While you were sleeping…
There are many Congress leaders from Delhi who wonder why no one in Maharashtra seems able to take Sharad Pawar on.
To them I have always stated the Hindi adage : paani mein rehekar magarmachh se bair nahin (you can’t take on the crocodile in his own waters). That’s what Pawar has been and there is no Congressman who will issue any statement against the Maratha warlord for fear that he will strike back and decimate them all.
That was the main reason, I am told, for Sonia Gandhi’s disenchantment with Vilasrao Deshmukh as well – until the 2009 Lok Sabha election results she is believed to have thought that he did not do enough to limit Pawar. But, at the risk of being indiscreet, I have to share with readers an incident I was privy to several years ago — with that incident in mind I never believed that Deshmukh (elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha this week) was not limiting Pawar. He had his own style, though.
It dates back to Deshmukh’s first term as Chief Minister. I had sought an interview with Pawar and the time he gave me overlapped with that he had given a very famous producer/director in Bombay. The director wanted a tax concession for his film and had approached Pawar for the same.
At the time Pawar was not in government either in the state or the Centre and I wondered why someone I thought was closer to the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance should come to him for that kind of favour. “They all come to me. Even Sena leaders approach me rather than Bal Thackeray for such works,” Pawar said with the smile of a Cheshire cat. “And I do not discriminate.”
As the director walked into his salon, he told me, “This is urgent. It will take only a couple of minutes. Then we will get on with the interview.’’
As it turned out, it took rather more than a couple of minutes – and this is why: when Pawar’s secretary called the Chief Minister’s official residence (it was the middle of afternoon on a weekday), he was told the CM was asleep. That so startled him out of his wits, that he did not even stop to think that there was a reporter seated in Pawar’s salon. He dashed in to break the news to Pawar in person and asked, “What shall I do, Saheb? His office says the CM should not be disturbed until six in the evening. Shall I ask him to call back?”
“No. Let it be. I will call back if necessary. Get me the Deputy Chief Minister (Chhagan Bhujbal) instead.”
Pawar then spoke to Bhujbal, told him he was sending the director across and asked him to do the “needful”.
That done, he turned to me – and I have still not forgotten the look on his face. Far from the Cheshire cat of a few minutes ago, now he looked like a cat who might have swallowed a huge dollop of sour cream. His nose looked even more snub(bed) than before and there was a tightness to his mouth as he said, “The Chief Minister of Maharashtra asleep at two in the afternoon on a working day! Can you believe that?”
“No, Mr Pawar, I can’t,” is all I could say as I tried to contain the expression on my own face, hoping it was giving nothing away.
But Pawar knew as well as I did that Deshmukh could not have been sleeping that afternoon. Or, at least, that his siesta could not have extended four hours to 6pm. However, like I said, you do not say ‘no’ to Sharad Pawar and live to tell the tale. So, I fathomed, Deshmukh had hit upon this unique bouncing technique – so very convenient, isn’t it? You cannot, after all, be held responsible for anything that happened while you were sleeping.
Over the next few years, I noticed many such subtleties, not obvious to all and never for public consumption, in the manner in which Deshmukh tackled the mighty Pawar. He drove the NCP chief to miscalculations in the hope that the NCP will get more seats and, eventually, a Chief Minister — so that Pawar would not have to depend on the mercies of a Congressman. And, after nearly a decade, in May this year the result was there for all to see.
It is no wonder, then, that Deshmukh is now being lionised in New Delhi and, I am told, Congress leaders are planning to build him up as the next big mass leader in Maharashtra.
Whatever the outcome, at least there will be the shenanigans of one more leader to entertain us all – Sharad Pawar’s and Bal Thackeray’s are almost past their sell-by date!