Sharad Pawar is still winning hearts of people
Whatever the results of the Maharashtra elections tomorrow are, there is a clear winner — Sharad Pawar.
At almost 79 years of age, Pawar has proved he remains the sole grassroots politician in the state amid a generation of hothouse leaders dependent on Twitter and other social media to communicate to the people. That is why they make an impact only on the classes and completely miss the masses, and this is true of not just the young generation of leaders of all political parties, but also some noteworthy leaders of the past.
I recall one such memorable day lost travelling with former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh. He had a couple of meetings scheduled during one hot summer election in the Konkan. He arrived at the Juhu airport well past the appointed time of 7am and wanted to move to a nearby five-star hotel for breakfast, though a meal was arranged with villagers on the first leg of his tour to the districts. That five-star breakfast and the leisurely, lazy conversation with party functionaries in Mumbai meant that Singh could not make it on time to his first rally at 11 in the morning. Since it was summer, the next meeting was scheduled at 5pm. But we landed in the first village well beyond noon and Singh was hungry again, so we proceeded for lunch leaving the villagers sitting on the hot grounds with a blazing sun giving them no respite. After lunch, Singh told one of the local party leaders, “Guru, humein dopher ke khaane ke baad sone ki aadat hai.”
So we broke for his siesta, reporters whiling away time idly (in the era before mobile phones, this was an utterly boring exercise), until Singh was refreshed again and arrived at his first meeting at 5pm. By then the people who had started collecting on the ground since 9 in the morning had been waiting hungry and thirsty for well over seven hours. No wonder Singh’s party lost that election and he could never regain that ground again.
Contrast that with Pawar during those very same years. who could not reach a meeting of people in an air conditioned hall on time because his helicopter faced headwinds over the Western ghats and the pilot, after several tries, decided he could not risk the life of the chief minister. It took five hours by road for Pawar to make it to the meeting, and that’s how India got its first expressway from Mumbai to Pune. Pawar wanted a road that would cover the distance within two hours. It is a different matter that his government went out of power before he could work out a suitable rehabilitation project for the fiercely resistant villagers and two subsequent governments had to complete the task.
Pawar had made it clear he did not like to keep people waiting, come rain or shine, open ground or air conditioned hall, and that commitment to the people was visible years later during this election campaign too. Maharashtra is continuing to see heavy rainfall with urban streets as well as village pathways flooded. When it poured cats and dogs in Satara a day before the campaigning closed, Pawar, scheduled to address a rally for a by-election to the Lok Sabha (the NCP candidate had resigned earlier to join the BJP) constituency, waded into the slush and mud and soaked to the bone in the pouring rain, addressed the public meeting. His aides requested him to call off the address, but he refuse — “People are braving the same rains to hear me. How can I let them down?” he asked them.
Contrast that again with other parties and leaders who put up water-proof shamianas for themselves and even cancelled their events at some places because they did not want to get all wet and muddy. Pawar has recently taken to Twitter, but his posts on the social media site are mostly in the nature of clarifications on various issues to stem controversies. He never takes his voters for granted by posting campaign messages they may never read. At his age and with his long illness, he still is no hothouse flower, not letting those trivial facts get in the way of his connect with the people.
One may or may not agree with his politics, but no one can disagree that Pawar continues to be the most rooted politician in the current scenario, among the young or old, winners or otherwise — he can teach them all a thing or two about winning hearts, even if not the elections.