Mumbai: The fight for political supremacy in Maharashtra has apparently become a deeply personal and bitter combat between Narendra Modi and Sharad Pawar.
Nobody remembers the last time a Prime Minister launched such a personal attack on a Maharashtrian leader of the stature of Sharad Pawar. Just as nobody remembers the last time Sharad Pawar said something so scathing and personal about any national political figure.
It was only recently that Modi had, while sharing stage with someone who still was his political adversary, said, "I have no hesitation in accepting that Pawar held my hand and taught me to walk in my early days in Gujarat."
Pawar had returned the compliment at the same event, held in November 2016, by admiring Modi's "total commitment to the cause of the country.”
But it was only last month while addressing a political rally in Wardha that Modi had said, "There was a time when Sharad Pawar thought that he too could become the Prime Minister. He first announced that he would contest the election, but suddenly stated that he is happy in the Rajya Sabha. This is because they also know which side the wind is blowing.”
“Also, a family war is going on in the NCP. The party was founded by Sharad Pawar. However, his nephew is slowly capturing the party. For this reason, the NCP is also facing trouble in ticket sharing,” Modi had said.
Modi repeated his attack on Wednesday while addressing another rally in Solapur's Madha district. "Sharad Pawar bhi bade khiladi hain, wo samay se pehle hawa ka rukh samajh jaate hain. Aur wo kabhi aisa kuch nahi karte jiske kaaran unko aur unke parivar ko kharonch aa jaaye, baaki koi bhi bali chadh jaaye to chadh jaaye (Sharad Pawar is a big player and knows which way the wind is going to blow. He never does anything that may harm him or his family, no matter who he has to sacrifice for it).”
The second attack prompted Pawar to break his generally kept principle of not getting personal with his political rival. In a rally in Jalna, he said in quite an uncharacteristic tone, "Modi ji says 'Pawar Sahab is a good man but has family issues. His nephews are out of his hands.' I wanted to ask him what does he have to do with issues at my home? But then I realised. I have my wife and daughter; son-in-law and nephews visit us, but he has no one," Pawar said.
He went on to add, "There is no one in his family, how would he know how a family functions and how one takes care of son and wife. This is also the reason why he keeps peeping into others’ homes. It is not good to peep into other people’s house, Modi ji. I can also say a lot, but I won’t stoop to a low level."
It's not as though Pawar hasn't criticised a politician's credentials before. He has used unsparing words for former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
But to comment on a rival's family is a new low. There are many theories about how both the leaders hit a rough patch in their relationship.
Personalised Combat by Design?
"Their bitter personal exchanges won't seem so spontaneous when you consider the fact that keeping the political conversation only about each other benefits only two people -- Modi and Pawar," Maharashtra-based political analyst Chandrakant Wankhede told News18.
According to Wankhede, the one person missing from all these volleys is Rahul Gandhi, and that is an important omission. "Suddenly nobody's talking about Rahul Gandhi and his proposed Nyay scheme. Modi is giving Pawar more importance than he deserves, it says something about the nature of their relationship, doesn't it?" Chandrakant added.
Also missing from the narrative is CM Devendra Fadnavis, since Modi is the hero of the BJP campaign.
This new found 'victimisation' is only helping Pawar consolidate his constituencies even further and is helping him emerge as the only credible, tall figure taking Modi head on, he added.
Or could the political rivalry have genuinely changed into a bitter, personal fight?
"To single out Pawar in Maharashtra politics, to target Pawar in a way Modi has done, is to send a message to the opposition," said senior Maharashtra-based journalist Ashok Wankhede.
"See, if BJP gets around 180 seats, Pawar will be the only guy who will have the authority to coordinate between everybody, from KCR, to Mamata Banerjee, to Naveen Patnaik. Only he has such stature and personal equations," Ashok added.
He thinks that Pawar only reacted when provoked by personal attacks on his family.
"In Maharashtra politics, people differ on views. Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray were for the longest time engaged in their political tussle. But at the same time, Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule would stay in Thackeray's house while pursuing her college education. Similarly, Gopinath Munde and Chhagan Bhujbal, officially political rivals, were closer than brothers in their personal lives. That sort of maturity has always been in Maharashtra politics. But Modi dishonoured that tradition," said Ashok.
But he thinks there is another reason for Modi to get personal with Pawar.
"After 2014, the BJP was in a very good position in Vidharbha and Marathwada. But over time, it has lost space in both these regions. Modi is fighting Pawar on his home turf. Western Maharashtra is Pawar's area, so Modi is trying to take him head on."
It may also be a diversionary tactic to not talk about issues like farmer suicides, said Ashok. "When Prime Minister goes to Vidharbha or Marathwada, he can't talk about farmer issues. As per my knowledge, 174 farmers committed suicide between election announcement and the first phase of polling. So making the fight about Pawar and his nepotism maybe his strategy to evade real issues on the ground."