From Baramati to Delhi Sharad Pawar’s Political Journey
Now seventy-five-year-old Sharad Pawar recounts in direct, unembellished prose, his years in Indian politics in “On My Terms’’. It is an account well-worth reading by RA Layman , a practicing, a retired and extinguished politician, for it gives great insights into our politics. And who could give it better than one of our most accomplished politician, Sharad Pawar.
Growing up in the Baramati district of Maharashtra and studying law at Pune University, his Oxford, as he says, Pawar had a good grounding in politics. Pune University then was an academic centre of Leftist politics and in some ways a rival to Bombay University. He was somewhat of a Leftist, but that poitical disposition fitted well with Nehruvian politics of the time. But his political leanings did not come in the way of his understanding of the unseemly politics of Maharashtra’s sugar belt.
Luck or fortuna, as Machievelli called it and hard work rewarded him well. At 32, he became the Chief Minister of Mahrashtra, the youngest in state’s history. It is worth mentioning here the intellectual influence a profound scholar came to have on him: Laxman Shastri Joshi. Joshi stood squarely to the right of the Nehruvian Left (Mahlanobis and the whose ilk that later brought Emergency). Thanks to Shastri, Pawar came to respect the institutions of democracy. When he saw their destruction at the hands of Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay, he opposed them. But, and this is large blot in his poiitical career, that his opposition to Emergency was too feeble to be noticed by anyone of influene. Had Morarji Desai, than in Indira’s prision, come to know of it, he would have been greatly strengthened morally. He opposed the Emergency but backed out of the move to go any further than a mild protest because his Guru YB Chavan opposed any stronger opposition to Indira and Sanjay.
Along with Jag Jivan Ram, Chavan was the most senior and influential politician, but both served the Emergeny regime. Later both opposed it, but only after Indira Gandhi was squarely defeated in the 1977 election. Now that this terrible event is once again discussed in our politics, Pawar’s account of it sheds some light on it. But one cannot escape the sad conclusion that the Congress Party as an institution that had no strength to oppose the destruction of democracy. Nor for that matter the press, academia, the judiciary or the business. When we loudly boast to ourselves the strength of our democracy, we should also remember how effete it was at one time.
Under Indira Gandhi’s successors, Rajiv Gandhi and his wife (she was in effect the most important person in the Congress Party after Rajiv’s assassination in 1990) Pawar suffered at her hands. There was a section in the party that wanted him to be the PM following
Indira Gandhi’s assassination in1984 and more strongly after Rajiv;s assassination in 1990. Reading his account of the time I get the impression that he was too timid or too awed by the post of PM. He did not make a bold bid for it.
In fact, it is now known that Rajiv wanted to even undermine his hold in Maharashtra. And Sonia Gandhi was hostile to him all throughout the nineties and again in the years in which Congress was in power from 2004 to 2014. Finally, frustrated and humiliated by her and herchamchas like Arjun Singh, Pawar formed the National Congress Party(NCP) in 1999.
On My Terms: From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power
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Pages : 312
Partly the humiliation he felt at the hands of Rajiv and his wife was something he invited upon himself. He was timid to assert himself against the heirs of Indira Gandhi. Like his mentor, YB Chavan, he too suffered their arrogance. He was a conservative politician in the sense that he opted for change too slowly and with excessive caution.
An example would amply illustrate Pawar’s braoad inclination in politics. He was a friend of a Muslim intellectual and activist, Hamid Dalwai, and Dalwai was one of those courageous and assertive Muslim intellectual who wanted sharp and sweeping reforms of Muslim personal law and in general a rapid modernisation of Indian Muslims. But the advice Pawa r gave to Dalwai was to concentrate on Muslim education and welfare rarher than radical reforms of the Muslim personal law. Where a sharp surgery was needed, Pawar advised putting on a band aid.
I recount this incident, for I and some others were involved with Dalwai’s agenda of the reform of the Muslim community, With this mindset, no real reforms can take place. And the dictates of vote bank politics would make Congress go for the preservation of status quo rather than change. The Shah Bano case amply showed that Congress preferred the continuance of Muslim orthodoxy and not the modernisation of the Muslims.
There is side to Pawar, not too well known to the public. He was a person of great aesthetic taste. Bhim Sen Joshi, MF Hussein, play-wright Tendulakar, many among the Bombay art world, were his friends. Ratan Tata, Rahul Bajaj, Kirloskar, Feroz Masani (an innovative
agricultural specialist) were people whom he frequently interacted with on economic issues.
Reading this candid account of a politician of his years in power gives a great insights into the workings of our democracy. Here is a man of skill, energy and of course ambition who, after achieving the highest public position in Maharastra, Chief Ministership, moves to Delhi. Of course, he wanted to be the PM and here he failed. The biggest obstacle in his path was the dynasty. Indira Gandhi whom Pawar served believed that only a member of the dynasty can be the PM. Did Pawar realise this in his years in Delhi? She nearly placed her son, a petty criminal Sanjay in that post. Pawar like his mentor YB Chavan failed to understand the deeper currents in our politics that make possible the hold of the dynasty in our country.
Pawar’s long journey from Baramati was not a waste. His travails should guide other leaders from our vast country who seek power in Delhi. Modi made from Gandhinagar to Delhi. Navin Patnaik, Nitish Kumar and other regional leaders of competence may tread the path Pawar trod.
By Bharat Wariavwalla