Maharashtra: Uddhav Thackeray takes on Adani; Pawar goes to the races

In the months since Adani won the Dharavi redevelopment bid, there has been no clarity on what residents can expect in return for giving up their home-business spaces

Dharavi is among the world's largest slums (photo: Wikipedia)
Dharavi is among the world's largest slums (photo: Wikipedia)

Sujata Anandan

A blank cheque to Adani?

Even before the Eknath Shinde-led government could resolve one agitation, they have created another by their arbitrariness over the Dharavi redevelopment project. The project was awarded to Adani Infrastructure Ltd over a better bid by a Saudi Arabian conglomerate, which has now gone to court against that decision.

In the months since the Adanis won the bid, however, there are no drawings on the board and no clarity on what Dharavi residents can expect in return for surrendering their home-business spaces. Now the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), led by Uddhav Thackeray, has decided to open another flank against Adani.

After Mumbai Congress chief Varsha Gaikwad, who represents Dharavi in the Maharashtra assembly, charged the Adanis with sending gangsters and retired encounter specialists to intimidate residents into vacating, the Shiv Sena (UBT) led a morcha on 15 December directly to Adani’s offices at the Bandra-Kurla Complex, and targeted not just the industrialist but also Narendra Modi and Devendra Fadnavis for giving Adani a ‘blank cheque’ for the project.

Thackeray based the allegation on the fact that there are seven lakh families living in Dharavi, but only 95,000 of them have been held eligible. Demanding that all families, whether eligible or not, be declared beneficiaries of 500 sq ft of redeveloped space each, he described the Dharavi redevelopment as the biggest scam going in the world, given that Gautam Adani has been accorded a TDR (transferable development rights) of one to one (1:1) in return for said redevelopment.

TDR is a system evolved by the Maharashtra government in the 1980s to facilitate the redevelopment of slums, whereby builders get free land for commercial development. The ratio is usually ten to one, meaning for every 1,000 sq ft developed, they can build up to 100 sq ft in expensive areas.

Sharad Pawar
Sharad Pawar
SOPA Images

So, giving Adani a one-to-one TDR does sound impossibly disproportionate and fishy. Moreover, Thackeray has also alleged that the government has issued a general resolution decreeing that if the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) do not clear Adani’s applications for permissions within a week, they would be deemed as cleared.

“Has such a rule been introduced anywhere in the world for any other builder?” Thackeray asked.

With the Adanis unavailable and their consultants clueless, and the MVA determined to stall even a single brick being laid before they have the assurances, it seems that this third attempt at Dharavi’s redevelopment is also headed for oblivion.


‘Who are you calling an old man!’

Sharad Pawar was at the races last week — the bullock cart races. These races routinely take place during winter in the rural heartland of Maharashtra. It takes a hardy physique and stout heart to sit through them as there are no race tracks or barricades. Bullocks, if they take it into their heads, can just run amok amidst the spectators — all you can do is run to the fences and jump over the barbed wire to save your skin. Provided you don’t get crushed in the stampede before you make the fence.

This did not deter Pawar, who decided he had a point to make. Namely, he can take on the best of them (read youngsters in general and nephew Ajit Pawar in particular), and is afraid of neither bull nor bullock nor any political rival. Even as people were wondering what a man of his age was doing among the young and strong bullock-cart racers, he sat right through the cold winter morning and warm afternoon sun.

“I can send the best of them home and make them sit down forever, so don’t call me old. I am still young enough to enjoy a rural sport such as this and nothing can stop me.”

Not even his age, apparently.


Storm-trooping for his boss

Was it just a coincidence that while Pawar senior was obliquely taking on his nephew at the above-mentioned races (which Pawar junior considers too juvenile for his liking), his stormtrooper and right-hand man, former minister Jitendra Awhad, was openly targeting Ajit in the assembly last week?

It was a two-pronged attack on the deputy chief minister. Awhad first went personal by charging Ajit with not allowing anyone else to grow in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), cornering all the plum party and government posts for himself.

