The most persistent of all myths in recent years has been the Opposition party in the Maharashtra assembly. Ajit Pawar rules there like king while his uncle, the senior Pawar, wields the whip on the NCP MLAs. What is going on?
Public figures in Maharashtra are known for their colourful language and in the case of some this becomes rather venomous. There is an amused tolerance of all this which seems to be extending to Ajit Pawar specially in his own party.
The government says this year’s drought is the worst it has seen since 1972. Yet when deputy chief minister and leader of the coalition partner Ajit Pawar makes ribald remarks about the state’s water crisis and the power shortage, the response is rather muted.
The Shiv Sena, not known for its even temperament nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or for that matter the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), have half heartedly asked for his resignation. The MNS and Sena at least protested and at one of the protests, a young schoolboy urinated on Ajit Pawar’s photo which the MNS chief Raj Thackeray took exception to.
Most business in the state legislature was suspended for three days this week as the Opposition tried to create a ruckus and adjourn it but, somewhere, there seems to be lack of seriousness and purpose. Would another person, other than Ajit Pawar, have got away with his remarks? Not likely. Mani Shankar Aiyar was banned from the state for his remarks on Savarkar and others have been vilified similarly.
Ajit Pawar, a self confessed "tagya", or ruffian, has an aura about him. Few would cross his path and even the silence of his venerable uncle Sharad Pawar, who has in the past apologised for his nephew’s transgressions, is rather deafening. Senior Pawar ticked off home minister R.R. Patil for his poor handling of the home department after repeated blasts in the state at a party meeting but dear Ajit seems to have escaped censure this time.
Sharad Pawar also recently asked writer Laxman Mane, accused of rape, to surrender to the police. Mane is a close associate of Mr. Pawar and runs a school for tribal children.
The day after Ajit’s unfortunate statements, the elder Mr. Pawar apologized on Twitter of all places. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) denied he had a Twitter account. Sharad Pawar chose to go to Baramati via Mumbai again in silence. He did not come before cameras or issue a statement as he had done in the past, saying sorry for his brash nephew’s utterances. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan offered to apologise on behalf of his deputy in the legislature but that was stymied by Ajit Pawar who, it is said, felt insulted by such a move.
A draft report by the NGO Prayas says nearly 2000 million cubic metres of water was diverted to industries and domestic use by a high powered committee, mostly headed by the redoubtable Ajit between 2003 and 2011. Private power companies benefitted the most from these water diversions which an ordinance in 2010 sought to endorse. Private contractors have made it to the legislative council supported both by the BJP and the NCP.
One wonders if this mythical Opposition in Maharashtra really exists. Ajit is also drawing on right wing leaders and inducting them into the NCP and creating a sub-centre of power. A senior Congress leader remarked that no one can act against Ajit because he has acquired the status of an independent power centre. Is the man accountable to no one at all? How can a person in a so-called democracy assume such totalitarian powers?
Now, Ajit Pawar says he will resign if his MLAs desire him to do so. Which NCP MLA in his right mind would openly wage a war against this leader? Even those opposed to him would rather stay mum. Last September when he resigned, all the NCP MLAs resigned in a rather token fashion to express solidarity but no sooner had the elder Pawar cracked the whip than they all rushed back to work with great relief.
Ajit Pawar’s quitting last year, in a bid to ensure the White Paper on irrigation was brought out with no pressure from his side, was a farce. He came back into the cabinet three months later after the White Paper was released, saying he was unstained by corruption. In reality the White Paper was a whitewash and other than providing a roster of delayed irrigation projects in the state, it gave no insight into the enormous corruption and siphoning of funds from irrigation projects.
Then the state appointed a special investigation team headed by Madhav Chitale, a former bureaucrat, which is not going to look into corruption. Again, the Opposition meekly accepted this and forgot about its demand for a CBI inquiry. There are three or four government appointed committees which have examined the huge corruption in irrigation projects and the lapses... but who cares. These reports were buried without any recognition till recently when some departmental inquiries were ordered.
Ajit Pawar headed the high powered committee which diverted water for industries, private ones at that. His successor Sunil Tatkare who heads the water resources department is alleged to have approved illegal dams around Mumbai, favouring one contractor. The public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal is under a cloud over the construction of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. Tatkare has allegedly amassed huge amounts of land in the Konkan region and also seems to have a fund of shell companies.
Cases are pending in the high court. In the Thane house collapse recently which killed 74 people, an NCP corporator Hira Patil was arrested for accepting bribes from the builders. Even the Shiv Sena would not have such a messy track record in recent times, though its leaders had other serious charges of hate speech against them which were withdrawn.
The NCP seems to be emerging as the new goonda party in Maharashtra and there seems to be no one to stop it in its tracks. With elections on the anvil next year, it’s time for people to really sit up and think whether they want such intemperate leaders who promote private companies at a public cost and seem to have no accountability either to themselves or their electorate to continue in office.
We certainly don’t deserve the people we elect at times.