbar Politics' in Congress.
"A coterie of leaders misused Sonia Gandhi's name to nix Pawar's chances in 1991," he claimed.
"After Rajiv Gandhi’s unfortunate death during the Lok Sabha elections in 1991, the Congress was in a state of shock. There was a demand to make Pawar party president to handle the situation. However, the durbar coterie opposed the idea of a strong leader and hatched a plan to make P V Narasimha Rao as the party chief," Patel, a former union minister said in an article in Saamana.
The NCP leader said the recalcitrance of Rao in 1996 to make way for Pawar led to him missing out a shot at the top post again in 1996.
"In 1996, the Congress won 145 seats. HD Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav as well as Left leaders said they will support the Congress if Pawar is made PM, but Rao did not budge and the Congress was forced to support Deve Gowda from outside. When Rao stepped down as the Congress president, he pushed the name of Sitaram Kesri as his successor to ensure that Pawar was not selected," Patel wrote.
He said in the article that 'coterie' within the Congress worked to undermine strong leaders in the party. "Pawar strengthened his position as a front-rung leader in the Congress in a very little time. He was surely cut off for a prime ministerial role in 1991 and 1996, but the durbar (nepotism) politics of Delhi put a spanner. This was definitely a personal loss to him, but moreover for the party and the country," Patel added.
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.
Less meritorious people in Congress ensured Pawar did not rise to the top: Shiv Sena
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.