He cited the incident of Ajit wanting to make Awhad the leader of the opposition in the state assembly as he had signatures of support from 40 NCP MLAs. Ajit had barely had a dozen, claimed Awhad, and he wrested that job only because he subjected his uncle to emotional blackmail.

Jitendra Awhad (right) with NCP leader Manoj Pradhan (photo: @Awhadspeaks/X)
Jitendra Awhad (right) with NCP leader Manoj Pradhan (photo: @Awhadspeaks/X)

While that may have been personal pique, Awhad found more resonance among other MVA MLAs when he charged Ajit with denying them development funds for their constituencies. These funds, he said, were going only to ruling party MLAs — and this was something that even Eknath Shinde’s MLAs did not disagree with.

Because one of the reasons for the Sena split was that Ajit had choked up their funds too when they were in government and Thackeray as CM was unable to do anything about it. “It is our Constitutional right, it is not his personal money and we should have it,” said Awhad, holding out the threat of an agitation if the funds were not released forthwith.

Awhad is credited with single-handedly keeping the NCP secular, liberal and allied with the Congress. There had been pressure on the NCP chief right from 2014, from the likes of party colleague Praful Patel and others, to ally with the BJP long before that party began its series of agency raids on political rivals.

However, Pawar kept his counsel and resisted those pressures, saying nothing until the party executive meet where Awhad came to blows with Patel on his insistence that the NCP go saffron. Awhad, of course, could never afford that as he represents the Muslim-dominated Mumbra assembly constituency. After those fisticuffs, Pawar decreed that the NCP would stay secular, upholding Awhad’s concerns over Patel’s.

And why not? Even before Patel had aligned with the NCP, Awhad had been a fierce loyalist and virtually Pawar’s man Friday. Pawar looked upon him as a son.

When Awhad led the charge against the Shiv Sena–BJP alliance which kidnapped a few of the Congress–NCP MLAs ahead of a confidence vote in 2003 and sequestered them at the Matoshree Club run by Raj Thackeray (Bal Thackeray’s nephew), Pawar had literally blown his top. Not because he did not want the government to be saved, but because he feared for Awhad’s life and safety.

“Who is your father here who will come to your aid and bail you out in case of danger?” he asked a startled Awhad. “Vilasrao Deshmukh (then chief minister), Patangrao Kadam (then minister) and a few others all have sons. So why didn’t they risk the lives of those sons by sending them on that raid? You could have been shot or killed at that place and then who would have taken care of your family?”

That was when Awhad, with tears in his eyes, decided he would never abandon his political godfather, come rain or shine. Ever since, he has stood resolutely by Pawar’s side, acting as his personal stormtrooper, even standing in for his ageing leader at Election Commission and Supreme Court hearings deciding on the split in the party. No wonder it is being presumed that it is Pawar speaking through Awhad against his nephew.


Maharashtra: Uddhav Thackeray takes on Adani; Pawar goes to the races

Reading together to build memories

In a post-digital world where smartphones are all the rage, attention spans brief, and video shorts and audio books taking over the world of letters, the Pune International Literary Festival has truly achieved a great feat, entering the Guinness Book of World Records for getting the maximum number of parents and children to read together.

The last such record that made the Guinness Book was in 2015 when 2,479 parents read to their children at an event organised by the Shenyang McDonald’s restaurant in China.

The Pune lit fest began nearly a decade ago and has grown to be recognised for its emphasis on regional literature as well as international and English language writing in India. This year, they decided to introduce youngsters to the reading habit.

A record-breaking 3,066 parents and kids came together for a synchronised reading of the Marathi title Nisargacha Nash Karu Naka (do not destroy nature) by Kshipra Shahane. A two-fold attempt to inculcate reading among children and simultaneously teach them about the importance of nature and the environment, both of which are all too easily dismissed these days.

The participants, however, said they were less thrilled about getting their numbers into the Guinness Book than about building a tradition of shared stories and creating lasting memories with their families and children.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines