In 1991, when Ajit Pawar entered the state assembly from Baramati, all eyes were on this reticent 32-year-old, the youngest member of the Sudhakarrao Naik ministry. Though he was a man of few words, the aura that came with his name was enough for others to sit up and take notice — after all, he was one of the famed Pawars from Baramati.
With equal number of friends and foes, the Pawars have always had a commanding presence in state politics. Their foes may appear few, but only because many of them are secret ones. But in many ways, state politics revolves around the mighty clan.
In 1993, Ajit was not a member of the state cabinet because his uncle was back in the saddle after the March 1993 bomb blasts. But by then, he had become an influential politician. People who failed to meet Pawar Senior would contact him. He never quite acquired the smoothness and diplomacy that is common to politicians. His language was always crude, and his remarks stinging at best. But his colleagues put up with this, believing that he was a good man in spite of the rough edges.
Moreover, he was heir apparent to the Pawar clan, as Supriya was nowhere in sight.
So Pawar Junior was indulged, never rapped on the knuckles for unsavoury statements. No serious attempts were made to change his behaviour and polish it into the kind evinced by his uncle, who, in spite of his scathing wit and shrewdness, always managed to hit the mark with correctly chosen words.
Even after Pawar Senior shifted to New Delhi in 1996, Ajit didn’t really develop, in spite of holding cabinet posts.
Even today, at age 54, with 22 years of experience in state politics under his belt, it is not Ajit but his uncle who calls the shots. His tactlessness has taken his years back. Supriya Sule on the other hand is fast emerging as Pawar Senior’s successor.
Though now associated best with urinary problems, Ajit is also known as a man who starts his day at 6 am, meets people, addresses their grievances, not mincing his words and giving clear answers to their queries and questions. He wields great power over the state bureaucracy — no official summoned by him dares to skip a meeting, even if it is scheduled at 7 am.
He is a popular man, with legions of followers who are not just limited to his home-turf Baramati, or Pune; they have now spread to Vidarbha, Marathwada and the Konkan. It is said that he has a well-devised plan up his sleeve to win 100 seats and has his eyes set on the next elections, even though he will first have to deal with the allegations of a huge scam in the state irrigation sector where Rs 70,000 crore were spent with little to show for.
His supporters say he has all the copies of the sundry proposals submitted by local leaders for increasing the scope of irrigation. Beneficiaries in irrigation sector include leaders from all political parties.
So, what he said on April 6 at a function in a village near Baramati was truly the ‘biggest blunder’ of his life, as admitted by the man himself. Remarks made by him on urination in dams and the fallout of load shedding were unacceptable and unimaginable from a person who has been in state politics for the last 22 years, and more shamefully, is the deputy CM.
With this scandal, Ajit has joined the league of other notorious deputy CMs — Nasikrao Tirpude in 1977-78, Ramrao Adik in 80s, Gopinath Munde between 1995 and 1999, Chhagan Bhujbal from 1999 to 2003, R R Patil between 2004 and 2008 — all their tenures are marked with turbulence.
Ajit’s remarks shocked his uncle so much that even though he was in Mumbai and Pune from April 10, he did not meet anyone, not even his party colleagues. Normally, Pawar spends a day or two of every week in Mumbai and summons his party colleagues to discuss various issues. It was only on Saturday that he came publicly reacted to the matter.
Pawar Senior indirectly clarified every aspect of the issue — the farmer was demanding release of water from Ujani dam, where storage is almost nil. And the stored water that is available in upstream projects of Ujani is meant for farmers who have parted with their land for the project.
He added that the farmers were all part of the Baramati constituency. What Ajit had said in a crass, unacceptable manner was explained by his uncle with tact and logic. He said that he would not desert the Baramati farmers till his last breath, as they have parted with 27,000 acres of land for the Ujani project.
Ajit had much to learn from his uncle.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY