Sharad Pawar’s fascinating sense of history | Opinion
There is really no one quite like Sharad Pawar – whether in the art of politics or the knowledge of Maharashtra. Last week some young journalists who had been assigned to cover his renomination to the Rajya Sabha were privileged to hear him speak on the birth anniversary celebrations of four former Maharashtra stalwarts, including former chief minister SB Chavan and former minister Dr Rafiq Zakaria. Through their lives, Pawar took them on a fascinating and electrifying journey across 60 years of Maharashtra that had them spellbound and reeling at his knowledge and sense of history.
Sense of history. That is the key to Pawar’s stewardship of Maharashtra over the years. Veteran journalist Kumar Ketkar, now a Rajya Sabha MP, believes he is the singular leader in Maharashtra with not just a sense of history, but also proportion that could be relied upon to make a lasting difference to the fortunes of the state.
Pawar, often described as the prime minister India never had, is the only one who can rescue the state but won’t, Ketkar told me during the Devendra Fadnavis years when Pawar was almost in semi-retirement, because he is deeply disappointed and frustrated at the people letting him down – the NCP was never voted in sufficient numbers for Pawar to make a bid for the top job in the country and so he sulks and does little for the state any longer, Ketkar had opined.
But even if that were true, Pawar has still left a lasting and indelible impression on the lives of the people of Maharashtra, surpassed by few either before or after him and can be forgiven for his recent indifference.
Never mind his unreliability (betraying mentor YB Chavan, splitting the Congress not once but twice) his policies both in government and in opposition have become benchmarks for both the state and the nation. Soon after he ceased to be chief minister the first time, he forced the Maharashtra government to raise the minimum support prices for farmers in the early 1980s through a dindi march that unnerved then chief minister AR Antulay. This march on foot was copied by other farmers’ leaders, albeit using four-wheelers, like Devi Lal of Haryana and Surjit Singh Barnala of Punjab, that got the ball rolling nationally, compelling the union government to raise the MSP for farmers across the country. Then he was the only chief minister who had the courage to correct a historical wrong to Dalits by renaming the Marathwada University after Dr B R Ambedkar. When bitter riots broke out at that attempt during his first term as chief minister, he tried to rope in former chief ministers SB Chavan and Vasantdada Patil for support. While the former simply vanished (rather than face the flak of upper caste Marathas), the latter was cold to the proposal. So Pawar decided to bide his time for a decade or more before taking an unpopular decision (during his last term as CM) that even today keeps the Congress and the NCP alienated from the Marathas of that region but has socially integrated the Dalits. He also had the gumption to financially take on sugar barons and offer women in the villages the right to shut down liquor stores if these were affecting the lives of more than half the households in any particular village. This meant commercial losses to the sugar factories which then could not find any end use for their molasses. Today, the anti-liquor policy is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world and has made a remarkable difference to the lives of the women in Maharashtra’s villages.
When it came to government formation in Maharashtra last year, Pawar finally rescued the state from the clutches of those who were skewering its social harmony in recent years. Friends and foes alike are convinced that his nephew Ajit Pawar’s 80-hour adventure with Fadnavis was not just encouraged by his uncle but actually orchestrated by the senior Pawar in order to have the President’s rule lifted as painlessly as possible.
Clearly, Pawar’s love of Maharashtra overcame any frustration or disappointment he may have had at being let down by the people. History will smile upon him forever for that reason alone.