If surface camaraderie doesn’t work, switch to blackmail. Especially since the Congress is still licking its wounds from its debacle in Solapur—where the NCP played saboteur—and faces elections in four crucial states in December. An early election in Maharashtra seems unthinkable now. The state is reeling under severe drought and the Democratic Front regime is facing a barrage of charges on financial mismanagement. As Congress leader Gurudas Kamat put it, "These are pressure tactics timed for just before the polls."
Interestingly, just days before his statements in Delhi, at a public meeting in Kolhapur Pawar had spoken of the urgent need for a pre-poll alliance in Maharashtra to combat a resurgent saffron brigade. "He says one thing in Maharashtra, another in Delhi where he knows the national media will pick it up," says a party leader. There’s more. Sources say Pawar’s outburst was deliberate, keeping alive a coterie of ex-partymen opposed to the Congress establishment like V.C. Shukla, ex-PM Chandra Shekhar and satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav. K. Karunakaran is also there, though he’s still in the Congress.
Now with Maharashtra Congress chief Ranjit Deshmukh retracting his ultimatum that Pawar apologise, the NCP is on cloud nine. "He’s forced the Congress to acknowledge that they need us," says a jubilant NCP leader.