BARAMATI: Putting behind the rancour of bitterly fought Maharashtra Assembly polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today shared dais with NCP leader Sharad Pawar and had lunch with him, setting off speculation about a possible political realignment in the state.
Though the two leaders insisted that no political meaning should be read into the public bonhomie exhibited by them, much political significance is being attached to their coming together following strains in BJP's relations with ally Shiv Sena.
Modi, who had while stumping for the Assembly elections in October last year called NCP a "naturally corrupt party" and asked the people to free themselves from the "yoke" of the Pawar family, attended events related to the various establishments run by Sharad Pawar on his home turf.
He visited the Vidya Pratishthan, run by the Pawars and inaugurated the Appasaheb Pawar Auditorium named after Sharad Pawar's brother, an influential leader of the sugar cooperative movement from where the NCP leader draws much of his political clout.
Modi praised Pawar at a farmers' conclave at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, a Central government undertaking, where he inaugurated a Centre for Excellence for Vegetables and thanked him for inviting him to Baramati.
"As Chief Minister of Gujarat, I faced problems, including those from the Government of India. I then used to call Sharad Rao and he rose above party politics and helped me out. Never a month passed when we didn't talk 2-3 times. For his contribution, I felicitate him here, in Baramati," Modi said.
Mindful of presence of a large media contingent at the event, Modi said, "Today is a special day for the media. They would keenly observe what I said earlier (during the polls) and what I say today. This is the beauty of democracy.
"Democracy works on two tracks. The first is of 'vivad' (debate) and second is 'samvad' (communication). We are in different political parties with different agenda, but for us country is above party and statesmanship is above politics," he said.
"But, in our country, the meeting of two leaders makes big news. The communication (between leaders) should never stop and in this those in power have a greater responsibility," Modi said. Pawar, too, sought to clarify that their appearance together was for development and that political motives should not be attributed.
"We may fight in politics for two days.
But for the rest 363 days we should be devoted to development. We are always ready to support you in all your development initiatives," he said.
Extending his support to Modi for his development agenda, Pawar sought his intervention for removing barriers on export of sugar and improving condition of dairy farmers.
He also sought reservation for the Dhangar (shepherd) community on the lines of scheduled tribes. Modi had during his election meeting in Baramati slammed Pawar for having failed to secure reservation for the community.
Though the two leaders meticulously avoided speaking anything that showed they were getting closer politically, there has been talk of their growing political proxymity, particularly after Shiv Sena's public attack on Modi for the Delhi election debacle.
The Sena has virtually demanded that Modi accept the blame for the defeat in Delhi Assembly polls in which, it said, Arvind Kejriwal's AAP reduced it to "dirt".
It has also publicly attacked the BJP-led government in the state over agrarian problems in drought-prone Vidarbha and Marathwada and for farmers suicides.
Some of the Sena ministers, including Minister of State for Revenue Sanjay Rathod, have voiced displeasure over curtailment of their powers by their senior ministers from BJP.
NCP had unilaterally announced its support to the minority BJP government in the state after the Assembly polls and assumed its role in the Opposition only after Shiv Sena relented and joined the government after weeks of hard bargaining over portfolios.
NCP's relations with Congress since their parting of ways just ahead of the Assembly elections are far from cordial.
State Congress president Manikrao Thakre's remark that Sharad Pawar's party had not yet cleared doubts in the minds of the people about its support to the BJP-led government has not gone down well with NCP.