Whose abuse is it anyway?



Sharad Pawar is not new to verbal abuse. Before Bal Thackeray cosied up to him in recent times, he was wont to call the Maratha warlord the most colourful names. Among the more mentionable of them were `maidyancha pota ’ (a sack of flour) and a dog (I would rather not repeat the Marathi as that sounds worse).He also continuously poked fun at Pawar’s ample girth, saying he might be getting stuck in his commode each morning. To be noted: Thackeray himself preferred Indian toilets. Hotels he stayed at in Maharashtra had to modify their rooms for the purpose and when he thought he might be thrown into jail by Chhagan Bhujbal his primary concern, ahead of other comforts, was if he would get an Indian toilet in his cell — though Michael Jackson did use a Western one when he came calling at Matoshree in 1997!

Pawar was so sickened by all such politically irrelevant comments that he warned Thackeray about the consequences: “I am from the rural areas and a rural rustic can get more colourful abuse out of his mouth than someone like Thackeray, city born and bred can ever fathom. So don’t tempt me.’’ That shut Thackeray up quite adequately because he could not be sure about how insulting Pawar could get or even if he could match the latter’s vocabulary, word for word.

I guess Thackeray had reason to run scared. Because he knew Pawar could say the worst possible things about somebody and still keep the language parliamentary.  Like the time in the Eighties — I recall I was shocked out of my wits when he referred to then opposition leader Mrinal Gore as `Pootna Maushi’.

Gore was a well-known socialist and she was very adept at her job as an opposition leader. She was one of the primary persons who had exposed Pawar’s alleged involvement in what we then referred to as the `dereservation scam’. Decoded, this was simply that soon after he became Chief Minister in 1988, Pawar decided that more than 250 plots in Bombay which had been reserved for schools, gardens, hospitals and other public spaces would be, well, dereserved and handed over to private builders for commercial constructions. Pawar had overruled the objections of both bureaucrats and municipal authorities about the advisability of turning Bombay into more of a concrete jungle thus.

Gore tabled the whole list of the plots, along with a minute by minute account of how they were dereserved, in the Maharashtra Assembly — leading Chhagan Bhujbal, then the Shiv Sena’s lone legislator in the House, to stick another unforgettable tag on Pawa: Bhookhandanche Shrikhand Khalle (he has eaten shrikhand out of plots of land).

But while Pawar could brush aside such labels, what he could not get over was the complete exposure of his integrity (since then wherever Pawar goes, land scams, true or not, follow).

Why I believe Pawar’s abuse of Gore was unforgivable was because of the choice of his words — which were not unparliamentary by themselves but the circumstances under which they were uttered were downright vicious. Pootna was the rakshasi who had been assigned by Lord Krishna’s maternal uncle Kansa to poison the baby God through her milk. Everyone knows the legend: how Baby Krishna bit her breasts and destroyed both her and her evil purpose.

Gore had, at the time, been recovering from breast cancer and I thought it was particularly nasty, downright mean and very hurtful of Sharad Pawar to allude to a worthy opponent in such unpleasant and personally painful terms. I was little more than a rookie at the time and I recall rushing to Gore’s party office at the Vidhan Bhavan soon after Pawar’s volley – I wanted to sympathise more than get a reaction out of her to that insult.

However, Gore spoke of everything else but that abuse. And when I asked her for a reaction, she said she had not heard anything at all and there was no point reacting to something she did not know about. Since Gore had very much been present during Pawar’s outburst, I realised that she was either very hurt or very forgiving. In either case, her response was very dignified and, in the absence of television channels in that era, the whole episode was put to rest almost immediately.

So, if an eon later, Satyavrat Chaturvedi now calls Sharad Pawar another colourful name, I am not surprised that the Maratha strongman should not find it too hard to forget and forgive.  For Chaturvedi’s terms of reference were neither personal nor could be too hurtful (except to the extent that he chose to abuse at all) –  those are terms used almost like punctuation in many North Indian tongues. But while MCs and BCs might be lingua franca in the North, I agree with Pawar that it was quite unparliamentary language to have been used at all.

Perhaps Chaturvedi should have taken lessons from Pawar before he got abusive: on how to be parliamentary and  unpleasant at one and the same time!

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