The Grim Reaper



This is not how Sharad Pawar would have liked himself to be regarded: with ridicule. In the last couple of days since he formally took over as president of the Internaional Cricket Council (ICC), starting from its CEO Malcolm Speed who cast doubts on his ability to administer cricket, most critics have been poking fun or seriously critiquing Pawar for his failures on other fronts as well.

There is even a rumour going around that Pawar has sought a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ask him to lighten his work load. I do not quite believe that – Pawar is not one to give up any responsibility so easily, though I think Congressmen will be only too glad to bifurcate or even trifurcate his Agriculture Ministry and divest him of most of his powers in that sector!

But Pawar’s recent bungling of the food issue and his inability to get a grip on price rise combined with his bizarre explanations for why such things are happening — even mother’s milk is adulterated (in response to the contaminated water issue), there is a shortage of wheat in India because South Indians are beginning to eat too many chappatis, rice shortages happening because North-east Indians are eating more of that staple – make me seriously wonder if he is indeed best agriculture minister India has had, as his supporters would have us believe, or if, in his pursuit of cricket, he has simply lost the plot!

Now one of my favourites, Faking News, has put out a satire on Pawar and his cricketing skills (or the lack of them) which is as funny as it is grim. The underlying message is that suicides occur wherever Pawar goes and if he could not sort out the problems of farmers committing suicides in India, he could not but drive international cricket, as well, to suicide.

When Pawar first contested the BCCI elections, even his supporters wondered what it was about cricket that he found so fascinating. The aftermath of the scam in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has now answered that question on its own. It is Speed’s turn now to wonder what it is exactly that Pawar wants out of the ICC. There is one particular statement of Speed’s – that Pawar would barely attend ICC meetings for an hour or two and let others from BCCI take over the rest of the proceedings – that is quite revealing.

Obviously, Pawar’s interest has little to do with cricket administration than with power and stature and I think he believes the ICC presidency will bring him both. And if he seems not to be able to articulate at ICC meetings, it is simply because he cannot – he is uncomfortable with English accents that are not Marathi-tinged and he knows if he speaks English he might not be able to get himself understood. That is why he needs the likes of the savvy Lalit Modi and the even savvier Praful Patel around him who do all the talking for him while he lords over the rest.

I do not know much about cricket to assess what Pawar might do for the game internationally, but I believe he will certainly undo a lot in India for farmers and their consumers (which is all of us, one billion or more eaters) if he is seriously thinking of lightening his work load in Krishi Bhavan.

Pawar, I believe, is capable of much more than has been on show in the past six years in the Union Agriculture Ministry. Unknown to many, he is attempting to increase the yields of desi cows without having to cross breed them with imported bulls; he is attempting to reduce the leakages of food grains from godowns and in transit; he is also trying his level best to bring farmers to other crops which will bring them more returns than the traditional ones they have been growing for years.

He is succeeding in most of these experiments but unfortunately the scale has not been large enough to show up on the national radar and it is that one major lack in him – articulation – that makes it so difficult for him to showcase his achievements. That, though, is quite apart from the fact that most of his successes have been in the region of Pune and Baramati, his fiefdom, which makes it look as though Pawar is trying for a medal for the best agriculture minister that Pune – not even Maharashtra – has ever had (unfortunately, though, that would still be Annasaheb Shinde, Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Agriculture Minister, still very highly regarded in the region and whose record might take some overcoming by Pawar).

So that is what I believe is his greatest drawback – Pawar is capable of big things but only if it benefits him personally. The salutary effect of those experiments on others is just incidental. Like when he introduced the anti-liquor policy through his women’s policy when he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 1994/5. It is still the only policy of its kind anywhere in the world and the best – women in villages troubled by drunken husbands can petition the collector to shut down liquor dens and stores in their vicinity. Pawar thought it would get him votes of women by the thousands (he lost the subsequent elections) but nearly two decades later village after village is going liquor- free and women living a lot more easily in the villages that have banned alcohol.

But Pawar’s party men now are doing their damnedest to award more licenses to liquor shops – the loss of revenue in excise duty is,clearly, pinching. Moreover, many of them are sugar barons who want a profitable outlet for their waste molasses.

And they have Sharad Pawar’s tacit support to reverse what can be labelled as his biggest achievement!

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