'No question of their winning.'
Sharad Chandra Govindrao Pawar, 78, tall, well-built, perennially clad in a cool white bush shirt, white pants and black shoes, is a stern-looking man.
Emotions do not chase across his immoveable face.
The slight and unfortunate disfigurement to the left side of his face, post a cancer-saving operation, contributes, to his grave, mildly forbidding appearance.
Even while speaking in a fatherly fashion to his devoted supporters from a podium at the final public gathering before the election in Baramati, south central Maharashtra, the venerable Nationalist Congress Party leader hardly cracks a smile, though he does crack a few jokes that have the audience's roar of approval.
The sombre exterior, you learn later, actually conceals a polite, gentle manner, bordering on avuncular.
An interview to Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, that could not be scheduled for Baramati, since he left in a dizzying whirlwind, after that rally by helicopter for Nashik, is planned, as promised, two days later, for south Mumbai at his home at Silver Oak Estate.
Locating "Sahebancha bangla," in a warren of lanes off Breach Candy, turns out to be a mildly complicated expedition as one races to reach as per the strict punctuality demanded by his personal assistant Mr Shimpi. Respect from the cabbie, who is helping you negotiate these narrow alleys, is growing by the minute, as he realises the destination. "Aap politician hai?" he asks, intrigued.
At the final turn, a clutch of policemen briskly wave us ahead to a squat bungalow with Sharad Pawar written on the door.
Several vehicles hover about importantly, as does a bunch of aides.
One is quickly ushered into Saheb's office where Pawar impatiently sits under a portrait of his mother, the late Shardabai Pawar, who brought him and his nine siblings up, while running the family farm, and put him on the road to success that saw him become a Maharashtra legislator at 27 and chief minister at an unbelievable 38.
He asks courteously if we can perhaps do the interview on the car ride to his engagement at the Y B Chavan auditorium (Chavan was once a mentor).
During the journey, many stop in their tracks to salute him or express recognition.
He may not be contesting this election, after winning 14 and never losing a single, but that takes nothing away from him being one of the more recognised politicians in this city, where memories, especially with regard to anything related to politics and unrelated to money, are incredibly short.
Pawar, one of the tallest leaders in Maharashtra, who has served thrice as the CM of the state, and in the centre as agriculture minister and defence minister in different governments at the Centre, belongs to that increasingly rare strain of grassroots politicians who have always endeavoured to know as many of their constituents by name.
At the rally back in Baramati, Sattar standing next to me reverentially produces a grainy picture of himself with Pawar.
In his heyday, this Maratha supremo visited 40 villages a day when on tours of Baramati and has travelled nearly every inch of the constituency, reaching many areas high in the Sahyadris on foot, according to his daughter, two-time MP Supriya Sule.
In this election too, Pawar set records, addressing 78 rallies, for both Congress and NCP candidates, in spite of his age.
His legendary sway over Baramati, which has flourished under his and his daughter's leadership, is such that the Baramati folks one has spoken, this election and during the last one too, say Supriya can win without Pawar campaigning even a day in this firmly Pawar-Sule bastion and it has been that way for years.
In national politics, Pawar, has, over the decades, sturdily collected immense respect from colleagues and opponents for his calm, affable but always reasonable approach and for his ability to build bridges and work compromises with leaders across party lines.
His detractors have always viewed him as ruthless.
Throughout his 29-minute interview to Rediff.com, Pawar referred to Narendra Damodardas Modi, mostly formally and, it seemed, perhaps, coldly, as Mr Modi.
Modi at rallies in Maharashtra recently made some personal comments about Pawar, even going as far as to say that the Pawars-Sules, according to a report in PTI, took inspiration from the Gandhis while propagating dynastic politics.
During the half-hour ride in a steel-grey Innova, with a police vehicle escort, Pawar patiently tackles innumerable questions.
His replies are often difficult to comprehend because of the cheek injury that disturbs his diction, but he answers them painstakingly and unhurriedly, choosing his words methodically.
He speaks in an even tone, sentiment or hyperbole never finding the tiniest foothold.
Even when the vehicle draws to a halt in front of the hall, Pawar didn't hurry to complete his last reply, before getting off the vehicle.
The Maratha strongman, who was once destined to become PM, then strode, in a steady but slightly slower gait, towards the stairway, holding carefully onto the railing, as he climbed to the entrance.
