Sharad Pawar, Peasant Politics and the Land Question

ND Patil
N.D. Patil

In the death of Mr N.D. Patil on January 17 we have lost a dedicated, honest leader of the Peasants and Workers Party. His wife Saroj is the sister of Mr Sharad Pawar and the two leaders represent two contrasting approaches to politics.

Mr Pawar, the leader of the Congress and then the National Congress party, in fact comes from a family background rooted in the PWP. His mother Sharadabai was an active PWP member of what was then local self government body known as the district local board in the 1930s, ,she never missed a meeting of the board, travelling from Baramati to Pune was not easy in those days but she did that by bus carrying her two month old baby, Mr Pawar recalls in his autobiography.

The family was of modest means but very progressive, several leftist leaders used to frequent the home. Shardabai had studied in Sevasadan society school founded by Ramabai wife of social reformer Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade. But when Pawar’s brother contested the Lok Sabha election in 1957 following the death of Keshavrao Jedhe of the PWP, Mr Pawar chose to work for the Congress.

The PWP had embraced Marxism as an ideology in 1950 following a thesis written by Shankarrao More known as Dabhadi Prabandh.

One reason why Mr Pawar is so different from other Maratha leaders in Maharashtra is that unlike most of them he grew up in a very urban atmosphere in Pune, often amongst several liberal Brahmins and was soon exposed to capitalists and the American establishment.

Mr N.D, Patil grew up in rural Kolhapur, far from capitalists, and imbibed its progressive politics the ruler Chhatrapati Shahu had introduced caste reservations in the early part of the 20th century. Mr Patil was a real 56 inch chest man in the best sense, tall, broad shouldered, like a Kolhapuri pahelwan, wrestler, with a superb heart, mind and body.

He fiercely opposed Mr Sharad Pawar’s politics in different spheres including the Enron power project issue but this never came in the way of their personal relations.

Mr Pawar’s name is mired in controversies on the issue of land, he is conscious of this and makes a specific mention of this in his autobiography saying the charges were never proved. He admits that when he goes somewhere, people immediately start speculating that some land deal is in the offing. This only amuses me, he says.

The PWP was a major force in politics in Maharashtra but it was diluted by Pawar’s mentor Y.B. Chavan by bringing several leaders to the Congress. But till the 1980s the PWP remained fairly strong though in pockets. Mr N.D Patil fought tenaciously in the state legislature but he was as much a street fighter. In one of the marches he led, his own nephew was killed in police firing but the demonstration continued after looking after the young man. Without a microphone he could reach thousands at rallies and demonstrations.

The younger generation has little idea of the contribution of the PWP, in fact some people in Navi Mumbai have seen the worst days of the party with some leaders falling a victim to the temptations of capitalists, land in Raigad district neighbouring Mumbai, suddenly became precious with industrialization, real estate prices shot up . But in the district there were some very committed leaders like D.B. Patil who was for some time M.P. from the area and leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly. So there is a demand that the international airport in the area be named after him. Dattta Patil, MLA, too was a strong leader and an expert lawyer, Sharad Pawar once joked in the legislative assembly about him, that a person would commit murder, straight away go to Datta and secure acquittal. It is unfortunate that land has become such a commodity in Raigad district, it was in this district that grew up the highly respected Gandhian leader Vinoba Bhave who launched the Bhoodan satyagraha with his walk throughout the country, seeking land donation for distribution among the poor. All land belongs to people, he declared. Alas, our rulers have commodified land.

Mr Vidydhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratization of transport


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