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The Ajit Pawar bomb: Will it explode or fizzle out?

September 26, 2012 11:34 IST
A swift move by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Ajit Pawar's resignation could have thrown the too-clever NCP into utter confusion and secured a belaboured Congress an opportunity to come out smelling of roses, says Mahesh Vijapurkar

The acres of newsprint and hours of television time devoted to Ajit Pawar's resignation as Maharashtra's deputy chief minister has underscored that all politics can, and do, only generate cynicism.

There appears to be a prima facie case, the media reports insisted, that the irrigation department he once headed was scam-ridden, and that he led the scam. Once found out, he should, and did, resign. And it ought to have been accepted, and a new person anointed deputy chief minister.

But is it as simple as that?

The cynicism, apart from the normal moral standards of politics in the country, stems from the various interpretations thrown up by the media and the various possibilities ahead in what appears to be mere one-upmanship than straightening out the abominable aspects of politics.

First thing first: regardless of any games played, the public is unwilling to believe that a politician can be clean. At this point in time in India's history, there is a reluctance to even concede that some could be exceptions.

One would have expected Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to have accepted Pawar's resignation and asked the coalition partner Nationalist Congress Party to nominate another person since the post belonged to that party. He did not.

He needed to dawdle, saying he would need to consult his high command as well as the NCP's. It was he who had smelt a rat in the irrigation department and suggested -- and remains unwavering about it -- a White Paper on it because of the huge expenditure and next to nil addition to the command areas.

That would have been a moral and tactical victory, especially since a scam-ridden Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-II does not know where to run and which fig leaf to use to hide behind. It would have helped the party improve its image, especially because the sacrifice came from a friendly rival, NCP. He appears to have goofed.

Would UPA-II have been put to risk? Hardly, because Sharad Pawar himself keeps saying his team is too small to make a difference.

Chavan seems to have played a mental foxtrot because, after Sharad Pawar, Ajit is decidedly the second strongest politician in the NCP. But image restoration in dire situations need imaginative handling and, sometimes, the simplest of the means is the best because it cuts through a welter of considerations and gets close to the objective.

Asking for a new nominee would have had its own benefits. Chhagan Bhujbal is under a cloud, RR Patil is not seen as being decisive, and the NCP would have been hard put to come up with a new nominee to fill Chavan's chair as deputy. A swift move could have thrown the too-clever NCP into utter confusion and secured a belaboured Congress an opportunity to come out smelling of roses.

Take for one the suggestion that this move is to scare the Congress and its chief minister into desisting from asking for a White Paper. If that were so, the NCP has no perch from where it can moralise and even stand up to the UPA-II.  It strengthens the realisation that in the search for power and its retention, everything and anything is kosher.

That theme can be carried forward because all the ministers have given their resignations to the state party president, Madhukar Pichad, implying something serious that could change the complexion of the Maharashtra government – support from outside by withdrawing from the government.

If the deputy chief minister was firm on clearing his name, he could have agreed to the suggestion for a White Paper and stepped down long ago so that he did not cast his shadow on the process. His hearing of the inner voice -- as perceived, according to media accounts, by his cousin Supriya Sule -- now has been possible only after relentless media exposure.

The other is that all this is an uncle-nephew fight where Ajit Pawar wants to emerge the numero uno in the NCP. But he has already been that and has been one so for long. Being the nephew of the strong man and access to resources due to his position in the government saw him dictating terms in the party. He even had a separate cabin for himself in the state party HQ regardless of who was at the helm.

If, as is made out for long, there is a fight for supremacy between Sharad Pawar and him, and a battle of succession between Ajit Pawar and Sule, then the implication is worse: to the political class, the state they rule, and the resources they command, and the ill-repute they gain by their deeds, perceived or real, is of no consequence when personal issues of ascendance on the political firmament is concerned. Anything is good enough as long personal interests are served.

Yet another interpretation is that this could lead to a vertical split in the NCP. Even Ajit Pawar knows that he swings clout because of the uncle and there are loyalists in the party who would not forsake the man who made them what they are. These loyalties run deep and seem enduring. Superseding the master strategist is not easy. But who knows, even Sharad Pawar could one day meet his match.

True to politics, anything is possible. After, it is the art of the possible.

Mahesh Vijapurkar