Saturday, December 25, 2010

Does Pawar know his onions?

Of what use is Sharad Pawar to India? There are many reasons to believe that the country would be better off if he were nowhere near power. The latest onion crisis is just one of them.

Like all crises that have occurred during Pawar's watch in the Food Ministry, the current onion crunch could also be seen coming well before it actually hit. The rains misbehaved and onion traders quickly noticed another opportunity shaping up to exploit the people. A watchful Food Ministry could also have seen what the traders saw, but it chose to be otherwise busy.

Even when the crisis exploded threatening grave political fallout, Pawar was typically indifferent. The rains caused it, he said – as if we didn't know. The high prices would last a fortnight or so, he said – as if that was all there was to be said.

It was left to the Prime Minister, already harassed by other crises and conscious of the political potential of onions, to take some corrective action. The PMO and the Cabinet Secretary moved quickly, ordering among other things raids on the godowns of hoarders. It helped to some extent. A concerted action plan by an alert Food Ministry would have made all the difference, anticipating that tomato and garlic traders would also try to take advantage of the situation.

Pawar's erratic handling of his ministry is nothing new. When foodgrains rotted in government godowns, he merely explained it away – blaming state governments, for example – without taking any meaningful action. When the horrible effects of endosulfan were demonstrably proved by the pitiable plight of sufferers in Karasgod, Pawar dismissed it and appointed yet another inquiry committee headed by a man who had already headed a previous committee which had ruled in favour of the pesticide lobby. How irresponsible can a minister get.

A cursory look at Pawar's career will show that using governmental power for the country's good was nowhere in his agenda. His high-profile party colleague in the Union Cabinet, Praful Patel, has grievously harmed Air-India; its assets have been reduced and its schedules have been changed to give advantage to Jet Airways and Kingfisher.

Pawar's NCP has ministers in the Goa Government also. The current status there is weird. An NCP Minister, Mickky Pacheco, had to resign when he became the main accused in the death of his lady friend Nadia. The poor lady drank rat poison, said some people. But the post mortem showed several wounds on her body, some inflicted by a heavy object. While people wondered how rat poison could cause wounds on the body, the American Government said that Pacheco was involved in a “massive immigration and money laundering racket” and soon CBI and Income Tax sleuths raided the man's premises with charges of forgery and cheating. Pacheco, denied bail by Goa High Court and by the Supreme Court, was later given bail by the Margao district and sessions court. That's when Sharad Pawar asked the Goa Chief Minister to make him minister again. That's how much he cares for public opinion or the proprieties of democracy.

Pawar was publicly annoyed with Delhi for putting the brakes on the Lavasa real estate project. The project got going when the Krishna Valley Development Corporation gave what eventually amounted to 141 acres of land to Lavasa promoters at a ridiculously cheap rate. The Chairman of the KVDC then was Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar's nephew. Among the shareholders of the Lavasa project (until they withdrew in 2006, or was it 2004?) were his daughter Supriya Sule and her husband. How nice and cosy.

In fact land has always been Sharad Pawar's object of fascination. Long before Yeddyurappa knew about the possibilities of denotification, Sharad Pawar, as Maharashtra Chief Minister, denotified 285 plots in Bombay to be sold to industrial houses. Political insiders consider Pawar as the richest politician in India.

India has been of invaluable use to Sharad Pawar. Of what use is Sharad Pawar to India?