Mumbai: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has found support from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Chief and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar for leading an energetic campaign in Gujarat ahead of elections next month. Mr Pawar, whose party ruled Maharashtra along with the Congress till 2014, had earlier expressed reservations about his capability to take on the BJP led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah citing "a lack of consistency".
But on Thursday evening at an event organised by the TV Journalists Association in Mumbai, not only did he rule out an alliance with the BJP, Mr Pawar said people had begun to view Mr Gandhi "differently". "In the past few years Rahul Gandhi has been ridiculed on social media and other mediums and this was done at the behest of the ruling party. Rahul Gandhi has had to pay a price for this. The ones who were making fun of him are targets of ridicule today and people are viewing Rahul differently. Once the reality of the ruling party has come to the fore people are viewing Rahul Gandhi differently," he said.
If Congress leader Rahul Gandhi intends to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a "viable political alternative" he will have to mend his ways, Sharad Pawar had told Shekhar Gupta on NDTV's Off The Cuff earlier this year. "It's not just the about the Congress. If the country is expects a viable alternative and the major party is projecting you as that alternative, you have more responsibility and you have to be more serious," Mr Pawar had said.
But now Mr Pawar says things are changing. "The crowds at his rallies are increasing. His followers on the internet are growing. But the Pradhan Sevak who took responsibility for the nation, his graph shows a decline. The effect of this will be seen after the election. Today we can see power and money are being used in Gujarat. We cannot say what the results of this will be," Mr Pawar added.
Last month, the BJP's perennially sulking ally, the Shiv Sena, had also praised Mr Gandhi. Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut had told reporters, "A leader is one who is accepted by people. There is a substantial change in Rahul Gandhi since 2014. People like to listen to him now."
Clarifying his stand on a possible tie-up with the BJP if the Sena quits the government, Mr Pawar said, "We will not tie up with the Bharatiya Janata Party to get a ministerial berth at the centre. When we fight elections in Gujarat, my party's candidates will contest elections at limited places and to do that, we will decide jointly with the Congress and fight the elections together. The Congress leadership and the leadership of our party has had elementary discussion and the final discussion is yet to happen, but we will fight the elections there together with the anti-BJP organisations. So there is no chance of us tying up with the BJP in this state or in any other state."