R R Patil: A grassroots leader loyal to his values

R R Patil (1957 - 2015) enjoyed a rare distinction of being popular among sections of society which, at one point in time, had accused him of underperformance.

R R Patil’s wife and daughter (in green) at the NCP headquarters yesterday. Pic/Atul Kamble
R R Patil’s wife and daughter (in green) at the NCP headquarters yesterday. Pic/Atul Kamble

The leader, who came from an extremely underprivileged background, ensured that he corrected the mistakes of his past and moved on. He achieved what many others in state politics, especially in the NCP and its parent party Congress, failed to accomplish despite having the resources.

Patil, known primarily for banning dance bars in the state, is credited for many other reforms that deserve mention in light of his death, following a prolonged illness. His decisions worked both ways — they put him and NCP in good light and also benefitted their target audience.

A six-time legislator from 1990, he represented the Congress before becoming part of his mentor Sharad Pawar’s NCP in 1999. His first two terms as MLA from Tasgaon, a dusty segment in Sangli district, established him as an orator par excellence. His stint in the opposition had the Shiv Sena-BJP government on its toes.

Political pundits expected him to do the same in his current term when he was named NCP’s group leader, who, if given the seat by the Speaker, would have made him opposition leader in the Assembly. The legislature, which met for an interim session in November, was witness to Patil’s breathtaking speech, though nobody thought it would be his last ever in the lower house.

Grassroots leader
Patil made his mark as a minister for rural development. His experience at the grassroots level garnered popularity for him and his department. His ‘clean village’ scheme had hogged the headlines much before PM Narendra Modi picked up the broom last year. The effect was seen across the state, as villages started competing with each other. Moreover, it won him hearts.

Patil’s next stop was in the home department, which came to him at a challenging juncture his predecessor faced corruption charges, and the NCP, bad press. Later, ignoring the claims of his nephew Ajit, Pawar senior made Patil the deputy chief minister.

Again, Patil focussed on rural regions and introduced a dispute-free village scheme, under which the villages that decreased crime rates were awarded. Patil faced his biggest moment when he banned dance bars in the state because a legislator brought to his notice during a debate that breadwinners spent their money on bar girls and this affected families in a big way.

He faced huge opposition from the rich dance bar lobby, which challenged his decision in court and even threatened to stop ministers’ wives from leaving their homes. Patil’s lowest point came after the 26/11 terror attacks. Saddened by media reports, which quoted him as saying “small things happen in big cities”, he did not wait for being asked to quit.

He put in his papers and left immediately for his village, Anjani. He returned to Mantralaya only when he was made home minister again. He said that rather than the criticism he faced for the police failure, he was bogged down by media coverage of his misconstrued statement.

Patil, an unadulterated rustic, remained loyal to his people and the values he cherished till his death. Sadly, he did not give up his tobacco habit that he had picked up at a very young age, despite frequent warnings by doctors and friends. The habit claimed him at the age of 57.

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