Shobhaa De | The Maharashtra ‘gaddi’ hinges on a burnt roti…

The Asian Age.  | Shobhaa De

Opinion, Columnists

During his loooooong and illustrious political career, Sharad Pawar, 82, has played several complex roles, but never a Drama Queen

NCP Chief Sharad Pawar addresses the media during a press conference at his residence, in New Delhi, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (PTI)

At the time of writing, the maha-mayhem in Maharashtra continues, with more twists and turns than on the treacherous Khandala Ghats. During his loooooong and illustrious political career, Sharad Pawar, 82, has played several complex roles, but never a Drama Queen. This week’s theatrical performance at his autobiography launch (Lok Maze Sangatee) deserves a Golden Globe! Actors/politicians (interchangeable roles) are judged for their acute sense of timing on stage. Sharad Pawar couldn’t have picked a better occasion or platform to announce his resignation as the supreme boss of the Nationalist Congress Party, which he formed in a fit of pique, back in 1999. Angry, hurt and snubbed back then -- that too by a woman (Sonia Gandhi), he left the mother ship to go it alone, hoping to achieve his ultimate dream (the Prime Minister’s job) one day. So far, that dream remains unfulfilled. Pawar seems doomed to play the perennial bridesmaid, never the bride. Frankly, given his brain, dynamism and political acumen, I so wish he’d had a shot at it. Why not? Let’s not talk about his unreal wealth, etc. Poor people rarely stand a chance at bagging the top job. Pawar, like a lot of canny politicians, not just knew the power of filthy lucre, he understood exactly how, when and where to deploy his resources. Not for nothing was he frequently hailed as “the wealthiest politician in the world”, even though on paper he was like you and me: comfortable, but not stinking rich. A “shetkari” who controlled all the “shets” in the state.

The tragedy about ageing strongmen is that they believe in their own immortality. Nobody willingly steps away, nobody walks into the sunset, leaving younger people to carry the legacy forward. Well, despite the shock value generated by his sudden announcement, those who read him well are certain most of it was stage-managed for effect. It’s entirely possible a “setting” was firmly in place, and all the emotionalism that followed was a part of the script. A wily leader knows which buttons to press for maximum impact. Pawar is too seasoned a player to throw such a googly, without first fixing the match. Why not? There’s Ajit Pawar, an impatient nephew (at 63, not a spring chicken himself), and a shrewd, secure daughter (Supriya Sule, 53) who allegedly wrote his “roti, kapda, makaan” resignation speech, waiting for a verdict.

It was never going to be a public Dada vs Tai spat, given the high stakes. Punters have their money on Dada becoming Maharashtra’s CM, no matter what it takes. I have taken a ten-bucks bet myself. Ajit is a buddy of Devendra Fadnavis (another smooth, smart, astute neta, like Sharad Bhau), say sources. Ajit should have an easy passage jumping across the muddy Mithi creek and joining the BJP. He’d done it earlier, but that torrid love affair collapsed within 80 days. It’s a question of numbers… it’s always about numbers. If Dada manages to get the right number of “çash-and-carry” NCP deserters to hop on to his bandwagon, he’s home and dry. But wait, that’s not all.  He may use muscle and money power to muster up the numbers… but there’s a trickier issue to resolve before that. What happens to the troublesome court cases against him? Will the new suitors say “all is forgiven” and drop the charges? Or are they still haggling?

Meanwhile, the bitter taste of “burnt roti/chapati/bhakri” needs to be neutralised with the sweetness of sugarcane juice. Sharad Pawar doesn’t seem to be in the mood to hang up his chappals just yet. Running the show pardey ke peechhay has never been his preferred style of netagiri. Even though he has announced his decision to quit and is sticking to his guns so far, the stepping-down drama sounds like a trump card he’s holding to better his bargaining power in next year’s elections. As the wobbly MVA’s chairperson, he cannot be ignored or discounted… no matter what the roti tastes like after being on a hot tava for too long. The idea is to make it indigestible.

Unlike his cool-headed pragmatist uncle, Ajit Pawar is known for his hot-headedness and arrogance. Impulsive, swashbuckling netas are okay on screen, but the reality of running a large, unwieldy state like Maharashtra is a different ballgame altogether. With Sharad Pawar openly mocking Uddhav Thackeray in his autobiography, accusing him of being too laid back as CM, and attending office just twice a week, their future equation is worse than shaky. Throw in a hyper-charged-up, impatient nephew and an ambitious daughter, going head-to-head in the Pawar Parivaar saga, and the old boy has post-retirement assignments cut out for him.

Uffffff… aata majhi satakli!

Let’s talk fluff. How many of you know or care what the Met Gala is? In India, we associate the word “Met” with the meteorological department. But as a certain miniscule desi segment (Mumbai’s Bandra-Juhu and Delhi’s Chhatarpur-DLF Mall) went into overdrive over the “lewks” on the most-photographed carpets in history (not red this year, but striped like Pepsodent toothpaste), a large pinch of scorn for this over-hyped event at which an “invitation” comes with a $50,000 tag, is overdue. The Met Gala 2023 was a tribute to a mega-fashion icon, the late Karl Lagerfeld. It was themed “A Line of Beauty”. Dunno about beauty, but many “lines” must have been done pre-and post- the event, going by the absurdity on parade. Mercifully, our petite, baby-faced Alia Bhatt didn’t try too hard to attract flashbulbs: she was fully covered. Some say she was dressed a little too blandly by Prabal Gurung (New York Nepali-American designer), and looked more Disney Cinderella doll than a Bollywood diva. Ironically, the biggest Gala statement was made by a fashion-forward, bold and daring live cockroach which turned up in its birthday suit, and effortlessly stole the show, crawling around the carpet, posing for paps who followed every twitch of its whiskers.

If Prabal G missed the big moment, so did other international designers: it was a bit like casting pearls before swine, since most labels attached yards of pearls to every outfit as their “tribute” to the Kaiser, as Karl was called… so obvious, yaar! From flashing fake pearls to flaunting real baby bumps (Serena Williams), this year’s Met Gala disappointed those who demand annual outrage. Perhaps Anna Wintour, the Grande Dame of global fashion, she-who-knows, needs to take a cue from our very own Sharad Pawar and step down from her pretty perch after decades of ruling the roost. That would be in keeping with the theme of “Line of Beauty”: there’s nothing quite as chic as knowing when to quit the limelight gracefully, and make way for the next generation. Meeeeow! to that, as American rapper-singer Dojo Cat purred on the Pepsodent carpet….