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A war of (written) words

When Vijay Darda wrote a signed article in his daily Lokmat last month, extremely critical of Sharad Pawar, I guess he was not just playing true to form but also setting the cat among the pigeons.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2009 01:24 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times

When Vijay Darda wrote a signed article in his daily Lokmat last month, extremely critical of Sharad Pawar, I guess he was not just playing true to form but also setting the cat among the pigeons.

The purpose was not just to voice the sentiments of a large number of Congressmen; written originally in English it was also meant to make sure that Sonia Gandhi got to read all the nuances without having to lose them in translation. For the piece, titled, “Soniaji needs to know this”, was aimed at bringing the attention of the Congress’s central leadership to Pawar’s bullying tactics in Maharashtra and acquaint them with the facts of how Pawar either bullies or pulls fast ones on the Congress to secure more than his due share from the party — and then abandons the Congress by the wayside (as has happened at various local polls).

Darda, perhaps, rubbed salt into the wound by equating the Congress with a ‘guardian’ and the NCP to merely its ‘ward’ – which should not get above itself. But he also warned that the attempt to squeeze more seats out of the Congress was Pawar’s bid for the Prime Ministership of the country— adding for good measure that Pawar’s cavorting with the non-secular Shiv Sena would greatly damage the Congress’s chances if it continued befriending the NCP.

Pawar’s recent petulance over the Congress’s intransigence on seat sharing is part of this shadow dance and now all Congressmen are urging Darda to write another article suggesting that the party leadership call Pawar’s bluff (the Maratha warlord recently threatened to go it alone if the Congress did not give him an equal number of seats).

“We should go to the polls without the NCP. Tabhi unhe apni aukad samajh mein ayegi (only then will they understand their position). They will not get more than four seats (out of 48) on their own,” is what Congressmen from Maharashtra are now stressing. I do not know if Darda will accede to their request and write another critique on Pawar but his earlier piece is
now being described as “the article of the year” by most Lokmat readers.

However, this is not the first time that Lokmat and Pawar have clashed in print. Right from the start, Maharashtra’s leading Marathi daily refused to accept Pawar as the undisputed leader of the Congress in Maharashtra or treat him as a holy cow. Pawar was compelled time and again to complain first to Rajiv Gandhi and then to P.V. Narasimha Rao about the Dardas’ allegedly foul intentions. As far as I know, neither Rajiv nor Rao pulled the Dardas up, for such critiques helped to maintain balance and equation on all fronts. But, earlier, it was reporters being critical about the Maratha warlord.

Now it is the owner himself —and Pawar has had no one to complain to about it.

Not surprisingly, then, it was not Sakal, which Pawar bought in the late Eighties and which has been run rather professionally (and not as a mouthpiece) by his brother ever since, but the NCP’s house journal Rashtrawadi which responded with a crticism of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi — they believe they are going to win the election on their own, the Rashtrawadi article said.

Of course, Pawar distanced himself from that piece and said he was not in the habit of responding to criticism of himself in the press (true at times, untrue at others) and the Congress is treating that chapter as closed. In fact, Sonia Gandhi’s call to Pawar to show her son around the Vasantdada Sugar Institute in Pune on Tuesday and Pawar’s acceptance of the request indicates that he will eventually leave his petulance behind and ultimately tie up with the Congress. But, clearly, he has to make a bid for more — and call a tit for a tat. Just to even the score a bit.

How does he do that, though, without compromising the integrity and professionalism of Sakal, run by professional editors and not by party spokespersons? At least Bal Thackeray’s Saamna is distinctly a mouthpiece that serves his purpose —to scold friends and threaten foes — well. So carefully placed articles in a house journal are easy to shrug off if they prove counterproductive, as this one could.

I am amazed at how things have come full circle for Sharad Pawar. though. There was a time at the peak of his career as a Chief Minister when Pawar had to appeal to some reporters to “write a few nasty words about me sometimes” to stop critics from believing he planted the syrupy ones on those newspapers.

Now Lokmat is not alone in taking that long-ago diktat seriously — most papers are being distinctly nasty. And, of course, it is hard for Pawar to ask for a few nice words to be written about him sometime.