Catch me if you can…



A couple of weeks ago, a colleague who hadn’t been in touch for a while called to ask how he could get in touch with Sharad Pawar.

“I have never interacted with politicians so I don’t know how to go about this. Is it easy to speak to him?”

I gave him all the numbers where he could reach Pawar and assured him that the Union Agriculture Minister was far too professional to play hard to get – unless he was genuinely busy or in the middle of some controversy and did not want to talk, setting up a meeting would not be too difficult.

“And if he doesn’t want to talk, he will not waste your time. He will tell you straight away,” I said.

But that reminded me of how difficult it always is/was to get in touch with Bal Thackeray. In one of my previous blogs I mentioned how on one occasion, he kept me calling for 12 hours and would not say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But I should have known better. For even at the best of times Thackeray was not one to make it easy for any journalist. He believed that if he did not make you work for that interview by chasing him for days, not just hours, it was not worth his while.

And even when he did give you time, I and some of my colleagues have faced occasions when he deliberately engineered overlaps – giving you an appointment at the precise moment when a more important personality was closeted with him. So you either had to cool your heels in his antechamber for hours or if you didn’t have the time, start the process of the chase all over again. There was even one occasion, I recall, when he called me and a colleague over for an interview and simply just went out to dinner that evening. I did not bother to call him back that time, I remember.

By contrast, it was easier whenever my editor wanted me to speak to Pawar. In the days before the advent of mobile phones, I remember tracking Pawar through the day on one occasion. Every time I called a particular number – his (private) home, his Vidhan Bhavan office, his official residence, his party office et al, he seemed to have just left the place.

His secretaries were always polite and helpful and I did not think they were not connecting me deliberately. At dinner time, I rang back his residence only to be told he was out to — well, what else? – dinner. “We do not expect Saheb to be back before midnight,” his secretary said.

I knew there was no point calling back again because I had already pushed the deadline – and I had wanted just a one-line reaction to a particular event. I wrote the copy with the standard, “Sharad Pawar was unavailable for comment,” and went home very dissatisfied about the unfruitful day I had had.

As I let myself into my home at midnight and passed by the hall on my way to my bedroom, the telephone rang. I wondered who might be calling at that hour, so you can imagine my shock and surprise when a gruff voice replied to my “Hello?” with simply a “Sharad Pawar.”

I almost dropped the phone in sheer disbelief, then gathered my wits about me wondering what I would say to him now that my paper was already put to bed. It was going to be awfully cumbersome making changes on the machine to dunk in his reaction.

But then he made it easier for me by saying, “I can see from the records placed before me by my secretary that you have been trying to reach me all day and you failed to catch me by just a few minutes at every number you called. If you kept at it so consistently, it must be something important. So I thought I would speak to you before I retire for the day.”

I could then tell him that I had had to go without his comment and had said as much in the copy. “I will try and incorporate your statement now if you can speak to me about it.”

“No,” he said. “Don’t trouble yourself or your editors about it now. Let it go tonight. But I will speak to you tomorrow. And since you wasted all day today trying to reach me, why don’t you come over in the afternoon and I will give you as much time as you like?”

I asked for 60 minutes and got it, too, though he wondered what I wanted to talk to him about for a whole hour or so. But then I didn’t just get a reaction to that event, I got one of the most freewheeling interviews Pawar had ever given until then. He spoke about just about everything – politics, economics, agriculture, liberalisation, globalisation, India’s place in the world, Maharashtra’s place in India etc.

It gave me great insights into not just his mind but how Pawar worked, too – in giving me a generous hour, I had probably encroached upon time he had set aside for his own self. So at the start of the interview he told me, “I hope you don’t mind being interrupted by some phone calls through this interview. I need to speak to some people and if I don’t do this now, it will be too late.”

Soon I realised he was hosting a do for actor Dilip Kumar – the thespian had just been awarded by the Government of India (I do not remember now if that was a Padma award or the Dadasaheb Phalke award). Pawar had decided to felicitate him for the same. “I am throwing a party (as far as I recall it was at the Jade Gardens at Nehru Centre) for Yusufbhai,” he told each guest personally. “Please come. I would like it very much if you do.”

The guest list was impressive, too, and I was quite overawed to realise he knew just about the whole world and his wife in Bombay and, what’s more, spoke to each one personally, as though he/she was an old friend.

His phone calls were done just as I ran out of questions. Seeing the waiting crowds in his anteroom, I realised I had indeed impinged upon his personal time and he might have not had another free hour to make all those phone calls.

My editor was taken aback when I told him the story. “Would not have thought Pawar could be so gracious,” he said.

“What do I do with all this stuff I have now? How do we do justice to it?” I asked.

“Lets run a three part series. Politics in one, business in the other and a third if you have enough quotes left over,” my editor replied. “After all it is not everyday that one gets an hour and everything out of Sharad Pawar.”

