Not a home run, this

Poor RR Patil. Apart from the fact that he has not been having a good week, what with the July 13 serial blasts in Bombay and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan pointing out that decisions regarding law and order are delayed, he is under attack from even his own party men.

Patil was so unnerved by the blasts and his subsequent sidelining by the chief minister that he just failed to seize the initiative when Union home minister P Chidambaram held a press conference the next day; was as tongue-tied when summoned to New Delhi and reprimanded by Sharad Pawar for seeming so ineffective and could say little either when his own party man and predecessor Jayant Patil (who was Maharashtra’s home minister for ten months after 26/11) pointed out that he was indecisive as well  – it was RR Patil who had failed to act on a sanction given by Jayant Patil for the installation of 5000 CCTV cameras across the city, we were told.

Of course, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and his predecessor in the job Chhagan Bhujbal tore into RR’s critics, including the chief minister, for their nasty remarks on the home department. But I am now increasingly beginning to think of RR Patil as Maharashtra’s equivalent of Dr Manmohan Singh – clearly, it is not good enough to be an honest and sincere man in such a high profile job. Much like our beleaguered prime minister, RR is being hoist by the people he should really be able to trust and those who should trust him — by his own party colleagues, in fact.

But though even the chief minister, relatively inexperienced in state politics, may be sincere about doing something to get the law and order machinery in the state up and going, I wonder if anyone at all is able to see what’s really going wrong with Maharashtra.

It is the ambition of one man – Ajit Pawar – that is holding the state to ransom every which way. He has already got half his way by being officially stamped as the deputy and handed the finance department. But now he wants the Home department, too – and it is really he who has started this campaign against his own man. That serves two purposes – it unnerves RR Patil, who is unable to take on the likes of the nephew of his party president and it brings disrepute to the Congress which is ultimately responsible for law and order in the state.

I do not think Prithviraj Chavan has as yet spotted what is afoot but I believe the situation will get no better. Because it suits Sharad Pawar to keep RR in the job and it suits him even better to keep Ajit dissatisfied.

For, a little bird has told me, that Ajit does not give any credence to his more famous uncle anymore and it is as much as Pawar Sr can do to reign in his nephew. He made him the state’s deputy chief minister to prevent a split in his Nationalist Congress Party but it did not take him more than a few months to clip Ajit’s wings by persuading Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to have the board of the apex Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank superceded.

For, Ajit, as its chairperson, was becoming too powerful by far – in a state whose government largely comprises sugar barons and other politicians (including from the Congress) and even the opposition BJP and Shiv Sena who are routinely dependent on the co-operative sector for their finances, Ajit, by holding their purse strings, was also holding their future in his hands and could one day have quite overtaken his uncle in importance in this regard.

It took very little time for Ajit, too, to catch on to what his uncle had done. Not surprisingly, while he had been full of abuse for Mukherjee and Chavan blaming them for conspiring against him, he did not quite dare blame his uncle as openly, I noted.

However, now that he has been divested of any real power he had (though he still holds some purse strings as Maharashtra’s finance minister, that is a job still dependent on the Centre’s largesse) it is another area where Ajit wants supremacy – by having the home department allotted to himself he could be truly the chief minister’s equal and even supercede his uncle in terms of reach and influence.

Knowing Sharad Pawar well, I am sure, the Maratha warlord’s survival instincts are still sharp enough – as evident in his support of arch rival Vilasrao Deshmukh for the post of president of the Mumbai Cricket Association which he can now continue to rule by proxy – not to allow his nephew unfettered power in the state.

But then that also means that much like the war between the two Thackeray cousins – Uddhav and Raj – was destroying the peace and order in the lives of ordinary people in the state, this battle for supremacy between uncle and nephew is now seriously getting in the way of the very existence of the people, literally ending up as a life and death issue for ordinary citizens caught in their cross fire.

How long then will people’s lives be held to ransom by ego battles within our political dynasties?

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