Lying in my hospital bed for the past two weeks, I have been brooding about the sorry state of leadership that my beloved and adopted state of Maharashtra has come to. I know that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is perceived as a strong national leader and these days he is more often than not compared to Mrs Indira Gandhi, who is still the only national leader who had a unique blend of character and determination of note. However, it is not the same thing with Modi. He wishes to be the only fish in the sea and would rather decimate other leaders of note. Look at how he has reduced the BJP's pitamaha, LK Advani; to a non-entity.
Even leaders of consequence like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari do not have much say in the party. Regional satraps like Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh who are more or less Modi's contemporaries and have good governance records are often sidelined.
Obviously, Modi will not allow any grass to grow under his feet. However, right through college and my rookie days as a journalist, I have seen chief ministers of strong character and positions not just in Maharashtra but across India. Much to the dismay of Mrs Gandhi and her son Rajiv, Maharashtra chief minister Vasantdada Patil played footsie with the opposition leaders like Bal Thackeray. Then there was VP Singh who wiped out the dacoit menace in Uttar Pradesh without much intervention from Mrs Gandhi. He indeed had her approval.
Nandini Satpathy met Mrs Gandhi on equal ground, despite being obliged to her for considering her for the post of Orissa chief minister. Then there was PV Narasimha Rao who ended up as the first non-Nehru-Gandhi family prime minister from the Congress.
Whither Maharashtra today? Devendra Fadnavis is clearly a devoted and sincere chief minister, at least so far, with some determination to do the right thing. But, I wonder how much freedom he will be allowed under the present central dispensation. At 44 years of age, I believe he is still not half the man that Sharad Pawar was at 38, when he had the gumption to break away from the Congress and form his own government in the state. Forty years later, Pawar, who was recently discharged after two weeks of hospitalisation due to a fractured hip, is still the last man standing and continues to be the uncrowned king of Maharashtra.
Look at the way he manipulated Modi and the BJP in Maharashtra into subtly accepting the Nationalist Congress Party's help during the government formation in the state and created massive confusion during Fadnavis's first confidence motion, which has somewhat taken away the moral high ground from the BJP. Though the BJP may have now reinforced itself by inducting Shiv Sainiks into the Cabinet, I am not quite sure if Uddhav Thackeray will be able to stand up to Pawar and stare him down as his father Bal Thackeray had done in 1999 during a similar split verdict.
Then who do we have in the next generation of leadership in Maharashtra? Ajit Pawar? All that he is capable of is allegedlly depleting Rs. 70,000 crore from the state irrigation resources and threatening to urinate into the state dams in order to irrigate farmers' fields, which should have had adequate water supply years ago, like Punjab and Haryana have, to tide over drought and water shortages due to poor or delayed monsoon.
Frankly speaking, I do not see any spark left in generation next leaders from any political parties in Maharashtra. Paraphrasing Eva Péron of Argentina, all I can say is: "Don't cry for me, Maharashtra. I will shed the tears for you!"