Blast from the Past: When Sharad Pawar ditched Congress over Sonia's 'foreign origin'

The first-of-its-kind alliance among the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress in Maharashtra appeared to be taking shape. But as the three party alliance is taking shape, the Congress and NCP who have been together for a long time. Congress-NCP together have seen up-downs in the alliance.

Even Congress' interim president Sonia Gandhi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar had a face-off in 1999 when Sonia Gandhi assumed the leadership role in the Congress. When she assumed the leadership role in the Congress, she faced stiff opposition from some of the senior party leaders. PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar went public with their demand that going into 1999 Lok Sabha elections, Congress should announce that a native-born leader would be the prime minister if the party secured majority.

Also Read: Maha Impasse: Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government to complete its term, says Sharad Pawar

Sharad Pawar joined the bandwagon on the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin. The three founded the Nationalist Congress Party with Sharad Pawar as its president. He continues to be the president of NCP.

But in 2015, in his memoirs, On My Terms: From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power, Pawar has said that it was Sonia Gandhi herself who initiated the discussion on her foreign origin that led to his suspension from the Congress in 1999.

"On 15 May 1999, the Congress president called a meeting of the CWC. For no apparent reason, she suddenly pulled out a sheet of paper and read aloud: 'I was born outside India. If this becomes an issue in the campaign, how would it impact our party's performance in the election?' She requested CWC members to voice their opinions candidly," Pawar recalls.

He writes in his memoir: ‘I said the people of India will not forget that the Gandhi family has contributed a lot to this country. Secondly, a large number of people in the country support the Congress because they acknowledge with gratitude the supreme sacrifices made by Indiraji and Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore, we shall be able to counter effectively the opposition parties’ campaign against Soniaji’s foreign origin. In that sense, I agree with what Sangma said. We must meet the opposition campaign head on. But it will be our gross mistake to presume that the opposition will not campaign on the foreigner issue.’

Even after the face-off, Congress and NCP are still together, with Sharad Pawar trying to forge another alliance which is first-of-its-kind, Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress. But will this bitter-sweet rivalry between Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi will affect the new alliance, only time will tell.