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Profile: Sharad Pawar

Sharad Pawar,
Sharad Pawar has had a love-hate relationship with the Congress party

Sharad Pawar is more than just the head of the Nationalist Congress Party. He is one of the few politicians to enjoy support from parties across regions and ideologies.

A powerful farm minister in the Manmohan Singh government, he derives much power from his post as India's cricket chief, and his sugar-exporting constituency in Maharashtra.

Mr Pawar has been a loyal member of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

But now, as political parties negotiate ahead of the elections, Mr Pawar's supporters have floated his name as a prime ministerial candidate.

This has caused some concern within the Congress party, which has been scrambling to secure the allegiance of its partners as it seeks another term in power.

Rural stronghold

Not trusted by many in India's political class, Mr Pawar is known to be ruthless and ambitious.

At 27 he was already a legislator in the Maharashtra assembly, and at 38 he managed to pull down the Congress government that ruled in Mumbai.

Sharad Pawar and Indian cricket captain Singh Dhoni display the world cup Twenty20 trophy in Mumbai, September 2007
Sharad Pawar is head of the cricket board, a position of significant power

With support from a broad range of non-Congress parties, Mr Pawar became the chief minister of the Progressive Democratic Front. This brought him into the national limelight.

His growing clout in sugar-rich western Maharashtra was eating into the base of the Congress party.

A backward rural constituency of Baramati in western Maharashtra turned into one of the richest in the region.

He brought in a new water management system, turning barren Baramati into a producer of grapes, which it now exports along with its sugar.

Such has been his hold on the people of Baramati that Mr Pawar hardly needs to campaign there.

He addresses only one election meeting on the last day of polling, using the extra time to woo voters elsewhere. And Baramati re-elects him in every poll.

It was Sonia Gandhi's husband Rajiv who brought Mr Pawar back into the Congress fold in the mid-1980s.

Mumbai blast, 1993
The 1993 Mumbai blasts posed a challenge to Mr Pawar

He became state chief minister once again, but his ambition for a national role saw him make a bid to be prime minister after the 1991 general elections.

The killing of Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber mid way through the election campaign left the Congress party leaderless.

Narasimha Rao outsmarted Mr Pawar, accommodating him in the federal cabinet as a defence minister while he took the top post for himself.

But Mr Pawar's biggest challenge came when he was moved back as chief minister after sectarian violence gripped Mumbai on the demolition of a disputed mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu nationalists in 1992.

Just days after Mr Pawar assumed charge the city was rocked by serial bomb explosions.

Mr Pawar had to marshal the city in an atmosphere of devastation and loss.

Coalition era

The 1996 elections were a watershed in India's history.

Decades of one-party rule by Congress gave way to the era of coalition governments.

Mr Pawar made another attempt to become the Congress president but lost to an old treasurer of the party, Sitaram Kesri.

Disappointed at yet another defeat, Mr Pawar lost hope in the ability of Congress to take on a resurgent Hindu nationalist BJP.

The rise of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 1998 and its victory in 1999 elections convinced Mr Pawar that Sonia Gandhi lacked the charisma of Nehru or Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

He also protested against Mrs Gandhi's foreign origin, breaking from Congress in 1999.

But five years later he was back with his old ally, entering the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the eve of the 2004 polls.



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