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Thank God it’s not Saturday

Temper and hunger are two things Minister for Social Empowerment Mukul Wasnik cannot seem to control. At 50, Wasnik is single: “Politics,” says Avinash Pande, Congress’s national joint secretary, “has taken its toll. For him work is worship.” Kumkum Chadha reports.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2009, 23:52 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha
Hindustan Times

In school, Mukul Wasnik was a long distance sprinter. In politics, he replaced his father, Balkrishna Wasnik. Apart from being a sitting MP, Wasnik senior fought for Lok Sabha seat from Maharashtra, thrice.

But, instead of a re-nomination he made way for his son, who had age and Rajiv Gandhi backing him. In 1984, Mukul became the youngest MP to be elected to Lok Sabha.

The charisma waned. In 1989, he lost. But the Congress leadership didn’t dump him. He was drafted to work for the party. In later years, he along with actor-MP, Sunil Dutt, was handpicked to revive Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. The Congress was commemorating 75 years of the Dandi march. Then, Mahatma Gandhi had protested against imposition of the salt tax by the British with a fistful of salt. In 2005, Wasnik got his boys to set the stage for Sonia Gandhi to pick up the fistful of salt.

Thank God it was a Wednesday. Had it been a Saturday, nothing would have worked. Wasnik dreads Saturdays. It is a phobia, which finds him in a temple every week pouring mustard oil over idols of shani (saturn). For believers, this ritual douses the wrath of Saturn, astrologically a fiery planet.

Temper and hunger are two things Wasnik cannot seem to control. He is especially dangerous to be around if he has misplaced something. Like hunger which finds him rustling up a meal with help from the recipe books collected over the years.

None of this, however, has tempted him to marry. At 50, Wasnik is single: “Politics,” says Avinash Pande, Congress’s national joint secretary, “has taken its toll. For him work is worship.”

When he suffered a brain haemorrhage last year, it was a tough time. Nobody had perhaps warned him against popping pills: analgesics to beat the headaches. But Wasnik bounced back. This is his fourth term as MP and the first as a Cabinet minister. He was earlier a minister of state in Narasimha Rao’s government.

Being a minister means people and more people keep walking into his den. Wasnik can cope but his four huge dogs, can’t: they hate being put on a leash: “Can’t take a risk,” says Wasnik. He could well do without a “Minister’s dog bites…” kind of a headline.

Low profile, Wasnik is kind of a solo player: one of the reasons for the electoral reverses he has suffered. Candid about this, Wasnik admits he lost touch with the people. “A gentleman,” says his arch rival Shiv Sena’s Anandrao Vithoba Adsul “but out of sync with problems of rural people”. He is hi-fi; as social empowerment minister will he deliver? Adsul, like many of us, is watching.

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