Not everyday, true. But it could still happen. That’s why we keep calling Sharad Pawar. But we stopped calling Bal Thackeray long, long ago.

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  • http://www.hindustantimes.com Pankaj Vohra

    As usual an interesting blog. Sharad Pawar is a perfect politician and knows how to keep his friends with him. My experience is that most politicians are like that. I have had no inter action ever with Bal Thackeray but everyone else has always been gracious in giving his or her time or at least returning the call. A lot also depends on how you as a journalist cultivate your friendship with netas. Personal equations are very important and your blog makes that very clear. Pawar knew that if it had not been the call of duty, you would not have made so many calls to him. Therefore he responded. Politicians are very practical people unlike majority of bureaucracts who always maintain a distance but show up when they need to “plant” a news item which is of interest to them. But journalists are no fools and see through their designs. Best regards.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Pankaj. Agree with you about the bureaucrats and other poltiicians, too — strangely my sideof the country, the non-saffron politicians are more professional, the saffronists have Thackeray for a guru — so they want the media only when they want a plant, rest of the time we have to spend all the time chasing them for a small reaction!

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  • http://mywriterkeeda.wordpress.com Ishmart Alec

    you re turning into a pawar media management person. :) … opinion building through blogs ehhh

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    Anagha Reply:

    Good article, Sujata. A lesson in professionalism. Its what separates the leaders from the crowd.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    I am sure Pawar will be surprised to know that because I have been rather more critical of him than supportive in the past. But you are entitled to your opinion, I write only the facts — take it as you will

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  • varsha

    In the 90s Sharad Pawar was chief minister of Maharashtra right? going through a series of tough
    phases, maybe he needed to cultivate journalists and be gracious to them at the time…. what about now? did your colleague manage to get in touch with him and arrange an interview as easily?

    Have you interviewed Raj , Udhhav Thakeray? what are they like?

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Not all of the nineties and that was his third term, so he was mostly done with Maharashtra by then. Yes, my colleague did get that interview as easily and yes, I have interviewed both raj and uddhav — easier when they were not mired in controversies, more difficult now unless they can be sure you will do a PR job for them — and at the end of the day nothing much to write about!

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  • Anil

    With his astute insight I would have believed him to be a at the helm of affairs at centre. He is slimy if I may be allowed to use this word. He stabbed his mentor Y B Chavan when the the latter most needed him. His foray into BCCI was really uncalled for and smacks of affinity keep himself in proximity to easy cash. Except for the developement of Baramati to a world class town, he does not have anything to boast for his power strapped 35 years. Could never think or act above his constiturncy. Could have done lot as a Minister of Agriculture. Pranabda and Chidu stand head and shoulders above him. A local Satrap trying his best to keep his men together.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head — all of what you have said is true but there is also another side to the man which for many of us journalists it is difficult to escape (and not admire)

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  • Indian

    Sujata,

    In the previous post we did discuss that pawar is no better than thackeray and in all likelihood, worse. I guess you are more sounding like his spokesperson. And knowing his hugely corrupt ways, underworld connection, nefarious activities and anti-national suspicisions, does not speak very well about you.

    Who cares if he is gracious and punctual. If what is said about him is all true ( and many of it is), then his punctuality is even more dangerous.

    I am sorry that you choose praise him because he gave you an hour of interview. I guess this is what journalism all about.

    Thanks!

    Thanks!

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Well all of those accusations have been around for a very long time but no one has a piece of document to prove them right so I guess we need to take that with a pinch of salt both ways. And, then again, you have to stand in the shoes of journalists fighting not just riots and bullets but also biases and prejudices to appreciate a professional like Pawar — you will be hearing more from me about that, I can promise you.

    I praise him not just for that hour of interview but for many other reasons that I will list by and by — and I have been highly critical of him in th past, too. And BTW my editor has always deleted the nefarious bits out of my stories on him for the same reason — where is the proof?

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    Indian Reply:

    Thanks for the reply.

    “Well all of those accusations have been around for a very long time but no one has a piece of document to prove them right …..” Wonder what you think about Modi

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Allegations against Modi are of a different nature

    Rajeev Reply:

    Sujata,
    The people like Pawar and Laloo can not exist without scams. Laloos railways scams will be out courtesy Mamta but who will expose Pawar.

    Why don’t you unearth the scams done by Pawar in Agriculture ministry especially import of wheat from Australia?

    You will do great service to nation if you indulge in serious journalism rather than work as PR officer for your favorite politicians.

    Indian Reply:

    Sorry, you are wrong, bordering on lying. You cannot give your concocted version to suit your positioning. You are wrong on Pawar and glorifying him. I feel sorry for the Indians who have suffered directly or indirectly because of him and then to find that there are journo’s supporting his cause.
    …And that in my mind ends all the credibility in the blog. Period!

