Almost everywhere I went to in Marathwada over the past months, people have described their guardian minister Pankaja Munde to me as young, inexperienced and with a sense of entitlement, disproportionate to her talents.
Most of them were disappointed with her handling of the region during the severe drought but their dismissal of her as “childish and immature” is something I have refused to countenance so far.
I would rather go with the only two leaders who were willing to be a tad indulgent towards her — Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan, two former chief ministers of Maharashtra.
The latter was more than kind in refusing to condemn her for her alleged involvement in the chikki scam. All he would say was, “I think some vested interests have taken advantage of her relative youth and inexperience.” Ashok Chavan, however, was a little more direct saying, “I do not think she has enough of a grip over the administration to be able to do what is necessary.”
Now, in the aftermath of the public spat between her and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis over the allocation of portfolios during the cabinet expansion last week, I am inclined to believe that Pankaja Munde is indeed more childish and immature than anyone could have fathomed.
Had she not been “childish”, she would not have cried over Fadnavis reallocating her water resources portfolio to another minister – it was almost like, well, a child crying over a lollipop that had suddenly been snatched away from her. And had she not been “immature”, she would have known it is the chief minister’s prerogative to allocate whichever department he wishes to whoever he thinks is best for the job. And she should certainly not have had her supporters burning Fadnavis’s effigies.
That was unprecedented – even the Congress and the NCP did not have that sense of entitlement, however much they may have hated their chief ministers.
On the flip side, I believe Fadnavis could have handled the spat with much more maturity, instead of replying to Pankaja on Twitter — even though she used the medium to throw her tantrum. The old-fashioned way of a telephone call asking her to delete the tweet and attend a conference in Singapore she was threatening to absent herself from would have limited the damage. But now the entire episode has exposed fissures in the BJP and reminds me of what veteran Hollywood actor George Clooney once said, “(One) could easily say something stupid (on Twitter) and … you (also) do not need to be that (free and) available.”
While everybody from Presidents to Prime Ministers and even the Pope and Ramdev Baba are taking to Twitter to post their messages, Clooney rubbed people up the wrong way saying, “Anyone who is rich and famous and on the social media site is a moron.’’
While I would not go that far (I am on Twitter and I do not think I am a moron, though trolls opposed to my liberal views might well disagree), Twitter, at least in India, is fast becoming the medium for all politicians to make their views known to the people.
But Clooney is right when he says unfiltered comments could lead to a “quick and vicious backlash” as is happening so often in India these days. For example, when Pakistani leaders commented on the current unrest in Kashmir, Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijjiju tweeted that Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India and Pakistan should worry about their own internal matters “like Pok”.
That got everybody across India started against Rijjiju, who had inadvertently given away India’s position on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir – we certainly do not believe “PoK” belongs to Pakistan, it is our disputed territory as Arunachal Pradesh is with China and Rijjiju should have known it.
Even Narendra Modi, who has popularised Twitter among the political fraternity, has not been immune, receiving much flak for his previous hard positions on Pakistan and now perceived softness and seeming indifference to Pathankot (when he was tweeting on yoga) and now Kashmir (when he was tweeting on Africa).
The Congress, on the other hand, now out of power in the state and the Centre, has taken to this clearly anti-establishment medium with a hash tag a day to embarrass the government and tweets somewhat cautiously to avoid any comebacks in the future.
Perhaps they took Clooney seriously when he said, “I am not about to ruin a career built painstakingly over years in just five minutes for 140 characters.”
Pankaja Munde might do well to take that to heart.