Off with his head? Hardly
Times of India
At long last we have an Indian Marie Antoinette. The Bourbon queen before the French Revolution of 1789 began to dislocate royal heads from their shoulders , imperiously asked citizens hungry for common bread to eat cake instead. Ajit Pawar's recipe for Maharashtra's farmers suffering from the worst drought in decades is not quite as delicious, but it has already earned pride of place in the political thesaurus of memorable insults. There is nothing like bodily fluids to stoke conversation in a thirsty teashop.
Ajit Pawar is no fool; far from it. Why would he taunt stricken farmers who have loyally voted for his party with an analogy one would be loath to suggest in the privacy of a drawing room? No one in his senses tells a public rally, not to mention subsequent multitudes on media, that he can do little about falling water levels in dams since peeing into them won't help.
This sort of intemperate outburst speaks of some deep frustration. What made Ajit Pawar stupid on such an epic scale? As he pointed out, rationally , he could not be blamed for dry skies; he is merely deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, not deputy chief god of Heaven. The reason for this rant lies elsewhere: guilt.
Over the last decade, Ajit Pawar has ripped through a cumulative fund of Rs 70,000 crore - yes, you read the figure right - meant for irrigation projects designed to protect the state's farmers from such vagaries of nature as drought. Much of this money disappeared in the usual dark hole through which cash is siphoned off: project cost escalation. The water saved through the dams that were built did not reach farmers. It was diverted to industries.
This manipulation became news when Pawar's own chief minister Prithviraj Chauhan asked a simple question: what happened? Those with fewer constraints than the CM accused Pawar of corruption. Ajit Pawar sulked and resigned from government. There was a brief media and political flurry, which soon evaporated. Coalition compulsions, the contemporary justification for fiscal appeasement, enabled Ajit Pawar to return to his old office. Story over.
Or not quite. You never know when anxiety, lurking in some shadow of the subconscious, is going to leap up and distort your tongue. The deepest wounds in politics are self-inflicted . When Pawar addressed that rally, he must have seen votes being lost on the face of his audience. Then he lost it.
The pundits of Mumbai are already doing long division on their calculators to assess the political cost of Ajit Pawar's urine therapy. One measure of the damage can be gauged from the flurry of apologies. Ajit Pawar did not actually hold his ears, put on a dunce cap and stand in the corner, but he did ruefully admit that this was the biggest blunder of his career. Contrition rarely compensates fully for injury; Pawar's impulsive snarl was thought, regret was very much an afterthought. His dilemma is compounded by the fact that the shadow of this drought falls across party strongholds. Almost 75% of uncle and patriarch Sharad Pawar's constituency , Madha, is affected and there is already talk of destitution suicides. Insensitivity in times of distress is not easily erased from voter memory.
The conventional analysis was, till recently, that even if Congress suffered because of rising prices and corruption in the next general election, Sharad Pawar would minimise his own accountability by some nimble footwork. That certainty has been punctured. It is not beyond repair, but Pawar will require a very long needle and some strong yarn to stitch this one back into shape.
Sharad Pawar does not slip easily in Maharashtra . He has worked hard in his state and been astute in Delhi politics, sliding alongside BJP when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister and standing solidly by Dr Manmohan Singh when fortunes shifted. Parties come and go; Sharad Pawar stays in power forever, thanks to his fine nose, which can smell the wind from afar. But when you have been too long in office you can miss something far closer, the straw piling up, strand by strand, on the camel's back. An insult can so easily become the last straw.
The French Revolution, like any historic occurrence , offers more than one instructive anecdote. Marie Antoinette's husband, Louis XVI, who lost his mind long before he lost his head to the guillotine , heard the mobs in July 1789, when Paris stormed the Bastille prison, and asked his courtier Francois Alexander Frederic, duke of Liancourt and grandmaster of the wardrobe, "So what is it? A riot?" The duke replied, doubtless in silken tones, "No sire, it is a revolution." But Louis' diary entry for July 14, the day Paris changed the world, consisted of just one word: "Nothing." The heights of power are not always the best perch for a cool look when anger is sweeping past your door.