While Pawar’s unexpected announcement was met with protests and tears from NCP workers, it cast a shadow over the entire political opposition camp, which is banking on its weight to put together a coalition that can challenge the BJP. Pawar, 82, has friends across political lines, and his role is likely to be crucial to whatever form the opposition coalition ultimately takes, and what position Congress occupies in it.

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This centrality of Pawar to the future plans of the Congress is ironic, as it was his expulsion from the old Grand Party that led to the formation of the National Congress Party on 10 June 1999.

In the next two decades, the Congress and the NCP were allies at different levels, and Sharad Pawar worked with Sonia Gandhi, against whom he rebelled. However, Pawar was the first high-profile exit from Congress under Sonia, which has since seen many leaders drop out.

The Pawar rebellion episode is much talked about and many political leaders have mentioned it in their books. Here is what happened in May and June 1999, and the events leading up to it.

Why Sharad Pawar left Congress

The bare facts are as follows – Pawar objected to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership of Congress and her bid as the PM candidate due to her foreign origins, she was dismissed on May 20, 1999 along with PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar, and the three leaders together formed the Nationalist Party. Congressional segment on June 10 of the same year.

However, Pawar’s resentment towards Sonia had been building for years.

Power version

in his book, Life on my terms – from the grassroots to the corridors of powerSonia didn’t, Pawar writes We want any Congressman with an “independent mind” to become Chief Minister, which is why PV Narasimha Rao was chosen instead of him for the post in 1991.

Loyalists of 10 Janpath began to say in private conversations that the election of Sharad Pawar as Prime Minister would harm the interests of the first family given his young age. “Who will be the tall racehorse? (He will hold the reins for a very long time),” they argued. Among those who played a clever trick were ML Fotedar, RK Dhawan, Arjun Singh and V George.”

Claiming that Rao was considered a safer bet as he was advanced in age, Pawar writes, “Arjun Singh himself was aspiring to become Prime Minister and hoped to succeed Rao soon. Anyway, once Sonia Gandhi bought the clique argument” Rao brought in In 1991, the tide turned against me.

Pawar recounted how Alexander later brokered peace and persuaded him to become Minister of Defense in the Rao government. “He knew and I know I was a strong contender but the Gandhi family was not about to allow someone of an independent mind to reach the post of Prime Minister,” he wrote.

He also spoke of how, in a number of cases, as Congress President in the Lok Sabha, he was undermined by Sonia as Congress President during 1996-1997. He described as “shocking” the amendment of the Parliamentary Congress Party’s constitution in the early 1990s “only” to make her the leader of the CPP, without ever being elected to parliament. Of his equation with Sonia, Pawar wrote, “When she and I decided something, she would do exactly the opposite. If I chose PC Chacko to open a debate on behalf of the party, she would take his place simply because he was meant to be close to me.”

Returning to developments during the merger of Congress (S) and Congress (I) in 1986, Pawar writes that Rajiv Gandhi did not mention his name in his speech: “I attribute this to the mentality of the Gandhi family. Whether it is Indiragi, Rajiv or Sunyagi, all Gandhi is considered Congress is a family fief.”

Despite the differences between Sonia and Pawar, their parties shared power in Maharashtra immediately after the 1999 split, with the NCP being a component of the United Progressive Alliance at the center.

About the years of UPA government, Pawar writes that he had a comfortable alliance with Congress and that Sonia never interfered with his ministerial job.

Aside from Sonia, Pawar writes that Rajiv Gandhi also distrusted him when, after having lunch with Chandra Shekhar, a close family friend, right after the latter became Prime Minister in 1990, he did not sit well with Rajiv.

Another version of the former congressional leader

Rajiv’s claim of not trusting Pawar was also made by a former Congress leader, KV Thomas. Thomas who was UPA II food secretary and removed from Congress in 2022 wrote his book, Sonya – IdolAnd that Pawar “backstabbed” Sonia, who had always stayed away from himbecause she “may have had in mind Rajiv’s remark that Pawar, though capable, was not trustworthy”.

Referring to the Congress Working Committee meeting on May 15, 1999, Thomas wrote, “Reclining on a white pillow, Sharad Pawar smiled at the PA Sangma. That was the green signal for rebellion within the party – a fact unknown to many of the members present at the meeting.” He said Sonia was “distraught” when Sangma raised the issue of her foreign origin.

Pawar started where Sangma left off. He praised her role as head of the party in achieving unity in the party and making it vibrant. He then added that the party was unable to counter the publicity of Sonia’s birth abroad. “We have to seriously think about this,” Pawar said. Sonia felt the heat of the revolution when she heard these words from Pawar who had been appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.”

Thomas went on to recall the heated exchanges that took place afterward. He said while Sonia walked out silently, Pawar along with Sangma and Anwar said to Pranab Mukherjee that “this is our last CW conference”. He said that the trio, “who had turned their backs on the party”, later sent a letter to Mukherjee and Madhavrao Scindia in the form of an accusation paper.

Sonya didn’t bother to read it. The reply was written by Arjun Singh. He described the trio who separated from Sonia as Mir Jaafar. Thomas wrote: “The backstabbing was more than Sonya could take.

Ex-president’s version

A less emotional report is given of the events of May 1999 by Congress leader and former President Pranab Mukherjee in his autobiography.

In my opinion, Sharad Pawar, as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, expected the party to ask him, instead of Sonia Gandhi, to demand the formation of the government. After Sonia’s elevation as Congress President, P Shiv Shankar consulted on all important issues in place of Sharad Pawar. This feeling of alienation and disillusionment may have been responsible for his statements about Sonia’s foreign ancestry, and his subsequent exit from the party in 1999,” Mukherjee wrote.


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