You said recently you were fearful if Narendra Damodardas Modi came back as the prime minister of India. What had you meant by that? If he does win a second term, what does that mean for India?
My worry is, now for instance, I saw his statement that India has kept nukes, like at Diwali youngsters buy crackers and they enjoy crackers at Diwali.
So what exactly did he say? He said we have not kept nukes for Diwali.
What is the meaning of this?
You see unfortunately India and our neighbouring country, particular Pakistan, both have got nuclear power.
The whole world is talking about a nuclear-free world.
And in such situation, (if) the person who occupies the highest position in the country, like the prime minister-ship, and if he gives the hint that we have not just kept nukes for Diwali festival, this is a clear cut indication... He can't take such a decision.
It is not that simple.
But what signal do we send to the global community?
The signal is that India is aggressive.
India can go to any extent.
Indian leadership, the present leadership, can go to any extent.
It's not good. In fact I am worried about these types of statements he is making.
That is the reason I made this statement.
In what way are you worried about India? Is there a worry about the promotion of the Hindu Rashtra idea? Can that actually happen?
Firstly, in 2014, when he started his campaign, his thrust area of the campaign was development, development, development.
When this time he started his campaign, his campaign started with Hindutva.
You see I am a member of Parliament.
I was a minister in state and central government both.
On many occasions I have taken an oath (of office).
It is a Constitutional responsibility to take an oath before assuming charge.
And in that oath there is a sentence that I owe it to my Constitution of my country and I will treat each and every section of India in the same way.
After giving that oath that means that my total approach vis-a-vis Hindu, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains is similar.
No section will be either neglected.
My approach (will not be about) not protecting their interests.
So that is the situation there. So this is the oath.
Prime minister of the country takes oath like this and then he makes a public statement regarding propagating Hindutva, that means he is sending signals to other religious people, that 'I am here to protect Hindutva'.
This is not correct.
It is against the Constitution... And it happening from the prime minister.
Prime minister or an ordinary citizen or an ordinary MP or MLA, there is a difference.
Prime minister-ship is an institution and the person who is occupying that institution he has to maintain dignity and sanctity of that institution.
These kind of statements, which the honourable prime minister is making is a violation of these normal practices.
Video Editor: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
In your view -- you know India very well -- do you think such ideology can take root? Isn't India above that?
He may be saying that.
I am not ready to accept this.
He is not a child.
He is not an ordinary person.
He is the prime minister of this country.
He is a prime minster not of the BJP.
He is a prime minister for the whole county.
He is my prime minister.
He is your prime minister.
Every citizen's prime minister.
That's why the person has to maintain dignity of that position and he has to send a message that I am the prime minister of the whole nation...
You are asking what is the reason for what we are saying?
There are many instances when he was the chief minister of Gujarat and there were riots.
For the first time Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who happened to be the prime minster, and belonged to the BJP, he made a statement at that time, when Gujarat was under fire.
He gave advice to Mr Modi: 'You have to maintain raj dharma (duty of a ruler)'.
So when the prime minister of this country, who belonged to the BJP and has a stature.
He has a stature.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee has a big stature.
And he is advising Narendra Modi, when he was occupying the position of chief minister and there were riots and minorities were attacked.
So it was his responsibility to act as a chief minister of all.
That's why Atalji has said that: 'You have to first of all maintain raj dharma'.
We have seen that a person like Atal Bihari Vajpayee has to say and advise Mr Modi, that indicates that even in his own party and his top most leaders were also not clear what exactly Mr Modi was going to do.
How many seats will the BJP win this election? You said the BJP will win the most seats, but Modi may not be PM. What did you mean by that? If the BJP doesn't win a majority, do you think there could be revolt within the party?
I can't say.
Firstly, I honestly feel the last election the BJP got more than 300 seats -- I don't think that is the situation (this election).
You see there are many states... Take the case of Uttar Pradesh.
Last time, BJP got more than 70 seats.
That time (Bahujan Samaj Party leader) Mayawati could not get a single seat.
Fighting separately, Mayawati and (Samajwadi Party leader) Mulayam Singh and others.
This time Akhilesh (Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav) and Mayawati are together.
As per my information, Ajit Singh (Rashtriya Lok Dal leader) is also there.
