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Look out for the nightwatchman

Years ago, as Sharad Pawar refused to name a political heir, one worthy aspirant told me: “I don’t care who it is, so long as we know, well, who it is. Sujata Anandan reports.

columns Updated: Mar 13, 2013 15:51 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times

Years ago, as Sharad Pawar refused to name a political heir, one worthy aspirant told me: “I don’t care who it is, so long as we know, well, who it is. Sharad Pawar would never have been who he is today had it not been for the fact that he was taken under his wing by YB Chavan and groomed for the job over the years. Why is he then not going about it as systematically?”

Pawar’s answer, whenever I dared to ask, was always this: “He will rise from the grassroots”. In later years his statement became gender neutral. “He or she will be known soon enough,” he would say. Not quite stated but hanging in the air used to be the thought of how Bal Thackeray messed up his own party by his own choosing. There the matter has always rested.

But now two nephews – Ajit Pawar and Raj Thackeray – have decided they are the political heirs of their respective uncles and from their public battles over the past month that led us to witness low levels of political discourse it is clear that neither has any grooming and they cannot match up to the standards of even their uncles who were friends in private, bitter enemies in public and always stopped short of crossing the line of public and personal decency.

If it is true, as the NCP alleges, that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has bought an old Maruti 800 car for Rs 35,000 and then set it on fire to implicate Ajit’s supporters in that manufactured attack on Raj, then Thackeray’s nephew is more diabolical than I would have ever believed. Even Ajit has not conducted himself too well by making personal remarks against Raj.

Meanwhile, between 2006 (when Pramod Mahajan was shot by his brother) and 2012 (Maharashtra lost some of its tallest leaders that year), there is no one adequate enough in various political parties to lead the state as these others, including Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress, did.

In the midst of this vacuum, friends and colleagues have pointed out and asked me if I have noticed anything unusual about virtually the last man standing – Sharad Pawar. Not known for his tolerance for religious preoccupations like jatras etc, he has lately taken to presiding over some of these events. But, more importantly, he has delivered some passing sound bites, largely unnoticed by the media, wherein he has expressed regrets at having raised Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin issue, even though he did not quite apologise for splitting the Congress on those grounds.

That has startled many and one can only begin to guess at the reasons. But my reasonably informed guess is that Pawar is getting tired of the succession battle forced upon him by his nephew and is perhaps making arrangements with the Congress president to come to terms about the future of his own daughter who could well be eaten alive by her cousin in case Pawar leaves the field open for a successor to rise from the grassroots.

However, I was startled last week when a senior Congress leader told me that they are simply not fooled by that half apology. ``In all this clamour over Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi as PM, aren’t you all forgetting that Pawar is still the 12th man patiently waiting in the wings for his turn at the job?’’

This functionary, generally not given to exaggerations, said he knows for sure that Pawar is in touch with and in many ways helping the allies of the Congress in various ways and even is working with the NDA’s secular allies who will not ally with either Modi or the BJP again.

“Pawar will not choose yet between daughter and nephew and he will not throw in the towel so early in the day so far as the PMO goes,’’ I was told. When I expressed surprise that Pawar was still clinging to his old ambition, the man presented me with evidence of Pawar’s recent networking with non-BJP leaders that somehow seemed quite plausible and definitely seemed to me at least as buying some insurance for the future.

So is there a nightwatchman waiting in the stands who we disregard at our own peril? Are we writing off Pawar a little too soon?

First Published: Mar 13, 2013 15:50 IST