Over the weekend, I met an old friend who is a government contractor. When I asked him how his business was doing, he said rather wryly, “Anywhere you go, you get only 60%. Forty per cent has to be divided between the ministers, government officials, even the clerks who just take printouts of — your documents that need to go into the file. Otherwise they stall everything.” Then anticipating the next question he said, “Congress or BJP, they are all the same. Unhone bhee bharpoor khaaya, yeh log abhi abhi naye naye bhooke aaye hain!”
I did not challenge that perception because there were already scams in Maharashtra since the new dispensation came to power — Pankaja Munde in the chikki scam, the fire tender scam of Vinod Tawde for another. But these are modest compared to the scams of the previous Congress-NCP government. The biggest undoubtedly has to be the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam allegedly involving former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, a nephew of Sharad Pawar.
So when the BJP’s Kirit Somaiya crowed , “We have done it!” after the Enforcement Directorate arrested former NCP MP Sameer Bhujbal last week for financial irregularities, I was not impressed.
Who is Sameer Bhujbal but for being the nephew of Chhagan Bhujbal? And who is Chhagan Bhujbal if not a protégé of Sharad Pawar? But Pawar has never been caught — and perhaps never will be — with his hand in the till. As for Ajit Pawar, never mind the growing disharmony in the Pawar clan, the mighty uncle was pulling strings with the UPA during the Congress-NCP reign on behalf of his nephew and a white paper that should have clearly brought out the details of the scam ended up as a whitewash.
Sameer Bhujbal’s arrest now indicates a similar exercise is underway behind the scenes between Pawar and the NDA. Even the Maharashtra governor’s sanction to the CBI to prosecute former chief minister Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh scam smacks of a deal. The BJP came to power in Maharashtra on the promise of taking action against the corrupt ministers in the Congress-NCP government but when was Chavan, already fighting a case in the courts, a part of that government? And Sameer Bhujbal was neither. Both are just small fry compared to Ajit Pawar who was part of the government for 15 years and at times more powerful than reigning chief ministers. Bhujbal and Chavan have thus been thrown to the wolves so that the current government can be seen to be taking action against corruption while letting the big fish get away.
A very clever game is thus underway with Sharad Pawar is once again proving to be the master puppeteer. Bringing down Bhujbal helps him to get rid of a thorn in his side for on his own Pawar will never be able to cut an OBC leader of Bhujbal’s stature down to size and still hope to keep the substantial vote of this sector. Targeting Chavan was to be expected for he is the only one that kept the Congress flag flying during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and continues to be the party’s only hope in Maharashtra, considering they are completely out of grassroots leaders who are both charismatic and good campaigners.
So as my government contractor friend said they will never be able to get the big fish. “These are all just chindi chors in our parlance,’’ he told me. “The big ones are beyond reach.’’And likely to stay out of reach forever.