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HindustanTimes Fri,18 Apr 2014

It's déjà vu all over again

Sujata Anandan, Hindustan Times   April 10, 2013
First Published: 15:39 IST(10/4/2013) | Last Updated: 15:54 IST(10/4/2013)

With apologies to Babasaheb Bhosale, I have to begin this column by acknowledging that he was chief minister of Maharashtra before I started out as a reporter in right earnest. So this story comes from one of my chief reporters at the agency (UNI) where I really found my roots in political journalism.

As I was assigned to cover the Mantralaya beat, my then chief reporter briefed me about all his experiences with various politicians in a bid to help me look for the extra edge to score over newspaper reporters (as opposed to those working for wire services). The stories were then confirmed by other reporters on the beat who told me that Babasaheb was accused of many unmentionable things and among the printable sins was a complete absence of refinement and particular lack of sensitivity towards women journalists on the beat.

That was the time when Maharashtra was reeling under a similar drought and there was a group of farmers from the sugarcane-rich areas of the state who decided to petition him to release more water from the dams.

"What should I do if there is no water? Do you want me to go and urinate in your fields?" he asked them even as some women reporters accompanying the delegation did not know where to look. There were, of course, no titters at the time as happened with deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar's august audience on Sunday. I am told the farmers simply got up, backs stiff with outrage and walked out of the door, the reporters quietly following suit.

And much like Pawar followed up his own crass comment with another equally crude one, when some neighbouring states demanded that they be allowed to draw surplus electricity from Maharashtra, Babasaheb replied, "I can give you electricity at night, not during the day. At night people are busy doing only one thing. And you do not need any lights for that." That delegation, too, was similarly stumped by the bathroom humour of a man occupying a position as high as that of the chief minister of a state.

But I would have expected better of Pawar Junior, considering that he is a GenNext politician compared to Bhosale, comes from an accomplished family and is aspiring to be chief minister. Bhosale could be forgiven on the grounds that he belonged to a different time and never expected to be chief minister--he was plucked out of nowhere by Indira Gandhi who thought she was dealing with one of the direct descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and did not discover her mistake until it was too late.

Not surprising, then, that Bhosale went out of the window soon enough. I think Ajit Pawar, too, while not similarly dependent upon the far more cultured Nehru-Gandhis for his future, will find his uncle, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who can be accused of a lot of things but never such insensitivity and crudity at any point of time in his career, will soon be giving him short shrift after this blooper.

I can understand the pressure Ajit is under, given that he is facing allegations of a massive Rs. 70,000-crore scam in the irrigation department under his watch. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan clearly believes that if more than just 1% of the land had been irrigated with that money, Maharashtra would never have had to face this drought at all. I believe Ajit lost his cool under that pressure and tried to cover up his embarrassment with a recast bathroom brand of humour that, as many older journalists know, was not even original.

If nothing else, there was gross mismanagement of an impending drought and I wonder if I may set the cat among the pigeons by pointing out that this drought was predicted long ago, as activist and former Bombay University senate member Tushar Jagtap tells me, by Dr Madhukar Keshav Dhavalkar in his book Maharashtrachi Kulkatha (The story of Maharashtra) that recounts a 5,000-year history and offers some insights into the state's future.

Whenever Western Europe faces heavy snowfall in the winter, these parts of Maharashtra will face a drought next summer for geo-climatic reasons, the book says and warns of Marathwada eventually turning into a desert with just sandy terrain.

As Maharashtra's long-standing irrigation minister, Ajit Pawar should have taken the trouble himself to read that book. He would have been spared some blushes today. 

(The views expressed are personal)

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