At the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) co-ordination committee meeting last weekend, NCP president Sharad Pawar raised the issue of frequent terrorist attacks in Maharashtra and seemed to point fingers at the state’s home minister for his alleged incompetence.
But, er, who exactly is Maharashtra’s home minister? RR Patil, the incumbent, is almost as good as not there – of late he has been completely marginalised by Pawar’s nephew and the state’s deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, who considers himself the de facto chief minister and home minister and has systematically clipped the wings of all challengers in the NCP.
Ironically though, Patil, a good, honest man, was never one of those potential threats to the Pawars’ supremacy in the NCP. He was picked for the post of deputy chief minister and home minister by Sharad Pawar precisely ecause of his self-effacing qualities and for his ability to always reflect His Master’s Voice, without question or due diligence. Pawar has never trusted another Maratha in his own party for, well, simply being another Maratha and certainly not cared for the competent among them who could easily rise above all odds and to the occasion to become potential GenNext leaders and displace both Pawar and his nephew from the natural succession. So, since Patil, he has always split the jobs of home minister and deputy chief minister to contain any threats to his own supremacy.
The only other time that Pawar gave both jobs to one man was to Chhagan Bhujbal in 1999, essentially because he thought that, as an OBC, Bhujbal would never be able to consolidate on his positions. But Bhujbal’s intelligence and competence, his networking skills, his courageous attempt to have Bal Thackeray arrested in 2000 for offences committed in 1993 (which, however, failed in the courts because the cases were time-barred) and his deft handling of the post-Gujarat blasts across Bombay and the Bollywood-underworld nexus gave him a larger-than-life image. When Pawar designated Bhujbal as deputy chief minister the second time, he was not made home minister again.
On the other hand, Patil proved just right for both the jobs from Pawar’s point of view: despite two powerful offices in hand, he could do nothing when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray went on a rampage against north Indians until then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh stepped in to order Raj’s arrest; the state’s senior police officials had/have no great regard for him and he also ended up sounding rather callous for his lack of language skills when he dismissed 26/11 as a “chota-mota hadsa”. Patil did not mean to trivialise the issue but he just could not be what he wasn’t. Then, again, he was literally taken for a ride to London by the city’s senior police men under the pretext of studying the closed circuit television cameras installed in that city to curb crimes.
But what do you know? The money for all that comes from the finance department which is held by Ajit (the sanction from the CM, of course). So when blasts happened in Pune last week, was it surprising that no CCTV camera was functioning because of lack of sanctions/funds to the police authorities to man and operate the systems?
So why make Patil the fall guy for terror attacks in Maharashtra when he has three bosses -- Pawar, his nephew and the CM? Pawar needs reminding that despite the existence of a strongman at the helm of affairs in the state -- he, himself -- in 1993, the country’s first (and among the worst) blasts happened when a series of bombs went off all across Bombay on a Friday afternoon. Pawar got the Bombay Stock Exchange, which was one of the prime targets, working over the weekend and the city on its feet by Monday morning. All that it needed was singular authority (and not a divided one, as now with Ajit ruling in Patil’s name) to lay down the law.
So it is Pawar’s responsibility to find someone equally competent for the post of Maharashtra’s home minister. And if he cannot trust his own ambitious nephew with that position, perhaps it is high time the job be handed back to the chief minister of the state, as it always was before these petty power games began with the Shiv Sena-BJP in 1995, conveniently followed by the Congress-NCP ever since.
After all, there can be only one sword in the scabbard. And no home minister should have to be just a puppet on his master’s strings.