Two farmers are sowing, for a distant harvest

Amid all the loud clucking, as these political birds of prey send fur and feathers flying, the pecking order is decided by who limps out of the ring, first, bloodied nose but cock-a-hoop… and who’s left behind, flailing about, the last of the death throes. In the Congress versus the NCP, as much as B.S. Yeddyurappa versus his own party, who the victor is and who walked away with the spoils isn’t quite clear yet. And it won’t be for some time yet.

What is clear, in the ongoing battle for one-upmanship that we see here in the state as much as in the nation’s capital, where political parties are jostling for space, rapidly shifting to a war footing as polls loom, is that there can be only one winner. Politics is a mug’s game. You control your entry. You rarely control your trajectory. And you simply have no control where you end up.

Look at the man, the nation collectively invested its hopes in —when the original Mrs G died in a hail of bullets — and who was poised to make somewhat of a comeback. He was felled by one deluded suicide bomber. Rajiv Gandhi, smiling and joking one minute. Dead, the next. Not an image one can easily blot out.

And the aftermath… As the nation hunted for a leader, and one Congressman after another pressured the grieving widow to take over the reins, one man, emerged from the backrooms to take a shy at a job that he believed was his for the taking. Until, he too was felled by a whole other kind of bullet.

Sharad Pawar has never given up his unrealised dream of occupying 7 RCR. As plans go, he was thwarted the one time I sat by and watched as he was persuaded to withdraw by certain heavies — unnamed — who claimed they had the goods on him. He made way for Narasimha Rao, plucked out of near-retirement to be the chosen successor. But Pawar’s recent moves in Delhi are of a piece with that pivotal night in June 1991 that only a handful of people were privy to.

This July, 21 years later, one marvels at the fire in his belly; at the continuing hunger for a leadership role not just in his home state where he more or less pulls all the strings anyway, but on the national stage. Little question, he calls the shots in Mumbai not just in his party but in the Congress, as he does in the greater Marathwada – which some believe spills over into the aptly named Bombay Karnataka. Can he do so in Dilli?

A formidable force. No pushover. And not somebody, who’s influence is limited to just the sugar cane farmers but the entire farming community. And again, not his NCP alone, but Marathi manoos in the Shiva Sena. The kiss and make up ‘tween the two Shiv Sena boys – yeah, even that – is being laid at Pawar’s door. No question, the NCP and the Shiv Sena-MCP, together on one platform would severely dent Congress hopes of a comeback.

That he’s played second – or should that be third – fiddle for so long is a commentary on his remarkable patience that has seen him come through years of sitting it out on the sidelines, fighting illness, a dozen allegations of graft and corruption, all unproven, to this. More than Mamata Banerji, who misfired spectacularly over Pranabda, but got it oh so right with the Leftists, it is Pawar who holds the keys to cash-rich state, Maharashtra, that he and the Congress need to milk in an election year. So if it is Agriculture AND Defence that he wants, and a new man whom he can do business with in Mantralaya, will the pragmatic Congress be able to say no?

The coming months will see Pawar use the drought and the weak monsoon to build his own profile as the farmer who has all the answers in an India that still remains largely agrarian. In 1991, he was still seen as rooted in Maharashtra, unable to speak Hindi, not a national figure at all. Today, that may no longer hold true.

Curious, the parallels with another man, touted as pro-farmer, set to take off on a tour of the state this August in a contraption on wheels that is said to be remarkably like that of L.K. Advani’s rath that once trundled through Karnataka’s villages winning over the masses.

And B. S. Yeddyurappa has already opened the campaign by firing a salvo at his successor D. V. Sadananda Gowda by placing the blame — all the ills of the BJP’s non-governance — at his door. In a not so subtle sop, he has had his new hand-picked chief minister Jagadish Shettar announce a `3,500 crore waiver of all loans taken by farmers. That’s virtually half the electorate in the bag! And then of course to rub in the fact that every one of the populist schemes that BSY had brought in, such as free saris, cycles, education for the girl child, pension schemes for the old, affordable milk, bicycles had not been implemented by Sadananda Gowda, brought the expected good Lingayat-bad Vokkaliga tack back into play.

Gowda, played safe by refusing to append his signature to a single file, especially if it was brought in by one of BSY’s men, ignoring pleas that there were budgets allocated to it. DVS’ detractors in the BSY camp say this was because the former CM did not want BSY to get credit for any of the old man’s schemes. DVS’ people insist however that he wanted no blot on his character, not if he wanted a role in the party that could see him come back and hold a post. The post he wants of course, is that of the state unit chief.

Unfortunately for DVS, Yeddyurappa wants it too. BSY’s inner circle say that he has had enough of proxies and placing people in positions and then having to pull them out, when they don’t do exactly as they are told. He’s told every emissary from Delhi — and Ahmedabad — sent to persuade him to stay on in the party until a decision can be taken on the party president’s post, that come what may, if he is made state party president, he will deliver the state to the BJP, second time running. And that most of his cases —barring a handful — will melt away one way or the other over the next few months.

K. S. Eshwarappa, a fellow Shimogaite, has three months left before the post of party prez becomes vacant. As BSY supporters put out the story that the former CM wants to launch his own party, come Dasara, and will ally with the Congress, support it from the outside — in an 80-20 formula — much of it sounds like leveraging his assets aka political blackmail, for the most powerful job in the state.

Will BSY have the patience, Sharad Pawar-like — to wait for 100 days to make a move? Even the BJP knows it cannot kill its golden goose and expect to survive the bloodbath that will follow. As for Pawar, in a non-Congress, non-BJP formation, he could just be cock of the heap.

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