The politician who has come a long way, from being a one-time vegetable vendor to one of the most powerful politicians in the state, is in big trouble today, says Neeta Kolhatkar.
Chhagan Bhujbal, the former Maharashtra deputy chief minister, was always controversy's child. As he has grown in stature, he has regularly fallen and risen like a phoenix.
However, this time, things may have got too murky for Bhujbal to come out unscathed. The Maharashtra Sadan scam, the Kalina library land case and misappropriation of funds and misuse of property in the Mumbai Educational Trust case together may prove too much for the feisty OBC leader to battle. He will also have to answer for alleged kickbacks in the public works department and for amassing several properties. This time the finger points to Bhujbal helping his whole family. The state Anti-Corruption Bureau has even named him in its FIR.
After enjoying a long run in politics, Bhujbal may have been looking forward to spending his evenings listening to his favourite old Hindi film songs. But he now has to clean up the mess created by his family members. A man who got Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray arrested, failed to rein in his son Pankaj and nephew Sameer.
Let me rewind to a few years ago. Bhujbal would then walk around with a muffler wrapped around his neck even in peak summer. His forehead shone too bright, wrinkles began to disappear and hair was jet black. He had gone in for a complete image makeover. Bhujbal's rivals gossiped that he had become filmi and that he had gone under the knife, which was why he needed the muffler.
Rumours soon began to circulate of Bhujbal's nephew Sameer being involved in corrupt deals, and slowly even Pankaj's name cropped up. Earlier, in 2004, Bhujbal had to step down as deputy chief minister and lost his reputation in the multi-crore Abdul Karim Telgi fake stamp paper case. Bhujbal was then told by mentor Sharad Pawar to control his nephew or else Bhujbal's credibility and career both would be ruined. But we all know blood is thicker than water, especially in politics where it has been proven time and again.
Interestingly, the advice from Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party, is ironic. The patronage extended by Pawar Sr to many of its leaders and his family, despite being accused of corruption, led to the Bharatiya Janata Party calling the NCP a "Naturally Corrupt Party" during last year's Lok Sabha election campaign. Bhujbal, like his party leader, ultimately fell victim to political arrogance.
NCP as a party has allowed its leaders to rule independently in their constituencies, to treat them as their own fiefdoms -- Ajit Pawar, Supriya Sule, Sunil Tatkare, Chhagan Bhujbal to name just a few. They were taught a harsh lesson in the last two elections, but these leaders have received far too much patronage from their mentor.
However, the once crafty Pawar could not see his own kin and partymen ruining the party he formed.
When he returned after the Telgi scam, Bhujbal felt a bit blunted, let down by his mentor, and started getting nostalgic. He realised the late Bal Thackeray was the only true leader who understood him. Leaders like Ajit Pawar grew stronger in the NCP and they baited Bhujbal for going soft on the Shiv Sena.
Bhujbal is a lonely man today. He fell out with Uddhav Thackeray and also lost a friend in Raj after the arrest of Thackeray Sr. Bhujbal got immense support from the citizenry, though many from his own party did not support the arrest. It is a known fact that Pawar and Thackeray were friends and Pawar politically helped the Sena and Thackeray.
Pawar undoubtedly supported Bhujbal the last time he was in trouble, but not now. Worse, his rivals within the NCP want him finished. Bhujbal will get no support from the Congress either and worse still, if Pawar cools off, no one will bother bailing him out.
Bhujbal's battle is a lonely and hard one. He underestimated Kirit Somaiya and Anjali Damania and their allegations. Bhujbal took for granted that he could not be touched, but is now on extremely slippery ground.
The politician who has come a long way, from being a one-time vegetable vendor to one of the most powerful politicians in the state, is in big trouble today. There was a time when he was feared in the corridors of power. Shiv Sena leader and former state chief minister Manohar Joshi dreaded the very sight of Bhujbal when he became the leader of the opposition after breaking away from the Sena.
On his way up the political ladder Bhujbal helped many, but after moving to the top he forgot it gets very lonely out there. He really has no true friends. He distanced from Shiv Sainiks after he left the Sena. The rivalries he made because of his failure to rein in his nephew and son have left Bhujbal alone to fight a long and bruising battle. Many want him finished politically. However, Bhujbal has always fought back in the past; will he do it yet again?