Pune: The powerful Ajit Pawar is back as deputy chief minister after a little over two months and much drama; and everyone in Maharashtra knew what the climax would be. His comeback was not surprising and neither was the white paper issued by the water works department, headed by an NCP minister who too faces corruption charges. The white paper gave Mr Pawar a clean chit, paving the way for his return.
Mr Pawar faces serious charges from his tenure as irrigation minister between 1999 and 2009 - irregularities in irrigation projects in the state running into thousands of crores, favouritism to a select few contractors, sanctioning a project costing a few crore rupees and then modifying the drawings of the dams so that the budget went up ten times or even more. The white paper says all these allegations are baseless.
The Opposition is crying foul. BJP and Shiv Sena leaders say the entire exercise was a farce, a mockery of the system and yet another attempt to fool the people despite there being, they say, substantial evidence and documents and officials alleging rampant corrupt practices in the cash rich irrigation and water resources department in Maharashtra.
Print and electronic media organisations have carried after their own investigations about Ajit Pawar's allegedly blatant violation of norms in sanctioning the construction of dams and other irrigation projects which are estimated to have been around Rs. 70,000 crore!
But Sunil Tatkare, another controversial minister from the NCP, with several charges against him, got his water works department to present the white paper that gave his boss a virtual clean cheat.
That the Pawars cannot stay out of power is known since the time Sharad Pawar left the Congress on the grounds that a foreigner (read Sonia Gandhi) could not lead the party. Later, he had no compunction joining hands with the same party.
The senior Mr Pawar had formed NCP, a party that concentrated in rural Maharashtra focussing on capturing zilla parishads, panchayat samitis, cooperative sugar mills and banks. His nephew has over the years become very powerful in that set up at the state level.
There have been reports, on and off, of a rift between Sharad Pawar and nephew Ajit, which both deny vehemently. Mr Pawar wants to promote his daughter Supriya Sule in state politics. Ajit Pawar doesn't want anyone else to call the shots in the state NCP.
Ajit Pawar also nurtures the ambition of becoming Maharashtra's chief minister in 2014. Many political pandits say that he could even go to the extent of forging a new alliance with the saffron parties like the BJP, Shiv Sena or Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena if the Congress doesn't let go of its claim over the post of Maharashtra chief minister as the senior partner. It is an option he has already tried in the Pune municipal corporation when the NCP joined hands with the Shiv Sena and the BJP to end the over 20-year rule of the Suresh Kalmadi-led Congress.
Dada, as he is referred to in Maharashtra, knows for sure that starting December 10 the Winter Session of the state Assembly would be stormy on the issue of the white paper with the Opposition parties already flexing their muscles. Aand who better to control the dadagiri in the House then dada himself.
There is widespread criticism of Mr Pawar's swift comeback. But those familiar with Maharashtra politics should not be surprised. not the Shiv Sena and the BJP, not the people who had raised questions, not the activists who had struggled hard to bring facts to Not even Maharashtra's Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who the Congress sells as a man of high integrity and honesty and the one who had asked for the white paper.
Without having to appear for the examination, Ajit Pawar has declared that he has passed.