Some years ago, when the war between the Pawars’ Sakal and the Jadhavs’ Pudhari was at its peak with the latter venturing out of its home base of Kolhapur and launching an edition in Pune, I was rather startled by the amount of dirt they were willing to fling at each other.
Sakal had cast some nasty aspersions on the Jadhavs and Pudhari had hit back with some heretofore unknown inside information about how Sharad Pawar had cheated the lone daughter of the founder owner of Sakal out of her inheritance after his death. Some of the methods involved were not quite right and amounted to sheer manipulation and breach of trust.
At that time Yogesh Jadhav, the young managing director of the Pudhari group, commenting on how Sakal hated his paper’s entry on to its own home turf, had told me rather wryly, “When we were kids we were taught in history class that Pune belonged to the Peshwas. When it is our children’s turn to go to school, they will be taught that Pune is owned by the Pawars!”
I have always been struck by the truth and wisdom of that comment — not a leaf can move in Pune until the Pawars say so, that being the source of their quarrels with all Congressmen, including former protégé Suresh Kalmadi and the likes who asserted their independence and wished to establish their own identities. But it is not just Pune that is the Pawars’ fiefdom. In fact, Sharad Pawar is fancied as the uncrowned king of all of Maharashtra with the exception of, perhaps, Vidarbha which has always been left rather cold by his shenanigans. This is one reason why Pawar did nothing for the farmers of the region during his decade long tenure as Union agriculture minister and would not be too unhappy if it separated as an independent state.
However, for the first time in decades, the Pawars’ iron grip over Maharashtra was threatened by former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who, while perhaps not achieving much on the ground, did succeed for the first time in establishing corruption charges against Pawar’s nephew, if not Pawar himself, and had the temerity to not treat every word the Pawars uttered as the given law.
Congress chief ministers in the past, however capable and independent, including Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan, could never take on Pawar in this manner. They signed on the dotted line of every file placed before them by the Pawars and could dodge him only by feigning to be either asleep or in the bathroom. But they did have to wake up after a time and finish their bath — I remember one top ranking Congress leader who had considerable clout of his own once taking me to task for reporting verbatim his challenge to Pawar on the latter’s desire to have wine sold from supermarkets as unsustainable.
“Wine is not cola,’’ he had told me, not unreasonably, I had thought. “It is alcohol and attracts excise duties. How can we give up those resources and how can we encourage the free sale of wine to even children at a shopping mall?”
But when that appeared in print, this powerful Congressman got a fright. He was vulnerable because he owned several institutions like sugar factories, schools and colleges and was afraid that those interests would be affected by Pawar’s ire at his challenge. When I expressed surprise, he said, “You don’t know. Woh mera poora daaru paani band kar denge. Mere liye Maharashtra mein ghumna phirna mushkil ho jayega."
He was not exaggerating for there were precedents where Pawar had driven his challengers to social, financial and political isolation and ostracisation.
But the Pawars have been able to do little to Chavan because he has had no such vested interests. So they are reduced to merely heaping scorn on Chavan for his lack of political acumen. The frustration clearly shows when even the usually well-mannered Supriya Sule joins the bandwagon.
This is a novel phenomenon for both Maharashtra and the Pawars, I should say!