    Best luck in the future.

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Indian, you are entitled to your opinion. But I just could not understand your latest rant. I don’t know what I may have concocted and what kind of suffering Pawar might have inflicted upon the people. I do know though that there are a lot of people who believe the worst of Pawar but surely whatever he may have done is no worse than what Modi has inflicted upon the people. And remember Pawar brought Bombay under control after the 1993 blasts in two days over the weekend, while Modi let Gujarat burn on and on for weeks — that’s why I said the nature of the allegations are different, not the least about efficiency and administration

    Indian Reply:

    Well,

    This is not a matter of opinion but consistency. Pawar brought bombay under control in two days after the “blasts”, well, under modi there were no riots after blasts. However, the bombay riots went on for days, with almost the same number of deaths in both mumbai and abad. So comparisons should be like to like. Blasts to blasts and riots to riots. Leave the 2002 riots and modi record in law and order is unparalled in gujarat and perhaps in india.

    Second – Modi ordered the army in exactly one day, the police shot 180 rioters to prevent rioting, half hindu, half muslim. Do you know that this is unprecendented in independent INdia. No administration, has ever acted so forcefully on rioters, I repeat, no administration. Rioters were in thousands and it was scary just to look out of the window, but the administration did a decent job. BTW I am absolutely against killing of innocents and it was indeed a horrendous incident. Where did you get the figure of Modi let guj burn for weeks (now this is opinion – and completely false). Also, ahmedabad has seen some 38 riots post independence, about 37 of which during congress rule with the 1969 riots being the biggest in terms of lengh of riots (6 months) and deaths (2500, some say over 5000). 1985 was another big riot (lasted 3-4 months). Also, ask any kid in abad and they will tell you that most of the previous riots were not only not controlled by the administration deliberately, they were engineering by them – abdul latif is another name that one should know of.

    You are crediting Pawar for controlling mumbai and forgetting that 1000 people died including some 500-700 muslims and some 200 hindus (here I may be mistaken in the numbers), but you are accusing Modi (when 760 muslims and 280 hindus died), despite him controlling and coming up with baseless allegations when the facts stare at your face. In that case shouldnt Pawar also face the same allegations? I know, because I was in abad, during 2002, and in mumbai during the early nineties. And no am not a gujarati to affect my sentimentalities (which is often quoted as a reason why modi gets voted in). Not only that, we know which underworld connections are repeatedly associated with Pawar – 1993 bomb blasts should ring a bell? No? So that would also suggest what kind of people might have suffered? No?

    And I am not even talking about efficiency, administration or corruption. We all know where modi stands in that respect. Everyone talks about industries and development, though people forget that in a semi-desert state guj has grown close to 10% in agri (which even a punjab cannot boast), that there is 24 hours electricity in villages, that the female to male sex ration has improved from 802/1000 to 893/1000, that female school dropouts have reduced from 47 to 3 in 100. But that is completely irrelevant. Even farmer suicides under pawar is irrelevant. Indians (me included), have the crab mentality, we will always bring down a good guy. Mostly without any rational reason, to appease someone, to try and be politically correct. We are also horrible at looking at facts and doing serious unemotional analysing. But perhaps I am on a rant, doesnt matter that I can quote a lot more statistics and data.

    Indian Reply:

    Finally,

    Please understand a few things
    -I do not mean any personal offence, so apologies in case my tone has been harsh
    - I used the word concoction because of “rants” such as he let xyz burn for weeks
    - I am not a blind pawar hater or a blind modi admirer. I am only for objective evaluation of both based on actions, evaluated correctly and with the right perspective. Pawar may have his positives and modi his negatives, but overall, in India’s interest one should be careful while making choices and choices should be made on hard facts and national interest.
    - I started on this topic because you keep on and on about thackeray (who is not admirabe in anyway himself) and keep the rhetoric up on pawar. I think that is inconsistent in terms of positioning. Your arguments jusftifying your opposition or support to individuals seem either superficial, inconsistent or based on personal treatment that has been meted out to you. Whereas, as a reader you would expect arguments on politicians to be a little more based on their own record in administration, etc. (I am not against your appreciation for Pawar’s punctuality per se (heck, it is your blog anyway), but when you put your 2-3 blogs together, then in appears that for some people you will bring them down for their larger public policies, actions, while for some others you choose to ignore that show a good picture for personal reasons).

    Best luck!

    SM Reply:

    I agree with you completely. Sujata here is anti-BJP/Shiv Sena, I wonder why she does not have the guts to say so and keep beating around the bush to prove Congress-NCP’s holier-than-thou image.

  • http://- Rajeev

    Does Sujata know that Thackray and Pawar are good friends?

