The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was in touch with the BJP alongside its talks with the Shiv Sena and Congress during the Maharashtra political standoff, Sharad Pawar revealed in an exclusive interview to NDTV on Tuesday. The NCP chief admitted that he was aware that his nephew Ajit Pawar was in conversation with the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis but says he never believed he would go as far as he did.
In an unusually candid interview, Mr Pawar virtually blamed his nephew's stunning betrayal on his heated discussion with Congress leaders on November 22, the night before the surprise early morning oath ceremony in which Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in with Ajit Pawar as his deputy. "Ajit was very, very unhappy at that heated conversation. The Congress was demanding extra portfolios. I walked out. Ajit also walked out and told my colleagues I don't know how we will be able to work tomorrow. That night he had a meeting with Devendra Fadnavis," Mr Pawar said.
A dialogue was, however, already on between Ajit Pawar and Mr Fadnavis, he admitted.
"There was a suggestion from some BJP leaders that there has to be some dialogue. Even if we could not work together. But the feeling was there has to be dialogue. The dialogue was kept between Ajit Pawar and Fadnavis," said the NCP chief.
But Mr Pawar said he had no idea his nephew would go to the extent that he did and was shocked when he saw Ajit Pawar taking oath with Mr Fadnavis at 6.30 am on November 23. The idea that Ajit Pawar's detour had his blessings was "absolutely wrong," the 79-year-old asserted.
Despite the dramatic 72-hour mutiny, he did not rule out Ajit Pawar becoming Deputy Chief Minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led government. "I can't say (whether he will be Deputy Chief Minister). It has to be discussed with colleagues. But sizeable members of the party have full respect for him, even if they are unhappy about him going to the BJP" Mr Pawar said.
On the assessment that Ajit Pawar remained a flight risk, Mr Pawar said the "question doesn't arise" of him walking out.
In reference to his widely-reported comments to a regional channel that he had rejected Prime Minister Narendra Modi's offer to "work together", Mr Pawar said the PM, in their meeting on November 20, did bring up the question of the NCP supporting the BJP, but not in so many words. The PM-Pawar meeting, ostensibly over the farm crisis, had caused a flutter and was seen to have unnerved the Congress, which was dithering at the time on whether to do business with the ideologically opposed Sena.
He also denied any direct offer from the PM for the post of President or a cabinet spot for Supriya Sule.
"For the last five years, some of the BJP leaders on many occasions suggest that (Supriya Sule) is a competent person, that she should join the process of decision-making and associate with us (BJP) on government but these are all general suggestions," Mr Pawar said.
Any talk about the agriculture portfolio for Ms Sule was "absolutely false information", he said, adding that the "Prime Minister never said this about any portfolio. He said she is doing a good job in parliament."
Mr Pawar, sharing that he had a personal equation with the PM, said he had talked about cooperating and supporting each other in the national interest. "I told him that was not the route for us, that we are not ideologically compatible with the BJP." he said.
"Working with the Sena is easier than working with the BJP," said Mr Pawar, explaining that he believed the Sena does not bring Hindutva into governance.
Mr Pawar, the architect of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government that took power in Maharashtra last week, also revealed details of negotiations that set the stage for the ideologically mismatched alliance to take power.
"After the results, we had never thought of forming government. We had taken a conscious decision to sit in opposition. But we saw the Sena becoming unhappier by the day because of unfulfilled promises. We had a discussion with Sena's Sanjay Raut. A personal equation was very much there," Mr Pawar said, adding that the conversation was relayed by Mr Raut to his party chief Uddhav Thackeray, which set the ball rolling.