Sharad Pawar, one of the seniormost leaders in the opposition bloc, shared stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Maharashtra today, upsetting his allies and several other parties that had urged him to skip the event.
Amid acrimony in Delhi between the ruling BJP and the opposition, the two leaders greeted each other warmly on stage. At the start of the event, PM Modi walked up to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) veteran. As the two leaders had what news agency ANI described as a “candid conversation”, Sharad Pawar grinned and patted the Prime Minister.
The optics of the opposition stalwart on stage with PM Modi is a harsh reality check for the opposition’s new 26-party INDIA alliance, which is set for its third meeting in Mumbai after Patna and Bengaluru.
Sharad Pawar was the chief guest at the event organised by the Lokmanya Tilak Smarak Mandir Trust, in which PM Modi received the Lokmanya Tilak National Award.
Also on stage were Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, his Deputy Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, and Sharad Pawar’s rebel nephew Ajit Pawar, who split the NCP recently and joined hands with the BJP.
“Lokmanya Tilak wanted to get complete freedom for the country and he spent his early days in Pune. To be independent from the British, Tilak knew he needed to unite the masses. He became a journalist and then had Kesari and Maratha weekly newspapers and fought against the British. Tilak used to say there shouldn’t be any pressure on journalism and journalists shouldn’t be pressured,” Sharad Pawar said.
PM Modi and Sharad Pawar last appeared on a stage together seven years ago. As his Maharashtra allies, the Congress and Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, urged him to skip today’s event, Mr Pawar said he couldn’t possibly beg off, given that he had invited PM Modi to it months ago.
The allies had said Mr Pawar should opt out, especially after the shock split in his party and his nephew’s betrayal, enabled by PM Modi’s BJP.