Ajit’s Antics

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The young Pawar’s brash new political blabber is an attempt to drown out rivals

Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar is an inebriated man. Drunk on an excess of power, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader is losing his sense of balance. As the days close in on the 2014 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, the leader is leaving no stone unturned to stay in the limelight and keep the focus on himself. Getting lewder and crasser, he has become a man who has to listen to his own loud voice throughout the day.

His recent comments about drought protestors on hunger strike at Azad Maidan in South Mumbai have left a vile taste in the mouth. Addressing a gathering at a village in Indapur, Pune district, on 6 April, Pawar joked about filling waterless dams with urine. He went a step further to say that due to the scarcity of drinking water, even urine wasn’t flowing. The lewd gestures and loud laughter accompanying his statement have left many fuming.

An apology followed, but there is no remorse where there should have been much. Pawar has headed the state’s irrigation department for over a decade now. The department has become a cesspool of corruption and is run less by bureaucrats than by contractors basking in Pawar’s reflected glory. Some financial irregularities have made it to the headlines, while a majority, sources say, continue to remain under the carpet.

The decade Pawar has spent at its helm has not been good for the department. Crucial projects have fallen way behind on deadlines, and Pawar’s aggression has become his nemesis, as bureaucrats are not too happy with his style of functioning. With more than 15 of its 35 districts affected, Maharashtra is witnessing one of the worst droughts in its history. The last was in 1972. The dead stock of water from major dams, generally reserved for emergencies, is now being utilised, and this will eventually lead to a huge scarcity of potable water. With water tables taking a nose-dive, even tankers have to travel nearly 80-100 km to find water. If they do manage to fill up, the water is sold at much higher prices, making it unaffordable.

Cattle are being abandoned, and there is large-scale migration to states such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and even Kerala. Scarcity of water is not new to many parts of Maharashtra, but this is the first time that cities too are being impacted by its cascading effect.

Had Pawar concentrated more on his ministry and less on power games, dam construction projects might have met their completion deadlines. Experts say the present situation is a consequence of the absence of a sustained irrigation network and lack of seriousness about putting it in place.

Even the state’s power ministry, also headed by Pawar, is in bad shape. Though zero power outages and low-cost electricity were important election promises in the NCP manifesto, Pawar has been unable to deliver on either. He now blames the water scarcity for power outages.

Pawar is a man on a mission. His single focus is to see himself as Chief Minister. Nothing else seems to matter. He is not starved of power, he is obsessed with it.

Following the anointment of his cousin Supriya Sule as political heir to his uncle, a position the younger Pawar had his eye on, his personality changed. Keen to step out of the giant shadow of his uncle, the younger Pawar chose aggression as his closest buddy. If Sharad Pawar’s political manoeuvring was done quietly, Ajit chose to make a noise about all that he did.

From a shadow worker, he has become an aggressive, self-proclaimed leader of a pack whose loyalties still lie at his uncle’s doorstep. As leader of the NCP, Ajit has cut away all those who grew in political stature under his uncle’s tutelage.

With political circles within and beyond the NCP buzzing with the possibility of the soft-spoken Sule becoming the state’s first woman Chief Minister—in the event that the NCP wins more seats than the Congress in next year’s Assembly polls—Ajit’s determination to do away with his uncle’s hold on the state has only increased. His loud-mouthed posturing is an attempt to keep his uncle away from Maharashtra politics.

Ajit knows that lewdness is a big crowd puller. It is a tried and tested formula, indulged to the fullest measure by the late Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. Ajit seems to have taken a leaf out of Thackeray’s book and chosen crassness as his political companion. It looks like Ajit and MNS Chief Raj Thackeray are vying for the same political space vacated by Thackeray. It is a well chosen move, aimed at distancing himself from comparisons with his uncle. He will do it again. Being a loudmouth got him more eyeballs and ears than his earlier restrained personality did.