Sharad Pawar, the cat with nine lives
My hats off to Sharad Pawar. In my long career as a political correspondent, I have never seen anything like what he pulled off last week after the Enforcement Directorate booked him in a case of money laundering.
Far from taking fright at that case, he turned the tables on the ED, taking the fight into the enemy camp and emerging not just victorious, but also ambushing the ruling dispensation, which has ended up not just with egg on its face, and reviving the opposition weeks before elections to the Maharashtra Assembly. They thought to flog a seemingly dead horse, now that horse is not only standing on its feet, but is on a trot, even if it may not gallop just as yet towards Mantralaya. I could not stop laughing when after sending drones up in the air to assess the law and order situation, the ED actually threatened to bar its doors to Pawar (who had not been summoned by them, but wanted to voluntarily visit their office) and Mumbai’s top cops actually begged him to call off a perfectly normal, peaceful visit to the agency’s offices. You label someone a thief and then beg that alleged thief not to go to jail? Wow! It leaves me with absolutely no words at all!
Why Pawar could pull off such an audacious act is also because he knew the authorities could pin nothing on him with regard to the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank – he was neither a director of the bank, nor a member on its board ever. So both the ED and the government should have done their homework more thoroughly before fingering a leader of the stature of Pawar, who has been in electoral politics for over five decades and knows all the rules of the game better than most authorities in government. Even chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was probably just in kindergarten when Pawar first became the chief minister and, by Narendra Modi’s own admission, Pawar hand-held him through his first steps in politics. So who were they trying to overpower?
The BJP has been trying hard to break the NCP’s stranglehold over the co-operative movement for the past five years, but unfortunately picked a case which was the very bone of contention between Ajit Pawar, Pawar’s nephew, and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who had the bank’s board superceded and an administrator appointed with the help of then union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Chavan was hated by the NCP and Pawars for that act – Ajit had described him as the worst chief minister Maharashtra had ever had when all that he had meant by that scathing remark was that Chavan was the only chief minister who was unafraid of the Pawars and did not kowtow to them as most other Congress chief ministers had done. Chavan and the bank supercession episode were the reasons why the NCP broke ties with the Congress just ahead of the 2014 Assembly elections. But with Chavan now not playing a pivotal role in the state Congress, Pawar has turned the tables on all his detractors by securing the support of not just Rahul Gandhi in his battle against the ED , but also the Shiv Sena – indeed, there would be even BJP leaders offering him silent support. For, the board of the MSCB had offered loans to all politicians across party lines, without discrimination – money laundering in the words of the ED, but merely a means of ensuring political gratitude, the way it has always been with co-operatives.
So if the government must probe all those who benefitted from such alleged money laundering, they must also look into the affairs of all sugar barons who joined the BJP days before the ED registered a case against the Pawars. After all, those new-found friends of the BJP were in the NCP precisely because of that largesse and quit only when it became obvious that the largesse was not to be had any longer from either the Pawars or he NCP.
Why I believe no one can beat Sharad Pawar at the game is also because of how he turned the tables once again on critics who had seen Ajit’s resignation as a blow to his victory over the ED. Turns out, Ajit was not miffed at his uncle, but was upset at causing him the pain and embarrassment of receiving an ED notice simply because he (Ajit) was associated with the bank. Sharad Pawar was always the cat with nine lives. He always lands on his feet.