Keeping Congress at Bay, How Sharad Pawar is Emerging as the Focal Point of Third Front

Sharad Pawar is playing a key role in the opposition exercise for stitching up an alternative to the BJP-led NDA. Everybody who is anybody in opposition rank and file is closely watching Pawar’s power play in not only building an opposition front, but also in keeping Congress away from leading such a formation.

In fact, several regional parties, including Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, are taking a dim view of Congress attempts for a leadership role wondering how and why regional satraps should offer power to Rahul Gandhi on a platter.

There is a realisation among regional parties that they, and not the Congress, are the main challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission to get a second term in 2019.

The resistant to Modi’s victory march in the last four years has also come primarily from the regional parties.

It is a given that BJP’s ‘expansionism’ will gradually compel Modi to fight on two fronts simultaneously, the states and the Centre.

Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have already antagonised Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, Uddhav Thackeray, Arvind Kejriwal in their bid to grab space in Uttar Pradesh, Masharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Delhi. This has not only cautioned their current allies but prospective friends too.

The NCP supremo Sharad Pawar is emerging as a focal point in alternative mobilisation. Non-BJP parties have been comfortable in dealing with him due to his long standing in politics, flexibility and practical approach. The Trinamool Congress and the Left can work with him to check the BJP, which is aiming to occupy the main space in West Bengal and Kerala. So can Biju Janata Dal, TDP and TRS.

Sharad Pawar had good equations with BSP founder late Kanshi Ram and Odisha stalwart late Biju Patnaik. Besides, former Punjab chief minister and the Shiromani Akali Dal leader Prakash Singh Badal, the National Conference’s Dr Farooq Abdullah are known to be Pawar’s personal friends.

Sharad Pawar of late has been touring Maharashtra, reconnecting with non-political organisations, cultural groups and writers after losing power in 2014.

There is a view emerging in the political circles that the Congress party, which has led the United Progressive Alliance for ten years since 2004, will find it difficult to develop a working relationship with BJD, TDP, TRS, YSR Congress, AAP.

While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is touring, Congress state chief is calling a potential ally an opportunist.

On the other hand, some loyalists have started projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi at a time when the AICC plenary has called for a unity of the like-minded parties against the BJP.

Coming general election is not a routine electoral battle for many reasons. Non-BJP parties have realised it all too well. However, they have not succeeded in creating a credible alternative to the BJP yet. A section of the Congress is talking of post poll alliances undermining political significance to the 2019 battle.

“If regional parties win 150 Lok Sabha seats, then the Congress will have to support them to form a government. They will chose their PM. If Congress gets 150 seats on its own then regional parties would have to back us,” says an AICC leader close to the Congress president. Sonia Gandhi’s recent dinner and luncheon meetings with regional satraps were held to send out a message that the grand old party is ready to lead a front against the BJP-led NDA once again.

As things stand today, Congress can rely on the RJD in Bihar, is optimistic that the Samajwadi Party and the BSP would give it a respectable space in Uttar Pradesh, made up its mind to ally with the NCP in Maharashtra. It is, however, unsure of what turn Dravadian politics would take in Tamil Nadu.

In such an uncertain situation, Pawar may emerge as consensus candidate. In the coming months, Rahul Gandhi’s ability to lead Congress in poll bound state would determine to claim leadership position in anti-BJP front.

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