Monday Musings: Caste politics and ‘progressive’ Pune
Acute caste polarisation in our beloved Pune has emerged as a very strong possibility in the Lok Sabha 2019 elections.
Strongly influenced by NCP president Sharad Pawar, the Congress-NCP alliance appears all set to anoint the anti-Brahmin Maratha leader Pravin Gaikwad- newly inducted in the Congress- as its nominee for the Pune Lok Sabha seat. If top Congressmen such as Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan assert themselves adequately, it could well be Congress aspirants Arvind Shinde or Mohan Joshi.
The problem with Gaikwad is that he is a former president of Sambhaji Brigade, the strongly anti-brahmin organisation whose members had vandalised the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in 2004. How come a ‘progressive’ Sharad Pawar is supporting such a person to be elected to Parliament?
When the NCP was asked about this, the party’s spokesperson in Pune, Ankush Kakade, was categorical that Pawar was not pushing for Gaikwad. However, the cosy pictures of Pawar and Gaikwad, circulated by Gaikwad, tell a different story.
On its part, the BJP has given this honour to Pune’s home-grown leader Girish Bapat who has struggled and risen from the ranks in the RSS-BJP cadre. Bapat is a popular and affable grassroots man who by and large gets along with all sections of society.
Previously, he had contested – and lost- the Lok Sabha polls in 1996 against Congress’ Suresh Kalmadi. Well-connected at the grassroots, Kalmadi’s political career nose-dived after he was embroiled in the 2010 Commonwealth Youth Games corruption case. In his hey days, the bearded and gusto Kalmadi was Pawar’s right-hand man and the most popular and influential politician from Pune. He was cosmopolitan in his approach, suave and media savvy and well-connected in Delhi. A former Air Force pilot, he controlled the Pune Municipal Corporation, lavishly supported ‘tarun mandals’ with sports events and Ganpati celebrations and also courted the various non-Maharashtrian communities by attending to their grievances.
As in the rest of the country, the caste factor also mattered in Pune’s politics but it was not the defining factor as is likely to happen in the 2019 polls.
Caste considerations have now come to the fore, especially after the Maratha agitation for reservations which forced the Maharashtra government to propose a 16% quota for education and jobs for Marathas. Gaikwad was one of the leaders of this agitation.
If Gaikwad indeed gets the Lok Sabha ticket, it will reflect shabbily on Pawar and the Congress for reasons already stated.
Pune has always been a progressive city, taking pride in its intellectual, cultural, entrepreneurial and reformist legacy. These characteristics constitute the DNA and the ethos of this city which stand threatened to be tarnished by the ugliness of caste politics.
In more ways than one, our city needs to stand up against the rotten, regressive and putrefying caste system and emerge as a beacon of hope for the rest of India.