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'I wish Thackeray had campaigned more'

By Amberish Kathewad Diwanji in New Delhi
October 16, 2004 23:20 IST
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NCP chief Sharad Pawar has thrown down the gauntlet, but unlike a few years ago when he chose to revolt against Congress president Sonia Gandhi loudly, this time it is with a smile and a whisper.

"It is the Congress party that drew up the principle that the chief minister must hail from the party with the higher number of legislators and we expect this principle to be followed," he said even as he continued to insist that neither he nor his party had yet made any claim for the chair of chief minister.

He said he would meet Gandhi on October 17 and decide what to do. "Let the complete final result come and I also need to hear the views of all my colleagues before any decision is taken," he said.

He reiterated that the question of the next chief minister had not been decided. In fact, he added that before the election, since everyone, he included, had expected the Congress to emerge as the single largest party, they had never really even thought about a non-Congress chief minister. Even if both parties had an equal number of legislators, even then the chief minister would have been from the Congress, he added.

Pawar added that while he was sure of winning, he was actually a bit disappointed at the number of legislators who had won. "I expected that the NCP would get 80-82 and the Congress would get 85-90. Unfortunately, some of our stalwarts like Arun Gujrathi (former Maharashtra assembly speaker), Digvijay Khanvilkar (health minister in the outgoing government), and others, all of whom had been legislators for the past couple of decades, have lost," he said.

He charged that the Bharatiya Janata Party had bribed Mayawati to field Bahujan Samaj Party candidates in the hope that this would cut into the NCP and Congress' support from among the dalits and the backward classes. "But as you can see, it has backfired and the much-touted Mayawati wave is nowhere to be seen."

He further stressed that communal and caste messages would not work in a progressive state like Maharashtra. "This is a state that led in social reforms. It is the state of (B R) Ambedkar, (Jotiba) Phule, and Shahu Maharaj (the king of Kolhapur who carried out social reforms in the early 20th century). People here won't be influenced by the communal and casteist messages of the Sena-BJP," he said.

He said that any anger that the voter might have had against the Congress or NCP was played out during the Lok Sabha elections in April-May this year. "Also, we became aware of our problems and worked twice as hard to relieve the people's problem," he stated.

Pawar, who has been chief minister of Maharashtra four times so far, said the biggest problem that the people were facing was water shortage. "Wherever I went, people were asking for water. We worked hard on drought relief and provided water to mitigate the people's problems and it helped in the elections."

He said his regret was that Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray did not address more rallies this time, because wherever Thackeray spoke, the Sena or the BJP lost. "The kind of filthy language that he or his colleagues in the BJP, especially Pramod Mahajan, used against Sonia Gandhi and me turned off the voters and they all voted against the Sena or the BJP," he said.

He said that Mahajan would crack nasty jokes and such dirty tactics only went against the Sena and the BJP. "People might come to hear such jokes, but they will not vote for those who crack them."

An important factor that aided the Congress and the NCP is the incredibly high turnout. While the final voter turnout figures are still to come in, the turnout in may constituencies is over 65 per cent, and in some constituencies as high as 80 per cent (the norm tends to be over 50 per cent).

Pawar lavished praise on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying his image as a decent, honest, and humble man played a huge role in influencing the voters to vote for the NCP-Congress' Democratic Front. "Singh has lived in Mumbai for a few years when he was governor of the Reserve Bank of India. So the local media and many people know him and remember him as a graceful and wonderful human being, and that no doubt helped us especially after he campaigned in the elections," he said.

He pointed out that Sonia Gandhi's rallies too were successful, and said the foul language used by Thackeray might have led women to vote for the Congress.

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Amberish Kathewad Diwanji in New Delhi