For his 75th birthday party, Sharad Pawar certainly threw a power packed bash. Sharing the dais to felicitate him were the President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, along with Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, L.K. Advani, Farooq Abdullah, Sitaram Yechury and Mulayam Singh Yadav. What was interesting was the Congress president’s last minute acceptance of the request, for initially Congress sources had indicated that she was not keen to share the dais with PM Modi. But last minute persuasion by NCP leader Praful Patel along with the pragmatic Ahmed Patel worked and not only was Sonia Gandhi present on the dais, but even Rahul Gandhi came and sat in the audience. Perhaps the Congress is slowly realising the art of realpolitik. The presence of so many political stalwarts with opposing ideologies on stage drew an appreciative comment from President Mukherjee, and left the audience wondering if this was not Pawar’s bid for a larger role. For as Praful Patel said in his opening remarks, “This is just the beginning.”
Saying it with a smile
What was equally interesting was the speech delivered by Sonia Gandhi, for the personal history between her and Sharad Pawar has not been particularly amicable, with the Maratha strongman walking out of the Congress on the issue of her foreign origin. But she delivered perhaps the best speech of the day, outdoing even the PM in her warmth and delivery. She did mention that she and Pawar have had some differences, and then added, “many differences”, but went on to praise his tenure as UPA’s Agriculture Minister for 10 years. Pranab Mukherjee too added that he was surprised when Pawar, a former Defence Minister, opted for agriculture instead of his old portfolio when UPA came to power. Sonia Gandhi also spoke about his love for cricket, saying that few know this, but Pawar’s father-in-law was an avid cricketer and a leg spinner, so perhaps Pawar had learnt a few things from him. While many wondered how she knew this little nugget as this wasn’t part of her original speech, Congress sources say this was revealed to her by Pawar’s wife when she and Sonia were chatting on the dais before the Congress president’s speech.
And of course when it comes to rhetorical flourishes, can the PM be left behind? He commented on Sharad Pawar’s image as a man of the soil and then added with a smile, “Like a good farmer he certainly knows how to predict the change in weather...” And left it at that. Now if only Parliament were allowed to function and see some of this fine rhetoric on the floor of the House.
The Odd Question
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plan for odd-even cars has certainly created ripples in the capital. When the CM arrived for the launch of Barkha Dutt’s book, This Unquiet Land, he was asked whether he had travelled to the launch venue in an even numbered vehicle or an odd numbered one. The CM laughed and replied, “An odd numbered car.” He then went on to talk about Delhi’s pollution and even blamed his trademark cough on the bad Delhi air. Clearly, judging by his determination, this plan is not going to be muffled without a trial run at least.