How many cows come for Rs 100 crore?

Sometime during the 1990s, Sharad Pawar was caught in a situation where he just could not get it right.

There were talks about his links with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim; he had either knowingly or inadvertently carried two notified criminals in his official aircraft from New Delhi to Bombay when he was union defence minister. He was supposed to have set off the 1991-92 Bombay riots to settle scores with then chief minister Sudhakarrao Naik and he was alleged to have huge sums of money, which he had sent abroad through the havala network.

Now, except for the fact of those two criminals travelling in his aircraft and that he had asked for mercy towards two other criminals – Pappu Kalani and Hitendra Thakur, then Congress MLAs in the Maharashtra legislature, a fact recounted to us by Naik who said he had received Pawar’s call himself – there was no piece of document to prove any of the other allegations floating around with relation to the Maratha warlord.

Many of us then believed that he had had a hand in the riots but then as the Justice Srikrishna Commission probed those riots, a letter from Naik surfaced in the records – thanking Pawar for sending out the Army. Justice Srikrishna was furious because Naik, in his deposition, had told the good judge that despite his appeals, Pawar had done little to help him curb the riots.

As expected, Justice Srikrishna gave Pawar a clean chit. So a miffed Shiv Sena, which had succeeded the Congress in government by the time his report was published, in its own `Action Taken Report’ continued to insist that Pawar had been culpable during the riots. Pawar was furious. So then chief minister Manohar Joshi called him up to apologize.

“I had to say it in the House because my leader insisted. But I know you were not involved,” he told Pawar.

“This is not right,” Pawar grumbled to reporters a day after.

“You cannot say one thing to me in private and another thing to the public.”

That soured relations between Bal Thackeray and Joshi in such a fashion that they still have not got back on an even keel.

But there was little Pawar could do to get rid of the other allegations that were mostly in the air without any basing on the ground. Then two newspapers and a magazine ran a lengthy story about how the Vora Committee report had named Pawar as having indulged in several havala transactions over the years. They even named him the havala dealer.

This is the opportunity that Pawar was waiting for – he sued all the three publications (one national newspaper, one Marathi newspaper and a national magazine), for Rs 100 crore each.

Soon after, when I visited Pawar’s official residence, I found the visiting cards of the top guns of these publications lying on his receptionist’s table.

“They were all here one by one,” said Pawar’s secretary. “But Saheb refused to meet any of them.”

When I questioned Pawar, he said, “I will get my 100 crore out of each of them and invest every last naya paisa back in Baramati.”

He then told some of us how he had been driven up the wall by rumours that attributed all sorts of unsavoury deals to him.

“But I had nothing to pin them down on. There was no one person I could home in on to bring a suit against him and there was no document that I could prove false. Now that they have put these allegations in black and white, I finally have the chance to go to court and get justice.”

Not surprisingly, the documents on which the story was based were proved to be false – they were a doctored photocopy of the original report that were being hawked by Pawar’s rivals to journalists in Bombay for months. But knowing the rivalries no newspaper in Bombay gave them a second thought. The Delhi publications, though, bought them hook, line and sinker. Of course, soon they knew they would lose the case, so they publicly apologized. Pawar withdrew his case against them and there has been little rumour in that direction ever since.

Now something similar seems to be happening to him vis-à-vis his alleged interests in DB Realty, the Shahid Balwa firm that seems to be involved in the 2G scam. Lobbyist Niira Radia has done to Pawar exactly what his detractors had been doing to him in the Nineties – passing off gossip as facts without basing them on some concrete evidence and documentation. He, of course, cannot go to Court on the flimsy allegations but I noticed, for once, he was very active denying the allegations.

The lines to Pawar are being drawn essentially because of the share holding of the Dynamix group in DB Realty. Dynamix is a brand name promoted by Pawar – it has vast dairy interests in his home turf of Baramati (in fact outside of Amul and Mother Dairy you cannot get any dairy product that is not sourced from Dynamix) but I do not believe that Pawar has little connection with at least the dairy arm of the company.

As Pawar says it, the dairy is an enterprise set up by private industrialists and he has known the senior Goenka for 35 years, whose son is now a partner with Balwa in DB Realty. But whether Pawar has interests in the realty group or not, the Dynamix Dairy operations have not happened without his active involvement and encouragement, even if he might not have any shares in the company on the record. The Dynamix Dairy operations is an enterprise that Pawar is justifiably proud of and it is linked to his electoral prospects in Baramati – almost every family has benefited from it; the company provided jobs to at least one member from each family and they all vote blindly for Pawar or his daughter, come elections.

This, then, is another rumour/conjecture that is set to drive him up the wall again. But, like with the havala rumour, he should welcome it. For, if the Central Bureau of Investigation legitimizes Radia’s non-evidential allegations, Pawar can then hope to get several times more than just the Rs 100 crore of the last decade out of Radia.

How many cows would that buy for Baramati, I wonder?

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