So Maharasahtra’s deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar makes a crass comment about farmers suffering drought (“Should I pee into the dams?” he asks) and then he goes on a day-long fast to do `penance' for that crudity and insensitivity.
Now if any one knows Ajit Pawar they would tell you that he does not believe in penance. He is arrogant, hostile to everybody who is not personally subservient to him, has even dared to rebel against his own uncle, Sharad Pawar, from whom he derives his authority in its entirety and believes he no longer needs the NCP patriarch to make his way in the world — read become chief minister — as he has even more resources than the older Pawar today and can easily outbid him in buying up the loyalties of party workers. He might have been more convincing instead had he decided to give up his own personal uses of water – not drinking beyond life-saving sips, showering, sprinkling his lawns, watering his plants or even shutting down his own sugar factory for the summer until the July 15 cut-off date set by union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar himself as the day until which farmers will have to undergo such suffering.
So why did he go through the charade of the fast at all? Ajit Pawar is not a man given to regrets — his earlier apology, too, reeked of similar insincerity. But having stayed out of the trappings of office for three months the last time, when he thought a resignation would calm his critics, he learnt to his chagrin that it did him more harm than good — there were no takers for him in the interregnum and, I am told, he is now even more under that kind of threat than ever before.
On that occasion he had the sympathies, if not the overt support, of a large number of MLAs in his party but this time around even the sympathy was missing for Ajit Pawar. The NCP has found it extremely difficult to defend his remarks and leaders as well as workers at all levels have been greatly concerned that this might impact the chances of the party at polls which are not too far away — they fear the outright insult to suffering farmers added to the injury done to them by diverting water to their own sugar factories by NCP leaders might prove detrimental to their own electoral interests.
So while they have been publicly silent about Ajit Pawar’s outrage, they are thinking — albeit not very aloud at the moment — about distancing themselves from the younger man and drawing closer to the senior Pawar who alone enjoys a reputation of goodwill among farmers that few other leaders have been able to better. Once Pawar senior publicly stated that Ajit should be forgiven for what was bad judgement — the writing on the wall was clear to at least his own nephew.
For Pawar senior does not overlook such mistakes so easily even if it is — and perhaps now particularly because it is — his nephew overstepping the mark. I have it on good authority that NCP leaders are largely unhappy at Pawar senior’s public exoneration of his nephew and believe that that will be the end of the matter so far as the NCP is concerned. But Sharad Pawar does not plan to lose the next elections and Ajit knows that his uncle usually means the exact opposite of what he states. So his fast, then, was aimed not at penance but at his uncle and those whispers rising against him in his own party. However, it is just as well that Ajit has been made to feel vulnerable by those whose support he had taken for granted, though I believe, it was an insult to Yashwantrao Chavan that Ajit was fasting under his statue in Karad.
For, while even Pawar senior might have on occasion lost sight of his core supporters and indulged in crony capitalism now and again, Chavan never once gave up on farmers and remained rooted to the ground till the end of his days. Sharad Pawar lost nearly a decade in the 1980s regaining the predominating position that was his rightful place in Maharashtra politics as Chavan’s protégé due to his cronyism. Ajit may never have that good fortune. All that can be said of him is that even his crocodile’s tears will not help to fill a single dam in Maharashtra. He continues to be perceived as a fat cat — sau choohe khaake billi Haj ko chali, as they say.