So this combination can get 35 to 40 seats.
These 35 to 40 seats will come from that 71 the BJP got last time.
So their numbers will be dropping by 50 per cent in UP (alone).
Let's see the other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
In the last election in Rajasthan, Congress got zero.
All seats gone to the BJP.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress got one.
And in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress got two seats -- (member of Parliament from Guna, north MP, Jyotiraditya) Scindia and Kamal Nath (from Chhindwara, south east MP).
Altogether, the Congress got three seats in all these three states.
Most of the seats have gone to the BJP.
This time in (the assembly elections) all these seats the BJP lost and the Congress came.
So definitely some improvement will be there for the Congress... that means in the election, the BJP is nowhere.
Third major state is Tamil Nadu.
In the last elections ultimately Tamil Nadu's leader Jayalalitha supported Modi.
That time she got the maximum seats.
Today Jayalalitha is no more, unfortunately.
And her party has divided into two-three.
And the DMK is a force today.
The DMK-Congress combination will occupy that space.
That's why a big number which had gone against the Congress, that big number will go to the DMK and Congress...
Now in states like Maharashtra: In the last ten years hardly 2 seats to Congress and 4 to 5 to NCP, seven seats.
I am confident that this time we can definitely raise 50 per cent seats here, the Congress-NCP and their allies together.
That means another 20 to 25 seats will be reduced (from the BJP's total).
If you count like this, state by state, the BJP might be the single largest party, but it will not reach that magic figure.
Even senior leaders in the BJP like Nitin Gadkari do not speak out. What are they frightened of? Do you think there will be a revolt in the party if Mr Modi doesn't do as well as he expects?
Can't say anything.
Haven't got any information about that.
That party is known to be a disciplined party (laughs, his first) that's why I don't know if it will go to that extent.
Why are they frightened of speaking out? Everyone?
Because of past experience of Mr Narendra Modi.
You see the BJP party has been built up by certain leaders.
One of them was Mr Advani. Mr Murli Manohar Joshi. Of course, Atal Biharji was there. But he is no more.
If even persons like Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who were the founders of this party, who have given their life to build this party, even they could not get seats to contest elections.
What is that an indication of? This indication is fear.
Mr Modi and Amit Shah when they get opportunity to consolidate and stay in power, they will not allow anybody, any alternative leadership and their total approach is authoritarian.
What about Rahul Gandhi? I believe initially your opinion of Rahul Gandhi was not that good. What do you think of him now?
I think Indian voters expected much more Opposition unity. That has not happened. What is the reason for that?
There are two things about Rahul Gandhi.
The way he is working last few months here, which I am observing, visiting throughout India.
Trying to keep a rapport, physically, across cross-sections (of India's population).
Trying to understand the problems of every state and also trying to build up his own party.
Anybody who works like this, he has a good future.
Number 2: You said about Opposition unity. Definitely we have discussed.
We met, we discussed in Bangalore.
We met in Delhi, we discussed in Delhi.
We met in Calcutta, where we discussed.
But we are fully aware that we will not be able to provide viable alternative now.
Unity means what? Unity means we contest the elections on some common minimum programme and we provide alternatives, at the national level, as an alliance.
That was not a pragmatic and practical effort, because now take the case of the DMK.
The DMK is a strong party in Tamil Nadu.
But the DMK has no locus standi in UP.
My own party, NCP has a good strong base here, and some small base here and there.
But I have no strong base in UP or Tamil Nadu.
It was a conscious decision to work together after the election, let us sit together and create a minimum common programme.
If numbers are good, elect somebody as a leader and provide a viable alternative.
In 2004 we had not contested the elections jointly.
We fought separately.
But after the elections we sat together and we decided to set up the UPA and we decided to elect Dr Manmohan Singh as a leader.
Manmohan Singh had not contested an election at that time.
We selected Manmohan Singh as a prime minister candidate.
We took decisions collectively that Manmohan Singh will lead and we formed the government.
Ten years we gave a stable government to this country.
So I think a similar situation will happen this time.
If the BJP wins, do you think there is a chance that Nitin Gadkari could become prime minister?
If the BJP wins, where is the question?
Firstly, I don't think they will win. No question of their winning.
But efforts of Mr Modi and Amit Shah will be to consolidate inside the BJP. And they will not allow any other person.