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Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, September 26, 2012
The “inner voice” has a way of popping up in the most unlikely of people at the most unexpected hour. Ajit Pawar’s did late Tuesday evening; his cousin and competitor Supriya Sule remarked to a television journalist that “we are all glad he listened to his inner voice”. Minutes before this comment, Pawar had resigned as deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and shared his deep pain, through the media, at being accused of a multi-crore scam in the state’s irrigation projects when he was the minister incharge for a decade from 1999.

Pawar had, according to the allegations, sanctioned irrigation projects worth Rs. 70,000 crore, and he had, in alleged collusion with key bureaucrats, approved 32 projects in three months. In a scamful environment, allegations stick. With the Pawars, all allegations have a way of acquiring credibility.

Pawar’s resignation, followed by the resignations of his indignant ministerial colleagues from the Nationalist Congress Party, apparently with prior approval of his uncle and party chief, union minister Sharad Pawar, brought the Congress-NCP ties, as well as the mandate of the state government, to the brink. The endgame between the uncomfortable allies and within both the parties has begun.

The first target in the game is chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. Given his calling card of being incorruptible, Chavan has threatened, a number of times in the last few months, to bring out a white paper on the state’s irrigation department. Coupled with his builder-unfriendly policies, this has pushed NCP into a rather uncomfortable corner. It’s an open secret that the Pawars would prefer a friendlier Congressman to helm the state’s affairs.

The next round of elections, both at the Centre and in the state, is another purpose of the endgame. Astute politicians expect it to be sooner than the scheduled first half of 2014. It suits the NCP to start distancing itself from the Congress and position itself for new, other alliances for the elections.

The Congress has had its share of vocal leaders pushing the Ekla Chalo line to avoid sharing seats in almost equal measure with a junior partner.

Petulant Pawars - both the uncle and nephew - have employed the brinkmanship tactic to push their point in the last few months. Ajit Pawar’s resignation has to be seen as a significant element in the larger frame where both parties are jostling to best position themselves in pre-election months.

There’s a game between the Pawars too; the nephew attempting to grow out of his uncle’s shadow, build his own loyalists group and counter cousin Sule’s natural legacy claim. His indignation over accusations in the irrigation scam helped the canny politician attempt several birds with a solitary stone, or in this case, a resignation.

Of course, the Congress and the state BJP - through its leaders and willing footsoldiers in organisations such as India Against Corruption - have doggedly targeted NCP ministers. Party trouble-shooter Praful Patel remarked that “some of our friends and the Opposition” were behind the allegations against Pawar.

He chose a convenient time to feel the pain of the accusations and listen to his “inner voice”; his colleagues Chhagan Bhujbal, Sunil Tatkare, Gulabrao Deokar have not yet heard theirs. Nor, apparently, have the four Congress ministers who were quite happy to share the stage recently in Pune with the discredited Suresh Kalmadi. Politicians should hear their “inner voice(s)” more often.