    Both care too hoots for Jouranlist like Sujata. She is giving too much importance to herself.

    Coming to Thackray and Pawar, both are corrupt to the core and are leech on Indian nation.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Of course, Sujata knows, rather more than the reading public does, I should say — and you may care two hoots for her but I am sure she does not care about that because she is not writing to be cared about, only to be read — which you just did!

    And while Thackeray and Pawar may have all those allegations against them, I would like to see them stick before I begin to believe that they are more of leeches on this nation than most other politicians — they are all just the same.

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    Rajeev Reply:

    I must say you are perfect example of Journalist arrogance.

    I have seen you journalist up close on my occassion. All you care is for free food, free booze and ego massage (as done by Pawar in your case).

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  • meena

    This is addressed to Indian. If you dont like what Sujata writes, you have the freedom not to read it. She does not knock on your doors to be heard. No body is forcing you to click on her blog and read it. In fact it is not part of any newspaper that you “accidentally” come across her article. You voluntarily read her blog which proves that something in it attracts you. So please stop whining and stop being confrontational.

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    Indian Reply:

    If you do not like what I write then you please stop reading what I am writing and mind you business. Nobody needs advise or is forcing you to read what someone else is writing and no need to be confrontational. If you have valid points to contibute do so else buzz off.

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  • meena

    hahaha…so you do have sense of humor…or is it

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    Indian Reply:

    hmmm so you still do not have any valid points to contribute. perhaps you are only looking for humour. best luck!

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  • Anil

    My beef with congressi in general is that they have dubious self respect the way fall over each other at the feet of anyoen from certain family.. Just look at the fawning congressi over the feet fo Rahul gandhi. Many fo them on just another planet in intellect and in everythign other than surname. Yet they shamelessly just act as the slave.

    Sharad pawar earned my respect the day he revolted against this tradition. rajeev Gandhi may have been superior to him but Sonia Gandhi was is and will be a nobody sans that surname.. But this recent turn-around and worshipping at the al;tar of Sonia gandhi has changed my views again.> he after all remain a congressi and lack fo self respect and congressi are synonymous..

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  • http://www.mohanrajjebamani.org mohanraj

    in our country only corrupt politicians who made huge money hog the lime light.if the CBI was effective as in the case of srilankans who nabbed KP, sharad pawar and hoard of others will be in jail in wheat scams.god only knows how amny scams he was involved leave alone the stamp paper scam. if he is subjected to narco test sarad pawar will tell all his wrong doings which will send him to the gallows. no pardon or mercy for such politicians.

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  • http://www.legea-atractiei.ro/forum/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=56139 Tuan Lockridge

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  • Penny Fidler

    you should stay in Juhu my dear… sounds like your culture starts and ends there

    …..

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  • Sandeep

    Bad journalism…cheap aspirations…lack of self awareness , misnformation and disinformation…all included in this article…if Barrista is your criterion for culture…that is sad,,,Many of these backpackers are probably more educated and richer than you….

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  • Guest

    I’d advise Naomi to bath in the Ganges at Benares and dismiss once for all the idea the holy river is polluted. I bathed in it in the late 60’s and caught nothing after years in India….

    Goa? ….Got what it deserved.! Alas. I prefer the local fishing community to any trance party. And now with the Israeli soldiers and the Russian mafias expect the worst.

    A friend.

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  • MaskedHeadhunter .

    Ive been to India many times but mainly to goa since the 80s and always rent the same lovely house in Anjuna near Chapora. And I feel as it is my spiritual home. I normally syay there for between 3 amd 9 months and lkike everywhere else in the world its got its pros and cons.
    Valangute and Baga have always been more ‘touristy’ where theres Jewelers and furiers and places to get a English Breakfast and guinness. Of course the 2 week holiday crowd lay their bloated white bodies on the beach then go back to their offices to tell their cronies about the ‘dope’ they bought.
    The place has changed alot with the influx of the Red Rupee coming in from Russia and the Turks. With many peeps Ive known been asked to bring in/out money/gear/diamonds. And with the large influx of police trying different methods of getting their baksheesh that gets tiresome and havehad a few tussles with them
    Ive always hear repoorts of girls being molested etc but only seen it once. At the 1999/2000 new Years eve party on the Hilltop where there was a group of 20/30 lIndian youth/men in their 20/30s who were jumping on lone drunk/spaced out girls en masse and a few of us got together to sort it out where they all denied it blaming the girls for leading them on! SHOCK!
    But Anjuna has something still for evryone and theres alot of us who meet up regularly there. We might get completely off our heads but we also have very good local friends who have grown close to over the years and watched their children grow up and been to their weddings etc.
    Yoiuve just got to keep an open mind about evrything in this world. Its not all black and white but different shades of grey. Some of us like adding a bit of colour too.

    [Reply]