Fifty-two years in electoral politics with multiple allegations of scams but not a shred of violence against Sharad Pawar.
The last time anyone formally accused the Maratha strongman of a criminal activity was when two newspapers, one English, the other Marathi and a magazine, front paged a report accusing Pawar of, yes, money laundering through hawala transactions.
He sued them all for Rs 100 Crore. With no documented evidence to present in their defence, the media houses went down on their knees to Pawar, asking him to withdraw the case. He did - after they published front page apologies acknowledging their mistake and rather humiliatingly admitting they had based their reports on a doctored report- that too a photo copy, of a government committee report with little substantiation of the allegations.
More than two decades later, the Enforcement Directorate seems to have bitten off more than it could chew vis-à-vis Pawar. It lodged an FIR against Pawar and 70 others, including his nephew Ajit Pawar, accusing them of, yes, money laundering again by allegedly misusing their authority at the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank to disburse Rs 25,000 crore worth of loans to various people without collateral.
The bank may well have been disbursing unsecured loans but Pawar was never its director or even an ordinary member on the board.
Naming him in the FIR barely a month before Maharashtra goes to polls reeks of political vendetta after this Government which has been routinely misusing central agencies against opposition leaders found it could not break Pawar’s spirit despite having lured away most of its stalwarts toward the BJP.
Undeterred, Pawar embarked on a yatra across Maharashtra and was drawing substantial crowds at his meetings. But if Pawar was earlier playing the victim card on his own, he now no longer needs to do so – people across districts have been galvanised into action even as Pawar decided to pay a visit to the ED offices on Friday, September 27 voluntarily without a summon, to apprise the authorities of the facts of the case.
It almost caused a law and order situation in Mumbai with the authorities using drones to determine how many NCP workers had flooded the streets. The ED wrote an email to Pawar in the morning pleading with him not to come to their office and threatening to block his entry if he did.
To make it doubly sure, Mumbai’s Police Commissioner accompanied by other top cops paid him a personal visit at his residence to caution him about the law and order situation on the streets.
Pawar called off his visit but it was a great lesson for the ruling dispensation which has ended up re-energising an almost comatose election wherein all the cards were stacked in favour of the BJP.
Pawar now has an issue to fight for – Maratha pride versus Delhi dispensation. He is a ‘mard Maratha ‘ he said and Marathas, like Chhatraoati Shivaji , do not bow to the powers in Delhi.
In the past years, many Marathas had shifted allegiance away from the Congress and NCP but how the needless fingering of a fellow Maratha could result in a rethink.
With both Congress (Rahul Gandhi tweeted in support of Pawar, accusing the BJP of political opportunism ahead of the Maharashtra polls) and the Shiv Sena rushing to Pawar’s support, the ED action has opened up the chasm between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis again, which could lead to a realignment of voters , including those belonging to Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, with many of their votes being transferred to the Congress -NCP alliance .
Barely a month ago as many NCP stalwarts joined the BJP days ahead of the elections, BJP's Amit Shah had gloated that by the time the polls came around the Congress and NCP would be left with just two leaders- Prithviraj Chavan and Sharad Pawar respectively.
Critics had presumed despite being in government for over five years the BJP had been unable to dig up any dirt against the duo. But Pawars’ blow-hot-blow-cold attitude towards Narendra Modi and the latter’s earlier statement that Pawar had hand held him through his early years in politics had created doubts in the minds of people about Pawar's leanings and inclinations.
But now declaring himself as an inheritor of the legacy of Shivaji, who never bowed before the Delhi kings, Pawar has positioned Modi as Auangzeb and brought into play Maratha pride that has the potential of igniting the masses and consolidating them behind Pawar once again.
The BJP might have good cause to regret giving Pawar a new lease of life just ahead of polls in Maharashtra.