Several weeks before the irrigation scam broke, I was told by an unimpeachable source that former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s war chest is now bigger than that of Sharad Pawar and he does not really need his uncle for anything anymore ---- he was ready to strike out on his own.
I was startled at how accurate my source was about Ajit chafing at the bit. But he was clearly wrong about the nephew not needing his uncle anymore. Without some deft footwork by Pawar, Ajit could not have escaped the consequences of the alleged scam so easily. But the brouhaha also went to show that Ajit still has much to learn from his older and wiser uncle every which way; I overheard someone say, Ajit still remains a “pucca guru ka kachcha chela” and may yet have a long, long way to go before he can realise his ambitions.
One can understand the nephew’s impatience at not being able to become chief minister but he should have taken some tips from his uncle. It is not as though the NCP president is happy playing second fiddle to the Congress. But, unfortunately, in a decade or more of its existence, the NCP has not been able to grow beyond a party of just western Maharshtra, and that, too, in alliance with the Congress. Pawar has tried hard in the only way he can to diddle the Congress of more seats during both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections but the ally has now wised up to that particular game.
In 2004, with friendly negotiators like then chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde and former Maharashtra Congress president Govindrao Adik (now with the NCP) leading the bargain, the NCP did manage to fool them into conceding more. In 2009, there was a tough cookie in the picture: Vilasrao Deshmukh who knocked them back to reasonable levels. But though Deshmukh is now no more, the NCP cannot traverse that path any longer.
Contesting the polls without the Congress is no option for the NCP but in so far as Ajit is concerned, he either did not factor in these realities or else he is really not a chip of the old block and still has much to learn from the master of the game. For, even though Pawar put up a fierce defence for his nephew and sounded very plausible in his explanation of water management through irrigation projects, facts collected through the Right to Information Act have revealed that Ajit has left behind many unexplained details including ill-advised file notings that merit investigation.
Now Sharad Pawar would never have been so indiscreet: when the Shiv Sena-BJP came to power in 1995, I recall, they did their best to ferret out some information that would nail Pawar in several scams that they accused him of. “Hang me from the nearest tree if you find a single shred of evidence against any wrong doing,’’ Pawar had said in context of the allegations that he had received kickbacks in the Enron deal. Nor could the Sena-BJP discover any culpability in the 1992-93 riots in Bombay. Then chief minister Manohar Joshi had to eat crow and privately apologise to Pawar soon after the Srikrishna Commission cleared him of any complicity.
But Kirit Somaiya of the BJP has now filed a public interest litigation on the irrigation scam and if his figures prove correct, many in this government will have much to answer for. Then, again, much as the NCP might deny it, the resignation of all NCP ministers in the wake of Ajit’s own resignation was a misplaced show of strength against his own uncle. If Ajit was serious about grabbing the party, he should have served us all with a fait accompli instead, as Pawar himself did -- not once but twice -- when he split the Congress in 1978 and then again in 1999.
I should not have been surprised, then, at how Pawar turned the tables on that ham-handed attempt to hold him to ransom, without losing much face on the issue. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when he met Ajit privately before sorting him out. For Pawar is no Bal Thackeray and would be more measured and calibrated in dealing with his own recalcitrant nephew.
Ajit, clearly, has been given a long rope. Nevertheless, he should avoid walking under the trees in his uncle’s orchards, at least for now.