Pawar’s ‘Best Qualification’? Pratibha Pawar, Who ‘Got’ Ajit Home
There was a look in Sharad Pawar's eyes as he gazed upon his wife Pratibha who sat opposite him in the state aircraft ferrying us from Bombay to Pune one afternoon in the autumn of 1994. I had sought an interview with the chief minister of Maharashtra, but Pawar was so busy that he had time to talk to journalists only between point-to-point on his travels across the state.
Now he was headed for Baramati, his home town, and his office called me and a fellow journalist from a Marathi newspaper that morning, to be sure to be at the airport in a couple of hours. For the CM would have no time for us after this tour was over and done with. Elections were due within a few months, and campaign duties would crowd his schedule thereafter.
A Glimpse Into a Lesser-Known Side of Sharad Pawar
I sat next to Pratibha Pawar and diagonally opposite the chief minister, as my colleague and I began to fire questions at him even before the aircraft took off. Once up in the air, though, we began to feel a little hot under the collar, but the three of us were too engrossed in our conversation to adjust the temperature.
Mrs Pawar had her nose buried in a magazine. She looked up at the three of us, then reached overhead to adjust the knobs. Instantly, Pawar dropped the conversation and stood up to turn the air-conditioning vent towards his wife. She had gone back to her reading, but Pawar looked at her with melting eyes and asked with great concern, “Ata bara vaatata tula? (Do you feel better now?)”
She merely nodded, but he continued looking at her with care, concern, worry, and a lot of emotion in his eyes for a few more seconds, before turning to the two completely nonplussed journalists who had been given an unexpected glimpse into a very personal and humane side of the most powerful power couple of those days.
When we landed at the Pune airport , Pawar was inevitably swallowed up by hundreds of sloganeering supporters who mobbed the chief minister all the way from the arrival lounge to his waiting car. I tried to plunge into that mob of mostly men, so as not to lose sight of Pawar or be left behind. I felt a gentle tug at my sleeve and turned round to see Pratibha Pawar who pulled me into a corner with a soft admonition. “Don't! He will not forget you. He will not leave me behind either.”
Pratibha Pawar: The Image of ‘Quiet Dignity’
Even as I and my other female colleague continued to look frantically at the chief minister being ferreted away by his aides, he opened the door of his car and gave out some instructions. An aide came running over to Pratibha Pawar to say, “Saheb is first visiting the hospital (to see his ailing brother). He wants the two journalists to wait for him at the state guest house. He will pick them up en route to Baramati. I will accompany you to your cars.”
Mrs Pawar again just nodded, but turned a gentle smile upon us which said, “I told you there was no need to worry,” before we got into our respective vehicles and went off in different directions.
The next time I ran into her, she was sitting equally calmly in another corner at the noisy, crowded clinic of our mutual dentist, patiently awaiting her turn without throwing her weight around or letting people know who she was. Only I recognised her in that crowded roomful of patients and their relatives – she and I were both unaccompanied, and as we chatted about Sharad Pawar and his politics, she was a lot more forthcoming and responsive to my overtures of friendship.
As at the Pune airport and quite unlike the in-your-face style of Amruta Fadnavis in the past five years who overshadowed her husband Devendra Fadnavis on many occasions, Pratibha Pawar, even as the youngest first lady of Maharashtra, always kept her distance from the limelight.
Pratibha Pawar’s Simplicity & Understated Elegance
The daughter of Sadashiv Shinde, a former cricketer who died young and left his family of wife and four young daughters impoverished, it was an arranged marriage between her and Sharad Pawar, who set three conditions for their marriage – neither she nor her family would never interfere or raise any questions about his politics, they would only ever have one child — boy or girl whichever that be — and, of course, that the Pawars would pick up the entire tab for their wedding which was a massive affair, given the Pawar family's stature in Baramati, and Pawar's star on the ascendant at the time.
The people were plenty at that do who came from every corner to greet the young couple, but there was little ostentation.
Years later at her daughter Supriya’s wedding, Pratibha Pawar turned out simply — at the reception Pawar gave to the media and bureaucrats on a government building terrace — in a cream silk saree with a simple gold border, and a single string of pearls at her neck, matched with pearl studs and simple gold bangles.
This was a far cry from the kind of gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires that the Thackeray women put on show when the Shiv Sena first came to power in 1995, as they accompanied Bal Thackeray for a reception in his honour by the city’s builders at a five-star hotel in South Mumbai.
Who Brought ‘Prodigal Son’ Ajit Back to the Stables? Pratibha Pawar
Sharad and Pratibha Pawar brought Ajit Pawar up as their own son after the premature death of his father, who had been banished from the family for some misdemeanour, by the matriarch Sharadabai Pawar (Sharad Pawar’s mother) who was a stickler for values and discipline. When Ajit bolted the Pawar stables last week, Pratibha Pawar is said to have played a major role in bringing him back to the family fold to make sure the son did not get alienated or ostracised as his father had.
But her quiet conduct and a desire to seek nothing for herself personally, had the effect that perhaps Pawar's scolding and persuasions, and those of other NCP leaders, wouldn’t have had.
Nehru had once famously said that a diplomat's and a politician’s ‘best qualification’ was his wife. Pratibha Pawar clearly is Sharad Pawar's best compliment.
(Sujata Anandan is a journalist, and author of `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever', 'Maharashtra Maximus: The state, its people & politics' and tweets @sujataanandan. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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