A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this column that Sharad Pawar was like a cat with nine lives, always landing on his feet and should never be quite written off. I still believe that. Yet I am not quite sure if the arrest of his brother-in-law Dr Padmasinh Patil for allegedly putting out a contract on his own cousin Pawanraje Nimbalkar for a petty war over a sugar co-operative factory, if substantiated, might not prove to be the beginning of the end for both Pawar and the Nationalist Congress Party.
Actually, I have always liked Dr Patil — in the rough and tumble of the political world, I found him to be one of the few chivalrous gentlemen who made it easy for a lot of women reporters like me. I well remember the time when I was caught in the middle of an unruly crowd at the end of a Pawar rally in Marathwada. Pawar and his aides had all got into their cars and disappeared, quite forgetting that they had left me behind. It was past ten at night and I was just starting to panic when I saw Dr Patil, who had already got into his car, get out again.
He threw a quelling look at the party workers who were jostling me, pulled me out from their midst and said, “Come with me, Miss Otherwise there is no one here to take you back to the hotel. You will get lost.” He dumped one of his workers to make room for me in the car and made sure I got back safe.
The situation had been a little dicey and I don’t know what might have happened to me in that small provincial town if he had not emerged as a guardian angel.
So I was in a state of shock three years ago when his name cropped up as the originator of the supari on Pawanraje Nimbalkar. I have always refused to believe that he would do it. Or if he did that he would be so stupid as to leave an open line to himself. Many people tell me that it is Dr Patil’s absolute arrogance that might have tripped him up — a belief that he could do anything and get away with, well, literally murder. I can see what they are saying but I believe that that confidence (if you can call it that) comes, perhaps, not from himself but his proximity to Sharad Pawar.
Pawar trusted him enough to make him Minister for Home for six months at the end of his term as chief minister in 1995. Subsequently, Dr Patil’s name figured in a CBI investigation into a hawala transaction. None of us were surprised. But Dr Patil was cool, unflappable and unbothered. For, he, of course, had Pawar to bail him out — though for the life of me I could not understand why Dr Patil with interests limited to his Terna sugar factory would need to get into alleged hawala transactions. Even now, though Pawar might have nothing to do with the Nimbalkar murder case, I believe he will bail Patil out again. That is why Patil is stonewalling all investigations and Pawar is saying little that might get him into trouble in the future.
However, the very fact that a close aide and relative found himself on the edge of hardcore crime says a lot about how the NCP chooses to play its politics. Weeks before the Lok Sabha elections, Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar in a celebrated public induction admitted a notified criminal, Baba Bodke, into the party in Pune. Bodke had several convictions against him, including a case under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. “We need people like Bodke in the party, if the NCP has to grow in Maharashtra,” Ajit had said at the time.
The controversy that then erupted forced Bodke to resign. The NCP’s growth in Thane, too, has been marked by a lot of criminalisation (and admission of criminals into the party).
The Congress and the Shiv Sena have their share of elected criminals, too, and that’s why they have chosen to be rather low-key in their condemnation of Dr Padamsinh Patil. But I find it rich that Gopinath Munde of the BJP should scream blue murder and call for Dr Patil’s resignation.For what about Dattatraya Khade, a BJP corporator in the Pune Municipal Corporation, who is a convicted criminal on murder charges? The media and social activists have been calling for months now for the BJP to discard him but no BJP leader worth his salt is willing to listen and make a beginning by cleansing his own party of criminals.
So, as far as Dr Patil is concerned, I would rather wait for his conviction by a court than choose to believe one man’s word against another’s.