What kept Pawar awake all night

The vulgar display of wealth at recent weddings hosted by members of the political class stirred up a hornet’s nest, both within the state political arena and among the common populace. The lavish weddings at Chiplun, Sangli and Navi Mumbai weren’t first time occurrences. But the timing of the hosts was very bad. In the backdrop of the severe draught prevailing in 13 districts of the state, the weddings were in exceptionally poor taste, and drew much flak.

The three weddings, covered extensively by the media, were all hosted by NCP leaders — a minister of state, a city mayor and a deputy mayor. But the matter would have been consigned to oblivion had it not been for the scathing remarks passed by NCP chief Sharad Pawar. His reaction baffled even his own party men, who remembered that Pawar had stood by his party man, Water Resources minister Sunil Tatkare, when there were allegations that the latter had floated benami companies using names of his family members, to stash his ill-gotten gains.

Pawar’s statement that he couldn’t sleep after watching TV grabs of the lavish affair hosted in Chiplun by his party minister Bhaskar Jadhav kicked up a storm and provided ammunition to media guns, prompting a statewide debate. Pawar is known for his reticence and careful selection of words, even in the most critical times.

People still remember his stoic silence between 1993 and 1995, when demolition man G R Khairnar, Anna Hazare, Bal Thackeray and Gopinath Munde trained their guns on him. But lavish weddings by men in public service are not rare.

In the first week of December, a gala wedding took place at Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune where Congress minister Dr Patangrao Kadam’s son, state youth congress chief Vishwajeet tied the knot with Swapnali, daughter of Avinash Bhosle, arguably the biggest contractor and builder in western Maharashtra. The NCP chief, his nephew and deputy CM Ajit, his daughter Supriya and the entire Pawar clan attended the wedding.

So what was it about the wedding in Chiplun that got Jadhav’s goat? Apart from the fact that Jadhav has invited his wrath for failing to mend fences with his party colleague minister Sunil Tatkare, Pawar was perhaps upset about Jadhav’s timing, which was sure to bring negative publicity to his party. So he quickly distanced himself and his party from the grand affair. It was a well thought out move, as Pawar was obviously worried about the political fallout, there being a strong possibility of general elections being announced in the month of July or August. Some of the districts such as Satara, Sangli, Solapur, Beed, Osmanabad and rural Pune, which have been reeling under drought are strong party bastions. Any failure on part of the government, of which NCP is a coalition partner, may cast of a shadow over the party’s prospects in the elections. Pawar has been making meticulous preparations for the next general elections and is on a mission to win 25 Lok Sabha seats. Of the 25, he wants 15 at least to be held by those from Maharashtra, say sources from the state NCP unit.

With this aim in mind, the 73-year-old leader who has been touring the draught-affected areas for the past few months and guiding his state unit and ministers, knowing well that the draught could prove to be a deciding factor during the coming elections. The drought is linked to the rural economy and the wellbeing of the farming community in districts that are known to be NCP strongholds.

If everything goes as per plan, elections to the Lok Sabha may be announced in August or September and the polling is likely to take place in the months of October and November this year.

At this delicate juncture, any sort of insensitivity, by his party leaders while handling the draught situation may prove costly in the elections and disturb the apple cart. The situation could go from bad to worse if Congress ditches the NCP after winning convincing seats in the Lok Sabha polls. Also, the Congress can go solo if it chooses. The road has been rocky for NCP leaders and ministers in the past few months, with party men finding themselves mired in controversy.

Big names like Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Sunil Tatkare, and more recently Dr Vijaykumar Gavit have been tainted. So Pawar’s famous statement about lying sleepless after seeing visuals of Jadhav’s wedding party may be motivated less by revulsion and more by the intention of reclaiming the wavering allegiance of his party’s supporters.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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