Book review: ‘On My Terms’ is an engaging autobiographical account of how Sharad Pawar became a mass leader - Firstpost
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Book review: ‘On My Terms’ is an engaging autobiographical account of how Sharad Pawar became a mass leader


By BN Uniyal

“I had my first brush with administration when I was barely three days old, cradled in the arms of my mother. Sharadabai Govindrao Pawar had a meeting to attend at the Pune Local Board, of which she was a member, on 15 December 1940. Although she had delivered a baby boy just three days earlier, she was not one to miss her call of duty.”

These three opening sentences of the book sum up the entire life of the man. Born to a woman of tremendous force and fortitude, Sharad Pawar grew up in the hustle and bustle of a highly charged peasant political family in an out of the way village. Early experiences of dealing with all sorts of people and exposure to ideological cross currents drove the grown up man at a very early age into active politics which becomes his absorbing destiny.

The title of the book sounds rather brash, though not for a Maratha, for the Marathas take pride in the bluntness of their tongue which they call plain speaking. The title apart, this is an engaging and enjoyable account of a long and hectic life of politics spanning over nearly 60 eventful years from 1958. It is written at that stage in life when the performer casts away his many masks and makes peace with himself and the world without any heartache or heartbreak. It is a frank and forthright account of the many vicissitudes of a long political life, of friendships ending in estrangements, alliances breaking into feuds and late night scheming leading to early morning patch-ups. That is what politics is about, and all that politics is about is there in fair abundance in this book. Anyone curious about the events of the decades with which the book deals will find many interesting nuggets of information and pithy observations throughout its pages. At places, one wishes that Pawar had gone a little deeper into the events or elaborated on the doings of men and women of his time. He treats certain key events — like those of the Emergency years — rather leaving the matters somewhat hazy. Sometimes one gets the feeling as if he has left out the details out of discretion, if not caution.

Sharad Pawar in a file photo. PTI

Sharad Pawar in a file photo. PTI

However, the central theme of the book is the making of a mass leader. This aspect is so well dealt with in the book that it can very well be made standard reading for all young men and women who wish to carve a place for themselves in politics. Leadership is neither taught nor studied in India which is a pity, possibly because it is commonly believed that leaders are born and not created. This is far from truth. The fact is that even in the past, leaders were not born but created. Those who chose to work in public life carefully provisioned themselves intellectually and culturally for that. They found ways and means to get close to leaders of their times, associated themselves with such leaders, modelled their conduct and even manners and mannerisms on those they chose for their models. Pawar is clearly one such leader.

I must, therefore, recommend his book to every aspiring leader irrespective of the party one may belong or principles one may hold. He is one of the few living examples of a leader who has risen from the masses by sheer determination and dedication and made himself equally respected by his contemporaries of diverse ideological persuasions which was amply proved by the line-up at the release function of his book. Actually, it is not just aspiring leaders but even established ones like Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar who can all benefit by reading the book because it is strewn with commonsensical wisdom that has become so uncommon in the strident and somewhat malicious public life of our times.

One aspect of his personality which those of us from outside Maharashtra may discover in him for the first time on reading this book is the interest he has taken in cultivating his tastes in music and literature. And, interestingly, he also shows another aspect of his private face — a sense of ribald humour. I must say these all make him more of a complete man than he would have been otherwise.

Pawar has been a successful administrator too. Many episodes from his long stint as chief minister of his home state and as minister at the Centre bear that out. Politics is not just being clever; nor is administration hard work alone. Both require astuteness which is different from merely being clever and both are more about being creatively innovative. Pawar describes several remarkable instances of both in his book. One such instance relates to the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts in 12 different city localities. While giving the figures of the blasts in a Doordarshan broadcast, Pawar on the spur of the moment slipped in the name of a 13th locality—a Muslim one. “The trick worked. The terrorists’ plan to spark off Hindu-Muslim riots through explosions did not fructify.” This reminded me of a similar extremely astute decision of Sardar Vallabhai Patel when Mahatma Gandhi was shot by Nathuram Godse. He too feared that the incident may cause serious Hindu-Muslim riots because most Hindus would speculate that Gandhiji’s killer must have been a Muslim. He, therefore, instructed the All India Radio to let it be disclosed in the day’s news broadcast that the killer was a Hindu!

Another really inspiring chapter every one must read is the one about Pawar’s battle with his mouth cancer. It must have been extremely painful, awkward and depressing but he has battled it successfully by sheer will power which he believed he has inherited from his mother who was incapacitated in the prime of life by an unruly bull she was trying to help. I have just sent a copy of the book to the wife of a journalist friend of mine hospitalised with lung cancer so she can read out this particular chapter to him.

The book would have, possibly, remained incomplete if Pawar had wound it up without touching on some of the charges of wrongdoing that have been hurled at him for many years by one and all and about which he has all along maintained a deliberate and studied silence. These arise from his alleged closeness to Dawood Ibrahim and undue favours done to his business friends like Ajit Gulabchand in allotment of land for developing the hill resort of Lavasa. Pawar seems to have decided to clear the matter and his conscience at last. He has given elaborate explanations on both counts and a couple of other counts too. I am not competent to pass a judgement on these, anyway. Let the readers of the book judge for themselves. I can only say that the explanations are consistent with the character of the persona portrayed in the book. If the persona is taken to be true to life, there is no reason why the explanation too should not be.

(BN Uniyal covered Parliament and national politics as a newspaper correspondent for three decades until the mid-1990s.)

First Published On : Jan 9, 2016 12:06 IST

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