Several years ago, when Sharad Pawar was chief minister of Maharashtra, he took a minister along with him on a helicopter ride to Bombay. But then the winds were so strong that the chopper could not make it over the Western Ghats and the pilot warned that any attempt to fly in the face of those winds could lead to a chopper crash. Offloading the minister and half the fuel did not help either. Pawar had no choice but to return to Pune and proceed by road to Bombay. Even as a chief minister with pilot cars and a red beacon, it took him five hours and he was horribly late for an event where the people had to be kept waiting.
Mortified by that experience, Pawar, who believed in being punctual always, then decided he would give himself a road that would take him between Bombay and Pune in three hours (as trains do) or less. That is how the state’s – and country’s – first expressway came into being.
But the YB Chavan Expressway was largely just on the drawing board when Pawar and the Congress went out of power in 1995. Pawar was sensitive to land acquisition from farmers – giving up their land would affect their livelihood and Pawar was still trying to work out a suitable compromise when the Shiv Sena and the BJP came to power with Nitin Gadkari as minister for public works. He bulldozed into the expressway plan and the credit for building it largely went to him – a laurel that he is still resting on today.
Similarly the Bandra-Worli sea link was started by the Sena-BJP and inaugurated by Sonia Gandhi. Some ribbons for some of the completed projects of the Congress-NCP government will now surely be cut by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
So, as his government completes 100 days in power and he asks to be judged not just by his performance but also his intentions, the above are reminders that the road to power may be paved with good intentions but often those with the original ideas or intentions do not get the credit for what they had conceptualised and set into motion.
I am by no means suggesting that any government should go slow on the big ticket infrastructure projects, they are very necessary to any government’s performance. But, unfortunately, no mandate is of a permanent nature and elections come once every five years. And, as we all know even Winston Churchill, without any scandals attached to him – unlike Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s – lost an election in the UK despite winning a war against the Nazis. So any government must have a good mix of short term visible projects along with those with long gestation periods.
My own personal suggestion would be to undertake something with high visibility, good PR value and something to write home about. I can see nothing better than building on Narendra Modi’s Swachhta Abhiyaan with a little bit of personal branding.
Again I can only give the example of Sharad Pawar who took a leaf out of Rajiv Gandhi’s book and formulated his own policy for rural women by giving them the right to shut down liquor stores. They still remember him for that.
I believe Fadnavis would have higher visibility and better returns if the CMO were to adopt 100 government and municipal schools and build girls’ toilets in each one of them. The project would be doable in one term, greatly impact the lives of girls who drop out of schools because of a lack of toilets and they would remember it long after.
I suggest this because I have gone through the trauma of a lack of toilets even to this day in public places – even to the extent of travelling with Varsha Gaikwad when she was minister for women and child welfare and seeing her troubled because she too could not find a proper wash room anywhere en route.
On her return to Bombay, she tried hard to persuade her Congress-NCP government to build wayside toilets throughout the state. But no one was listening. Small wonder then that she won the last election while those of her colleagues who thought she was being too frivolous about spending government money all had to bite the dust!