Accidental CM with no sense of history | Opinion
Of late, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has been flailing out against chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar so often that it led one senior Marathi journalist to describe, on Twitter, his cribbing as “kulle aaptane” – when a child, denied a toy, sits on the floor and jumps on his bottom in the same place again and again with loud cries of protest.
Others recalled Vilasrao Deshmukh who lost office not once, but twice for no valid reason but the whims of the party leadership. Yet he accepted his fate with dignity after having, unexpectedly like Fadnavis, become the chief minister simply for being in the right place at the right time. Even Manohar Joshi, of the Shiv Sena, accepted his sudden loss of office with the same dignity. The only other person who could not was Narayan Rane, who bullied his party supremo Bal Thackeray into replacing Joshi with him in that office and then, like Fadnavis, was unable to win a majority at the subsequent election. But even he was not as petulant as Fadnavis while blaming everybody, but himself for his circumstances. Now, however, for the accidental chief minister that Fadnavis really was, he seems to have so much wisdom for not just Thackeray but also Pawar who has been among the most able, deserving and accomplished chief ministers of Maharashtra.
Pawar was the state’s home minister before Fadnavis was born and had handled a crisis far worse than the Bhima-Koreagaon aftermath with far more skill and compassion than Fadnavis has shown even to trees in the Aarey forests which were cut down with such ruthlessness as has been rarely seen in recent times. Last week, Pawar issued a call to the Pune police to revisit their investigation of the Elgar Parishad by Dalit activists and sympathisers and make a course correction in the injustice that may have been perpetrated on those who have been unfairly and arbitrarily incarcerated in the case. Fadnavis responded by “advising” Pawar not to demoralise the police but, having no sense of history, he might not know that Pawar, as the minister for home, had withdrawn many cases of sedition and treason against Dalit activists in the early 1970s simply on compassionate grounds, understanding the reason why they had been burning the national tricolour and copies of the Indian Constitution. Several years after Independence, Dalit groups found they still had no basic rights – upper castes in the villages had been grabbing their lands or turning them into slave labour, they were still discriminated against and despite reservations, they were unable to take their place as equals in society. But burning the tricolour and Constitution was an act not to be countenanced and, with far less reason than the Fadnavis government had against the Bhima-Koregaon activists, the police had rightfully filed cases against them under the draconian British -era laws. There was no way the judiciary would let off these seditious activists and Niloufer Bhagwat, today a noted civil rights lawyer, was arguing one of the first cases in court for one such Dalit activist. Pawar had been barred from Dalit events despite being such a powerful home minister. When Bhagwat met him to explain why – the lack of compassion the government was showing towards Dalits who found they were being denied their rights despite constitutional guarantees – Pawar showed a rare understanding of the situation. “He came in with a face looking like a thunderstorm but as I explained to him that if the flag and the Constitution do not guarantee them their rights what choice do they have but to reject that flag and that Constitution, his face began to lighten and an understanding dawned in his eyes,” Bhagwat told me recently.
As the home minister, Pawar was within his rights to take corrective action and that is what he did – no more cases were filed against Dalit activists, but simultaneously police were also instructed to take stern action against those upper castes in villages and elsewhere who were using their wealth and political clout to circumvent the Constitution and harass the Dalits. All jailed activists were released and social unrest that could have destroyed the nation neatly avoided.
No policeman was demoralised by those reversals and it is unlikely any will be now for doing his duty by his uniform and the Constitution. Pawar was never good at self-hype, but Fadnavis needs to take some contemporary history lessons before dictating terms to the best home minister Maharashtra has ever had.