If the Oxford Dictionary were ever to need an example to distinguish ‘just clever’ from ‘quietly intelligent’, then they may have to look no further than agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan.
Pawar is among the most astute of politicians I know and when news broke that the Congress might send Chavan as CM to the state, the Maratha strongman had snorted in contempt: “How does someone who does not even know which road leads from Karad (Chavan’s hometown) to Bombay be expected to lead Maharashtra?”
I was startled when a few months later at a meeting with women journalists on International Women’s Day, Chavan admitted to just that — when he first arrived in Bombay as CM, he had been to the state capital only twice on official work — but to Raj Bhavan and never to Mantralaya. “But I have now travelled the length and breadth of the state and I am beginning to know what it is.’’
Some months after that Pawar had still been contemptuous of the CM. When Chavan visited the site of a well that was being dug under the MGNREGA, a farmer’s wife shyly invited him to lunch — under a tree. It was a great photo-op and one Pawar had missed in his own political career. Rather uncharitably, then, he commented, “Sitting under a tree and eating jhunka bhakar (a poor man’s repast) does not tell you anything about the state’s problems.’’
But one presumes that Chavan has been doing more than just lunching under trees to understand what ticks. Obviously an irrigation scam doesn’t — and he is the only CM I recall who took on the Pawars and exposed the scam indulged in by Pawar’s nephew Ajit, ultimately reducing his sway as deputy CM.
Last week, Pawar counted all the other CMs who never dared to stop any files that interested the Pawars and signed on the dotted line with alacrity. What was unforgivable, though, was his expression of frustration against Chavan’s intransigence in that department — it seems Chavan is suffering from paralysis, he said, and so is unable to lift his fingers to sign the papers.
In 20 years or more this was the first time I saw Pawar losing his cool in such unbecoming fashion. Two decades ago he had made similar uncharitable remarks against then leader of the Opposition Mrinal Gore in the assembly when she had exposed his alleged involvement in the de-reservation of more than 200 plots of land across Bombay. Then he had described Gore as “Pootna Maushi” — bad enough because Pootna was the rakshasi who was sent by Kansa to breast feed baby Krishna with poisoned milk.
But there was more to the use of that terminology — for Gore was no ogress, but had just recovered from breast cancer and Pawar’s statement was a hit below the belt. Then Gore, in her niceness, had chosen to ignore the abuse. Now Chavan was not about to let go of this grand opportunity to expose the Pawars once again.
That is how his intelligence defeated Pawar’s cleverness when he responded, politely, with a list of files — more than 25,000 that he had cleared over the past two years. The ones he had not — a little over 1,000 — were related to personal interests of those who should not be concerned with such matters, he said.
Pawar,clearly, walked right into that one. He should have known better than to take on Chavan because the CM is known to keep a meticulous record of everything that passes through his office — and that is a habit from the days he was just an MP.
I had been awaiting Chavan in his office along with Pawar during one particular election campaign in Karad and Pawar had wandered round the room studying the box files and computers to say, “I do not know another MP who keeps such files and records.’’
Clearly old habits die hard. But now the Pawars must break one of their own — of lording it over everybody and expecting to get away with it!