Getting too big for your boots

I wish I could see the smile on the face of Vilasrao Deshmukh. He had wanted to be Maharashtra’s Chief Minister for the third time desperately but I am sure he is now counting his job as Union Minister in charge of Public Enterprises as a blessing in disguise. For it now, finally, gives him the chance to get even – with Suresh Kalmadi.

There is something like getting too big for your boots and clearly that’s what’s happened to Kalmadi. Quite apart from all that goes with the Commonwealth Games scam, Kalmadi has always wanted to call the shots in the Maharashtra government and it was Deshmukh who put paid to his interference in the state’s affairs. Some tit for tat has been happening between the two ever since.

Kalmadi began life as Sharad Pawar’s protégé at a time when Pawar was merely a regional chieftain. I recall, in the late Eighties, Pawar could speak nothing but Marathi and was extremely awkward while dealing with leaders in New Delhi. He desperately needed someone with the savvy and English speaking skills of Kalmadi and the latter got used to being the go-between for Pawar.

I remember Deshmukh telling me during his first term as Chief Minister, “Kalmadi wants me to make him my go-between with Delhi, too. But why should I? That’s an insult to me. I can speak English and Hindi as well as I do Marathi and I have good relations with all my leaders in Delhi. I can deal with them on my own terms. I do not need anyone to liaison for me .’’

Deshmukh said Kalmadi wanted him to drive straight from the airport to his (kalmadi’s) house in New Delhi whenever he visited the national capital and discuss everything with him beforehand. I believe, the first time, Deshmukh got taken in and did agree to visit Kalmadi’s home before he met any other leaders in the capital. But he was shocked to discover that under the guise of just a one-to-one chat with Deshmukh, Kalmadi had invited a whole load of power brokers and unsavoury elements to a “tea party with the Maharashtra CM’’. Deshmukh was livid. Within five minutes, he pretended to visit the toilet and exited Kalmadi’s home from the back door, never again to allow the Pune MP to influence his decisions or movements in any way.

Kalmadi never forgave Deshmukh for that. And, I believe, Deshmukh holds him personally responsible for souring his relations with several of New delhi’s leaders at the time that then led to his exit in 2003, for no visible rhyme or reason.

But Deshmukh was always his own man and soon he learnt how to combat middle men like Kalmadi. During his second term he made sure all the Delhi Congress bigwigs knew he spoke for himself and that messages and dealings to and fro were direct between both sides. Kalmadi was duly cut down to size. Deshmukh’s second exit was no one’s fault really, owing only to 26/11 and its aftermath.

But Deshmukh has been smarting all along at being denied a complete term in government – he is the only Congress chief minister to have been n denied that privilege twice. And while the second time was just unfortunate, he has never forgiven Kalmadi for his shenanigans during the first.

So I believe no one might be happier in New Delhi today than Deshmukh at what has befallen Suresh Kalmadi. But quite apart from Kalmadi’s humiliation at not only being exposed in the scams but also having his wings clipped by the Prime Minister, Deshmukh, I can say without a doubt, would be a very satisfied man today because he also has some powers over Kalmadi now to show him who’s the boss – he took his time about it but asking public sector units to withhold the promised funds to the Commonwealth Games would have given him the greatest pleasure. And that action does not seem like a tit for tat either — after all in view of the allegations of massive misappropriation of funds, it is the duty of the minister to safeguard the interests of the PSUs and make sure their money is not used for all the wrong purposes.

I wonder if Deshmukh will be arm-twisted by his senior leaders to reverse that decision but in view of the massive scam, I do not think that is likely. Without that money, though, I wonder then if the Commonwealth Games would suffer or how successful they would be.

There are two people, thenm who would be very happy if the CWG fell flat on its face: Mani Shankar Aiyar – whose unceremonious exit too was engineered by Kalmadi and, of course, Vilasrao Deshmukh, even if he will never be as outspoken as Aiyar in expressing glee at Kalmadi’s downfall.

Kalmadi, I think, really did get too big for his boots. And so got, well, booted out.

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