Pune: Only the Congress has the ability to challenge the country’s ruling BJP presently, and its ‘acche din’ will come, predicted Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar here on Wednesday.
The veteran politician was replying to blunt questions thrown by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray who was “interviewing” him at a mega public function organized by Jagtik Marathi Academy.
“In the past, the Congress had a strong organizational presence in the districts, states and all over India. That is not so now… the party is changing. However, even the (Congress President) Rahul Gandhi is also changing. He is willing to learn,” Pawar said.
“Only the Congress can give a challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party. With Rahul maturing and learning, I think ‘achhe din’ will dawn for the Congress,” Pawar said, responding to wide-ranging questions for nearly 90 minutes.
The encounter at the jampacked BMCC grounds created the desired fireworks, with Thackeray throwing political missiles and Pawar skillfully grabbing them or dodging them as he deemed fit as the two leaders shared a dais after more than 10 years.
When Thackeray asked if is “hazardous to speak the truth in politics,” Pawar replied that “it is imperative to be truthful in politics, but when there are difficulties, its better to keep quiet”.
In an indirect barb at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Pawar said irrespective of differences in political ideologies, “elders must be accorded respect always” and said that the recent attack on India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru “was not proper.”
He pointed out how former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had set principles in political life – “which is lacking now,” and compared how when Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister, he “used to make personal attacks on (then) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh”.
“That was the reason why Congress Chief Ministers were bitter about Modi, but I used to intervene to sort out issues,” Pawar said.
Replying to a question, Pawar said responsible leaders should think of the country as a whole and “not just Gujarat or Ahmedabad”.
“Why does Modi take all foreign leaders only to Gujarat? Why can’t he show them all other states, including Maharashtra?” he asked.
To a question by Thackeray if Modi – who once described himself as a student of Pawar – listens to the NCP chief, Pawar replied: “I have amicable relations with Modi. I advised him many times, but he never heeded me anytime.”
“Modi has the ability to work hard but running a state and governing a country are very different. For managing the country, you need a team which is lacking for Modi,” he added.
He expressed concern how, in recent years, casteism is raising its head, “but it will not survive for long” and advised Thackeray to propagate the principle of his uncle (the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray), who never believed in caste, creed or community, but was a staunch nationalist.
When Thackeray asked whether the proposed Bullet Train was intended to break off Mumbai from Maharashtra, Pawar replied “as nobody will go from Maharashtra to Gujarat, the Bullet Train will lead to overcrowding of Mumbai.”