Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray - how Maharashtra's two tallest leaders never made it personal

Back in the days, politicians made sure their rivalry with fellow politicians remained only on the political fields, and one of the biggest examples of this is the relationship NCP chief Sharad Pawar and late Shiv Sena patriarch, Bal Thackeray shared.

Pawar, the then Maratha strongman and Balasaheb Thackeray religiously followed their political rivalry with each other for a big part of their political careers. However, the duo first shook hands during the 1982 textile workers’ strike. The rivals came together to stand against the trade union leader Datta Samant in an attempt to stop the workers from partaking in the strike.

Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray, along with veteran trade union leader George Fernandes, their fellow arch-rival, assembled at Shivaji Park to address the workers. The trio requested the workers at the public rally to stop the strike as it would adversely affect Mumbai’s economy. They wanted to stop Samant from gaining more followers.

However, the giant move did not make an inch of a difference; the textile workers participated in the strike in huge numbers. Sadly, the strike also proved to be unsuccessful.

Pawar and Thackeray reached new heights of rivalry while putting efforts to build a cordial personal relationship with each other in the years that came. The people of Maharashtra saw a very public display of political enmity three significant times between the two over the years. All three instances involved Chhagan Bhujabl, the politician from Maharashtra who has a history in all three major parties in the state, Shiv Sena, Indian National Congress and Nationalist Congress Party.

The very first public spat between the two was initiated by Chhagan Bhujbal, who was then with Shiv Sena. He had named Pawar, Congress Chief Minister at that time, publicly in an alleged plot scam. He alone launched a full-fledged campaign against Sharad Pawar. He framed Pawar as a corrupt politician which created a big black blotch on his career and Maratha leader in the state.

While Pawar had expected Balasaheb to step in and save him from being publicly executed, the Sena supremo remained silent.

After a year, Bhujbal again led one of the biggest setbacks for Shiv Sena. He is credited for causing the biggest split in Thackeray’s party. 14 Sena legislators quit the party to join the Indian National Congress. Thackeray at that time had hoped that Sharad Pawar would pause the split, but it was Pawar’s time to remain mum.

Later, in 2000, when Bhujbal had shifted his loyalty from Sena to the new-found Nationalist Congress Party, he decided to attack Balasaheb Thackeray. While he was serving as the state home minister and deputy chief minister, he restarted a decade-old case against Thackeray under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code - creating communal enmity. He campaigned hard against the senior Thackeray and ensured his arrest.

Shiv Sena had tried their level best to stop the inevitable, with no help from Sharad Pawar, senior Thackeray was arrested.

Balasaheb Thackeray is very familiar with launching state-wide campaigns to perish a movement, a politician or a party, and in this case, it was against Sharad Pawar. Before the 1995 assembly polls, Thackeray t4eamed up with BJP leader Gopinath Munde and Sena leader Manohar Joshi.

The three of them spearheaded a state-wide campaign against Sharad Pawar and the Pawar-led Congress government. The campaign hit Pawar and the Congress government at that time severely. This time the campaign was successful in shaking up people’s faith in the Pawar who was until then considered as the undisputed leader of Maharashtra.

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