In a party filled with sugarcane and education barons, former home minister RR Patil stood out from the rest. Till the end, he never quite joined the ranks of his more elite party colleagues, those who rose to riches in the span of their political careers or others who were born to riches.
That is one of the reasons that Patil, one of the longest serving home ministers in the state, was neither named in any scam, nor was any corruption allegation levelled against him. His simplicity and humble origins, which he continued to be acutely aware of, were his USP and his party’s biggest asset.
“He retained his simplicity. Even as home minister, his family never moved to his bungalow at Malabar Hill. His children studied at local district schools, while his mother worked on the farm,” said Nationalist Congress Party Chief (NCP) chief and mentor Sharad Pawar, hours after the leader’s demise on Monday.
Patil’s death now leaves the NCP bereft of a popular mass leader and threatens to cut its chord with the grass roots.
In 2003, Patil, known popularly as ‘aaba’, had recognised the hardline Maratha fervour in the rural heartland of Maharashtra and banned a book by English author James Laine on Chhatrapati Shivaji.
The ban earned him the ire of the English media, but it helped the NCP win its second term in the 2004 polls. As a reward, he was given the post of deputy chief minister, along with the home ministry.
A year later, Patil took the decision to ban dance bars. He refused to budge from his stance even after the Supreme Court quashed the decision in 2013.
The decision had, after all, helped his popularity soar in the lower middle-class and even the nouveau riche in upcoming towns and rural areas, again winning brownie points for the party in the 2009 polls.
In an interview with HT, Patil had said there were two Maharashtras — urban and rural — and his decision was in favour of the rural one, sitting on the periphery of cities, where lakhs of families were being destroyed by dance bars.
As a home minister who took over from senior colleague Chhagan Bhujbal in the wake of the Telgi scam, Patil gave the state nearly 10 years of scam-free rule.
He managed to rein in the powerful police lobby, quietly sidelining encounter specialists and managed two significant reforms — to clean up the police recruitment process and transfers, both of which had been vitiated by corruption.
Despite controversies, Patil was popular in political and social circles, with even activist Anna Hazare campaigning for him.
A shrewd politician, Patil was the one NCP could have banked on to take the party into the new age, where transparency and the common man are much in demand.