Despite a sustained increase in food grain production, Sharad Pawar’s tenure has been blotted by a spate of farmer suicides and the rising price of food items such as wheat, sugar and onions, say analysts.
Sharad Pawar, one of the highest-profile political figures in India for the past four decades, has decided to retire from electoral politics when the Government’s term ends next year. “I want a break now,” Mr. Pawar told The Wall Street Journal. “I have completed 46 years in politics. It’s too much.” Mr. Pawar has held a wide range of posts in the Union Government. He has been Union Minister for Agriculture since 2004, over the two terms of the United Progressive Alliance Government led by the Congress party.He was also the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution from 2009 to 2011, and Defense Minister from 1991 to 1993. He has served 46 years in India’s Parliament and the State legislature of Maharashtra, his home State. He was Chief Minister there for three terms.
Since 1991, he has been frequently mentioned as a Prime Ministerial candidate but never made it to the top post, say analysts. He came close to becoming India’s Prime Minister in 1991, after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, analyst say. But Congress – his party at the time — chose P.V. Narasimha Rao. The 72-year-old will also be known in political circles for having denied Congress President Sonia Gandhi her own shot at being Prime Minister. In 1999, he split from Congress to form the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in protest against a move to project the Italian-born Ms. Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate in the 1999 elections. Mr. Pawar’s move was a major factor in Ms. Gandhi’s not accepting the premier’s position in 2004 after Congress emerged as the single largest party in Parliament. Ms. Gandhi instead nominated Manmohan Singh, who is now on the verge of completing two full terms as Prime Minister, having been re-elected in 2009. Despite the rift over Ms. Gandhi, Mr. Pawar’s party has been in alliance with Congress in Maharashtra State since 1999, and is likely to ally with Congress again in national polls expected in 2014. Mr. Pawar will continue to head the Nationalist Congress Party, which is part of India’s ruling coalition with nine members in the Lok Sabha, Parliament’s lower house, and seven members in the upper. “This would be a relief to the NCP and the Congress as he has a big influence in the State and at the national level,” said political commentator Prem Shankar Jha.
Born in 1940 in a farmer’s family, Mr. Pawar was first elected to the Maharashtra State assembly from Baramati, his birthplace. He had once earlier left the Congress — in 1978 — but returned in 1987. He turned Baramati, once a rural, agricultural region, into one of the more industrialised areas in Maharashtra, say political observers. Mr. Pawar launched a water management program in 1970 which ensured that the region, which typically gets scanty rainfall, is less affected when the rest of the State is suffering from a drought, they say. As Agriculture Minister, his biggest achievement has been a sustained increase in food grain production, which touched a record 257.44 million tons in the 12 months ending June 30, 2012. It was a mere 174.77 million tons in 2002-03, Government data showed. During his tenure, India also re-opened exports of commodities such as rice, wheat and sugar that have added substantially to the country’s foreign exchange earnings, said a former official at the Agriculture Ministry. “He is one man who thinks beyond politics when it comes to framing policies for farmers,” he added. Mr. Pawar’s tenure, however, has been blotted by a spate of farmer suicides and the rising price of food items such as wheat, sugar and onions, say analysts. Mr. Pawar has blamed droughts in parts of the country for the rise in prices but declined to comment further.
In New Delhi, he is viewed as a valuable diplomat in dealings with Opposition parties and others that support the Government on individual issues but aren’t coalition partners. For instance, the Congress party took Mr. Pawar’s help to talk to leaders of two regional parties – the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – to gain their support during the winter session of Parliament which ended December 22, said Kumar Ketkar, editor of the Marathi daily Dainik Divya Marathi. Officials of the SP and the BSP couldn’t be reached for comment. A Congress spokesman declined to comment as did Mr. Pawar. Mr. Pawar “is a seasoned politician, a political diplomat par excellence,” said Chintamani Mahapatra, a political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. n
Source : India Real Time/WSJ