Two years after the Shiv Sena-BJP government came to power in Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray came to Jalgaon with clear determination to personally admit then Congressman Suresh Jain to his party.
Jain was an inveterate winner and the Sena desperately needed to set foot in Khandesh as it was trying to shore up its margins (theirs was a minority government). Jain, moreover, added to the party’s acceptability factor among entrepreneurs and corporates.
Jain has been contesting and winning elections ever since 1980 -- no matter which party ticket he contests on. He has been through all the versions of the Congress and even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after his first stint with the Sena.
Thackeray had even then made it clear that not only would he not have to expend much funds on Jain’s elections, as the latter was a wealthy businessman in his own right, but that the Sena would also get a foot in the door of the cooperative movement. For Jain headed a lot of banks and other co-operative institutions which were normally the Congress' playing field and at that time an alien proposition to a party like the Shiv Sena.
When Jain first joined the Sena, he had immense problems with Sharad Pawar in the undivided Congress but then his personality was such that he could not play second fiddle in the Sena for too long either.
He returned to Pawar’s party and faced the same problems with the Maratha strongman and went back to the Sena – his flip-flops have been many but through them all he had always won his seat in the Maharashtra legislative assembly with huge margins.
He is the only other politician, apart from Pawar himself, who has been able to achieve that feat and though he might now be in jail for alleged involvement in a gharkul housing scheme scam, there is no doubt that he has touched the lives of almost everybody in Jalgaon the manner in which Pawar has in Baramati over the years and is rather invincible among the people of his city/district.
I was not surprised then to see Jain winning a large number of seats (though still short of majority) at the Jalgaon municipal elections – from prison -- on the ticket of a new political party he has floated, the Khandesh Vikas Aghadi.
It perhaps found resonance among the people as Khandesh remains among the most backward and underdeveloped of Maharashtra’s regions despite a lot of political effort poured into the district by both Pawar and Thackeray as well as the Congress and the BJP (which was in a straight fight with the KVA) over the years.
This is also the home district of former President Pratibha Patil. I recall Jain telling us years ago that while their relationship was always amicable, there had been some clash of interests. Patil had always wanted her friends and relations accommodated when his candidates had been the better winners.
Perhaps aware of that fact Patil prudently abandoned Khandesh and settled for Amravati in Vidarbha, another backward region, which is her husband’s home district and now her son’s constituency, leaving Jain as the sole mai baap of the region.
Not surprising then that the Congress has fared so poorly in a region that was once its stronghold as to win no seats at all while even Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the NCP have made a decent showing.
It is not my case that the Congress should have supported a corrupt regime but, given these results, I wonder how far corruption resonates with the masses.
The accusations against Jain may well be true but it is clear that, like with Pawar, there is no household in his constituency that has not benefitted from his largesse over the years.
When accused of corruption by Anna Hazare, Jain too exposed him. He told the PB Sawant Commission that Rs 2 lakh of Hazare’s NGO Hind Swaraj Trust were used to celebrate his birthday. Eventually, Hazare admitted to the Bombay high court that he had erred in doing so. So who’s the saint and who the sinner?
In all my years as a journalist, I haven’t found an answer to that question. I have been queasy about such victories but recall one wizened old village elder telling me many years ago about a politician: “The man will make what he has been destined to earn through fair means or foul. But if he has not stolen from me and provided me with ‘roti, kapda aur makan’, why should I care for what you say about his corrupt ways?’’
The mai-baaps then always win.