Pawar is Pune that Pune knows nought

Yogesh Jadhav, managing director of the Pudhari group of newspapers, recently told me, only half-jokingly, “When we studied History as kids we were told that Poona once belonged to the Peshwas. The next generation will learn that Pune belongs to the Pawars.”He was, of course, reacting to the Sakal group of newspapers (owned by the Pawars) taking the entry of Pudhari into Pune rather badly – Sakal then launched a campaign against the Jadhavs in Kolhapur, the headquarters of Pudhari. The bitter battle is still an on-going phenomenon — but more about it later.

I recall that comment of Jadhav’s now in another context – the just breaking news that Sharad Pawar had some stake in a group that made an unsuccessful bid for the Indian Premier League’s Pune franchise.

I am not very good with names, though I never forget a face I have seen. So when I saw Annirudh Deshpande speaking on television, the penny dropped. He was the very same guy who had hosted me and my photographer (at the behest of Sharad Pawar, of course) at a girls’ hostel run by Pawar’s educational trust almost a decade ago.

There were just the five of us, including Vithal Maniyar, Pawar’s close confidante and said to be in charge of all his finances. That evening of drinks and dinner was unforgettable because Pawar showed us a side to him that is not normally visible to journalists (I believe he reserves it only for friends).

I was then working on a story which ultimately featured on the front page of the Sunday magazine (not Brunch) of Hindustan Times. We called it `The Milkman of Baramati’ because it had been a great discovery that Pawar’s Dynamix dairy was not only bottling milk for its own brand, but was supplying milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products to practically every brand coming to India – Britannia, Nestle, Sachs, MacDonald’s et al. The plant was also packaging iced teas for Lipton, fruit juices for Tropicana, yogurts for Danone – you name it, the Dynamix dairy had it. In fact, the only brands that did not have milk products supplied by Pawar’s dairies were the home-grown Amul and Vijaya dairies alone.

Sharad Pawar's Dynamix dairy bottles and/or packages every multinational brand available in the country.

When I asked Pawar about it, he said, “The world is globalising and multinationals are here to stay. Now they are not here for philanthropy. But if they want to make profits out of us, then I believe we should make sure that even we, as Indians, get something out of them. Hence, we have brought Dynamix up to international standards and nothing goes into the markets without passing through Dynamix.’’

It was a happy day spent pottering through Pawar’s hothouse gardens and seeing the results of his experiments with growing mulberry bushes in Baramati (he told me then he would consider naming the end product `Sharad silk’) as well as the completely mechanised process of milking at Dynamix (no human hand to soil the purity of the products, Pawar said). But I needed an interview at the end of the day – and for that he took me and my photographer across to Pune. “We can speak in a more relaxed atmosphere there,” he said.

In the hall of the guest suites above that hostel, I was startled to discover the side of Pawar I had never seen before (I will reserve the details). When I entered the hall after a freshening-up in my room, there was an array of drinks spread across the table. “What would you like?” asked Pawar. “Shall I pour you a whisky or a rum? Or would you prefer a gin?”

Trying to stop my surprise from showing, I said, “Well, actually a Thums-Up will do just fine.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “No one will tell tales. They are all family here.”

“I don’t drink,” I replied. “But perhaps my photographer will be glad to join you all. I’ll stick to my Limca.”

Of course, the four men had great fun drinking away the night but I recall it was Aniruddh — and not Pawar — who poured those drinks and was in charge of keeping them all replenished. And making sure there was steaming hot food at the end of that evening. In between drinks, Pawar let on that Annirudh’s mother (or was it aunt?) ran a bank where women who were members of the Dynamix dairy deposited their day’s earnings and that the bank had already netted a profit in triple-digit crores in a few years.

So, it is my guess, that if Aniruddh bid for the Pune IPL team, in whatever capacity, he had Pawar’s blessings to do so. For, like Jadhav told me, not even a leaf can quiver in Pune without Pawar’s consent and those who dare to almost always end up paying the price.

Still I am surprised that Pawar who is usually such a sure foot at keeping at least six layers between himself and the nearest controversial element, is now beginning to lose that touch. Since the IPL scam hit the ceiling, his daughter has had to do much fielding denying her family’s involvement in any aspect of the IPL. And Pawar’s explanations are becoming increasingly incredible.

I wonder, then, if Pawar’s beloved Pune will be the undoing, this century, of its most famous Maratha warlord.

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