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Facing desertions, Sharad Joshi appeals to Pawar

NAGPUR, MAY 27: More than two dozen prominent leaders of the Shetkari Sanghatana led by Sharad Joshi, including three former legislators and three former presidents of the Sanghatana's State unit, have made up their mind to join Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Those in the forefront are Sanghatana State president Shankar Dhondge, former president Kishor Mathankar, women's wing chief Sandhyatai Ingole and two former legislators.

In fact, these leaders along with a section of present and past office-bearers of the Sanghatana's women's wing were to join the NCP on Friday at a rally in Nanded. This would have sounded the death knell for the Sanghatana.

Taking a serious note of this developments, the Sanghatana supremo rushed to NCP president Sharad Pawar and pleaded with him to postpone the Nanded rally. Pawar's positive response gave the much-needed breather for Joshi.

According to Sanghatana insiders, this is the first occasion in the over-two-decade-old history of the Sanghatana that the supremo took note of what the second rank leaders of the Sanghatana were doing.

On all earlier occasions, he had either ignored leaders like Anil Gote when they deserted the Sanghatana or simply ridiculed rebels like Vijay Jawandhiya.

Of them, Gote floated his own organisation and is now a member of the State Legislative Assembly. On the other hand, all the candidates put up by the Sanghatana's political wing the Swatantra Bharat Party (SBP) lost badly in the Assembly polls held in September-October last year.

During the last two decades, about half a dozen of his trusted men left the Sanghatana following sharp differences with Joshi. But he continued to guide the destiny of the Sanghatana in his own way. There was virtually no challenge to his leadership at any time during the last 20 years.

Initially, he was opposed to the idea of having any kind of relation with political parties. He then accepted the idea of supporting what he saw as `secular' parties. Then, he himself entered the electoral arena by floating the SBP.

On agriculture-related issues like remunerative prices to farm output, Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme (MCPS) and subsidies on farm inputs, he changed his mind at various stages. He was the first to came out openly against the MCPS and also the first to support the idea to cut subsidies.

The quick shifting of stand led to a rapid erosion of the Sanghatana's base in the State. But there was no organised protest against him within the Sanghatana as he was able to isolate the rebels. Even leaders like former Deputy Speaker Moreshwar Temurde, two time legislator Wamanrao Chatap, Dr Vasant Bonde and former State unit president Pasha Patel towed his line.

But opinion continued to build up slowly against him within the organisation. The first visible sign was available last year when Joshi, talking in his capacity as SBP chief, indicated that he had an open mind on the issue of tie-ups for the Assembly polls.

A major section of the Sanghatana's second rank leaders expressed strong opposition to his `open mind' stand and forced him to have a tie-up with Pawar's newly-floated party. Incidentally, Joshi made the announcement about it at a rally in Nanded. It was then described as a tactical retreat by the Sanghatana supremo.

But later developments revealed that Joshi was fast losing control over his organisation. The vocal section supporting the idea of going with the NCP in last year's election, soon gathered more support. Their argument that the SBP was rendered irrelevant, particularly after the crushing defeat in the Assembly polls, was acceptable to a majority.

Armed with the support of the silent majority, this section of Sanghatana men decided to go ahead with their plan of joining the NCP at the Nanded rally. Reacting to it in his characteristic style, Joshi first tried to ignore the development. Then he said, those wanting to leave the Sanghatana and SBP were welcome to do so.

But he was forced to take a serious note of this development when he saw that the efforts to isolate rebel leaders evoked little response from grassroots workers. He made desperate attempts to dissuade dissidents from joining the NCP. But they were in no mood to sink with him.

In a damage control exercise, Joshi quickly contacted Pawar and prevailed upon him to postpone the Nanded rally. Reports are that Joshi has accepted the proposal to go with the NCP and he is now busy in working out the modalities.

The Sanghatana supremo's only condition is that he should be given some prominent position. His next meeting with Pawar is scheduled for June. If the modalities are worked out as per his desire, then the Sanghatana's destiny would have ben guided not by the supremo but by his followers.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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