Lambe race ka ghoda

Sometime in December 2000, Sharad Pawar first announced his interest in cricket with the declaration that he would contest to the office of president of the Mumbai Cricket Association that year. But things were not going quite as he had planned. He had never lost an election before (barring one to the Congress presidency against Sitaram Kesri in 1997 – his defeat at the BCCi in 2004 was yet to come) and he did not want to lose this one now. He would rather he got elected unopposed.

But former Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi who had just quit the job was not about to make it easy for Pawar by allowing him to succeed him unopposed. So Ajit Wadekar arrived on the scene and just would not budge despite Pawar’s best efforts to get him to withdraw. The election happened and Wadekar lost as we had all thought he would – Pawar’s skills at persuasion and canvassing were far superior to Joshi’s or anything that Wadekar could have even suitably matched, let alone challenged.

But in the interregnum, Wadekar ended up saying a nasty thing or two about Sharad Pawar while Pawar kept underlining his intention to get the warring factions in the MCA (those managing the stadium and those the club) “to one table” once he was elected as MCA president.

Pawar did succeed in that – and more. In February 2001 I sought an interview with him to get his views on disaster management – the Gujarat earthquake had just happened on January 26 and Pawar’s experience with managing the Latur earthquake of 1993 was invaluable.

Pawar, though, was having some problem giving me a proper time. “You can come at one pm. But I am expecting a guest to lunch. I am not sure he will turn up. If he does, you might have to wait for an hour-and-a-half. I might then be able to meet you only at 230pm. Can you wait that long?”

I had all the time in the world so far as getting that interview was concerned and told Pawar I would not mind waiting. “Well, he may come or he may not. If he doesn’t I promise to take you in by 1pm,” he said. I was not taking any chances so I reached his home by 1245pm – and was asked to wait in the lounge. “You are way too early,” said his secretary. I realised Pawar’s guest had indeed come to lunch.

There was only one door to enter or exit Pawar’s salon, and I do not know who was more startled when we came face to face – I or Ajit Wadekar. Barely a month ago, in an interview to me, he had been spewing venom at Pawar (lots more off the record than on it) and now I was surprised to discover he was lunching at the same table as Pawar – indeed at Pawar’s own table!

“What are you doing here?’’ asked Wadekar.

“I could ask you the same question,” I replied. Then as he looked pained I said, “Don’t worry. Its just an interview on disaster management, not cricket.” He seemed relieved.

But I could not resist the temptation of asking Pawar how he had managed to bring Wadekar round in barely a month after the MCA elections when the latter had been so hostile during the campaign.

“I believe in taking people along. You have to find a way for there is no point in retaining hostilities. All have to work together towards the same goal,” was all Pawar would say.

I realised Pawar had found a way out again when he managed to calm down another opponent this week – Union Minister for Heavy Industries Vilasrao Deshmukh. Deshmukh has been a thorn in Pawar’s flesh for quite sometime now, insisting that the Congress would be better off going to the Maharashtra Assembly polls, due in October, on its own.

Pawar’s first masterstroke in the neutralisation of Deshmukh was when he proposed that the newly-opened Bandra-Worli sealink in Bombay be named after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Even Sonia Gandhi was surprised and all Congressmen were stunned speechless.

Deshmukh, though, wouldn’t give up and kept up his rhetoric but in less than a week after that Pawar had taken him on his panel in the MCA and helped to get him (as well as himself) elected unopposed – Pawar as president, Deshmukh as his vice.

In all these years, I did not know Deshmukh was ever interested in cricket but now on the same side as Pawar, in the same panel and on the same body, I wonder how long he can continue to oppose the Maratha strongman politically.

I have said this in my weekly column ‘anandan on Wednesday’ in the Bombay edition of Hindustan Times this week, and I cannot help saying it again: Pawar really is the (and I stress the ‘the’) lambe race ka ghoda. Unbeatable, unmatched, a true master of the game. No one can even come close to checkmating this Maratha warrior!

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