Supriya Sule is a member of the Nationalist Congress Party’s national committee and a three-time member of parliament from Maharashtra’s Baramati constituency. Sule—the daughter of Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief and veteran Maratha politician—is one of the most prominent leaders of the party. Ahead of the Maharashtra assembly elections, scheduled for 21 October, the NCP entered into an alliance with the Congress. In the Lok Sabha elections, the NCP won just four seats in Maharashtra, and the Congress only one, while the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance won 41 of the total 48 seats.
On 16 October, in an interview at her Mumbai office with Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, Sule discussed the NCP-Congress alliance’s preparation for the elections, the BJP’s campaign strategy and the issues that are missing from the ongoing electoral politics.
Tushar Dhara: The NCP’s stronghold is western Maharashtra. The BJP has tried to penetrate this bastion, and a lot of leaders from the NCP and the Congress have switched over to the BJP. Do you expect seats from any other region?
Supriya Sule: We will still do well, it doesn’t matter. They were leaders, the party made them. Time will tell how long they survive on their own, whether they will win this. We have put up a lot of new candidates, good MLAs who are still with us—they will win. We will get seats from all over the state, and even western Maharashtra.
TD: In the last five years, the BJP has tried hard to dislodge the NCP and the Congress’s hold over the sugar cooperatives in western Maharashtra. They have succeeded to a certain extent. Will this hurt the NCP-Congress combine in the assembly elections?
SS: It’s not about hurting, it’s about institutions. It is unfortunate that this government does not like institutions, and they hurt institutions, which is a problem in the long run. I don’t know why people look at sugar factories as bad—they create wealth and jobs for farmers. If it’s run well, why should anyone object? All sugar factories are not bad.
TD: There is a political patronage attached to sugar cooperatives, which were originally created by the Congress and the NCP. But the BJP has dislodged your party from these patronage networks to an extent. Does this hand an advantage to the BJP?
SS: We—Congress and NCP—ruled this state and country for decades, but if you lose an election, what is wrong in rebuilding and working hard?
TD: The Maratha vote has usually been split between the Congress and the NCP, whereas the Other Backward Classes and the upper castes have largely consolidated behind the BJP. But the BJP has tried to break the Congress-NCP combine’s hold over the Marathas by introducing reservations for the community and co-opting the Maratha sugar barons. Will this hurt the NCP?
SS: The NCP has never done caste politics. Our politics is only about development. It has to be about focus, about people doing well and serving the nation to make a difference.