Giddy, giddy, gander!

It would have happened sooner rather than later. But Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party was prepared for this one.

Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, Eknath Khadse of the Bharatiya Janata Party, could well be excused for his giddy-headedness in believing that he was scoring off the Congress-NCP government – after all, Pawar has still not lived down carrying two notified criminals in his official aircraft from New Delhi to Bombay while he was the Union Defence Minister the Nineties.

Now Khadse was telling the world that Pawar, Praful Patel, Shashank Manohar, Jayant Patil (all Pawar acolytes), Dilip Deshmukh (brother of Union Rural Development Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh) and a lot more others had travelled in Shahid Balwa’s (of 2G scam fame) aircraft, to Dubai, Pune, Nanded and other places over the past years. He sought to establish a direct link, then, between Pawar and Balwa.

But the NCP clearly saw it coming: minutes after Maharashtra’s Home Minister R R Patil said in the Assembly that a lot of Shiv Sena and BJP leaders, too, had been sort of taken for a ride by Balwa, Pawar’s Man Friday, Jeetendra Awhad, was out with the names. These included the opposition galaxy in Maharashtra: Nitin Gadkari, Gopinath Munde, Uddhav Thackeray, to name a few.

I wonder what took so long for Khadse to join the dots. Ever since Balwa’s relation to the brand name `Dynamix’ was in the public domain, I knew it would soon beat a path to Pawar’s doorstep. And I also knew that Pawar would by then have done enough to either cover his tracks (if he had anything to hide) or to malign his opponents (if he thought he could get away with it).

Obviously, he has now opted for the latter. He has done it before with some success and the BJP’s Gopinath Munde should know. In the early Nineties, when Munde was being described as the best opposition leader Maharashtra had ever had — for going hammer and tongs at Pawar, then among the most powerful chief Ministers in the country — Pawar very cleverly released some information about a particular student, four years of age, admitted to one of his schools in Baramati. The child’s middle name was Gopinath and his surname was Munde – that is how most children write their full names in Maharashtra (when a girl marries, her middle name changes to her husband’s first name).

No sooner than people had connected the dots to realise that the boy’s mother was Barkha, the most beautiful tamasha dancer in Maharashtra, than the Pawar camp released some photos of the Maratha warlord with Barkha and we had Pawar himself saying, “Her dance academy is in my constituency. I might have attended some of her events. There might be some pictures of her with me, also.’’

But by then people were paying little attention to Pawar’s trysts with Barkha. It was her son’s parentage that they were more interested in (she had to late change the child’s surname to her own) and the much-married Gopinath Munde was left, literally, holding the baby.

It remains to be seen how Khadse now explains why his own top leaders were flying in Balwa’s aircraft – at least Pawar had ownership rights. Dynamix is a brand name nurtured with great care and diligence by Pawar over the years. Of course, he has no visible public interests in the company but it is this brand name that packages everything from milk to cheese to butter to ghee to fruit juices, iced teas and yogurts – and the milk (or purified, distilled water) for it all comes from Baramati, Pawar’s constituency. So does the equipment and the machinery. Most big malls, small-time grocery stores as well as food bazaars across the country are now stocking indigenous products under their own names but produced and packed by the Dynamix Dairy — as are multinational corporations, like Nestle and Britannia — making Dynamix the largest food brand outside of Amul and Mother Dairy. Even the `Sach’ brands of milk and toothpastes, borrowing from the Sachin Tendulkar brand, are packed and marketed by Dynamix and there is no escaping Pawar’s handprint on all of them.

So I would suggest that while the Eon Air aircraft might have been technically registered to Balwa, Pawar had full rights to make use of it at any time. However, I would like to know why Uddhav, Gadkari or Munde were also making free of the aircraft if it was really so tainted – or was it that they were in behind-the-scenes arrangements with Sharad Pawar to make use of it whenever they wished? To what motives?

Whatever the secrets behind that, I must say that because this was the NCP and Sharad Pawar, the BJP had the tables turned on it within minutes. Had it been left to the Congress, it would have gone about it in its own woolly-headed way and would have had no clue either about its leaders on that aircraft or that of the opposition making as much use of it as their own.

Just look at the Wikileaks imbroglio and you will know what I mean: if those cables were somewhat damaging to the Congress, they were even more damaging to the BJP, leaving it completely nude and running for cover. Critics like me always knew it but now it is out in the open: BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar and other BJP leaders telling American diplomats that they were not really against the nuclear deal, that they were publicly opposing it only to score easy political points against the Congress. But then what Leader of the Oppostiion in the Rajya sabha, Arun Jaitley, told them confirms (and is consistent with) what Dr Murli Manohar Joshi told some reporters in Bombay several years ago (read my earlier blog, `So who really believes in Hindutva’, August 21, 2009): that Hindutva is only some opportunism for the BJP. It will never go away because it helps them score brownie points with the people but they are not overly concerned with it either.

I thought the Congress should have gone for the BJP’s jugular on this one but the Congress only knows how to warm its seat in government, it has neither the experience of – nor the stomach for — fierce dog fights like various parties in the opposition undertake from time to time.

But not so the NCP. Pawar’s partymen are no longer bound to the Congress and not obliged to suffer in silence like they did when Pawar was being blamed for everything that went wrong with Enron while Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray got away scot-free — with some candies and soft toys gifted by then Enron CEO Rebecca Mark, besides — for doing a deal that was worse for Maharashtra than the one signed by Pawar!

For every arrow from the opposition (including the Congress) Pawar’s men have several more in their quiver for his detractors. Khadse should have drawn lessons from Munde’s earlier experience: if you are accusing Pawar of something, make sure you haven’t washed your hands in the same dirty water! Sauce for the goose, or else they will tell you, will always be the sauce for the gander.

I am eagerly waiting to see, then, how this latest allegation against Pawar plays out!

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