Union agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar was slapped by Harvinder Singh as he was returning from a public function on the 24th of November. Pawar admits that some people could be unhappy with his policies but does not take kindly to Anna Hazare’s first reaction, ‘just one slap’.
Rupashree Nanda: In your long political career spanning more than 45 years would you say this day was one of the most difficult days for you?
Sharad Pawar: It is not difficult. It is the first incident I can say in 50 years in public life and 44 years in parliamentary legislative career…this is the first incident. And, one thing, I always keep excellent relationship with everybody. Whether he belongs to opposition side or ruling side it makes no difference for me. There are many instances where I fought with some people, that was a political fight, not a personal fight. So, we always keep political differences separate and personal relationship separate. So, practically I have not seen this kind of thing in my life.
Rupashree Nanda: Many political leaders, the entire top brass came to meet you today to express their concern. Did it take you by surprise or was it on expected lines?
Sharad Pawar: Firstly, I got excellent relationship with everybody. You must have seen here but I got a telephone call from the President of Sri Lanka. Rajapakse himself expressed his concern and he also condemned on behalf of his nation. Some ministers from some neighbouring countries I don’t want to name all these people… but whether it is Bangladesh, whether it is Pakistan, whether it is Nepal and some other countries in the gulf… they also contacted personally. I was not aware because what the President of Sri Lanka was telling me that all channels in Sri Lanka are showing this report… similarly, in gulf also. I got so many calls from the gulf side because all channels are showing there also. Because this news is not restricted to India. Also, throughout India I got so many calls… Prime Minister, practically within 5 minutes, Smt Sonia Gandhi, the Vice President of the country. When the cabinet meeting started, Prime Minister started by condemnation of the act – he condemned …sort of a resolution and then he started. Infact, one thing … that all cross-section … irrespective of party – they disapprove of this. It is not a question of Sharad Pawar or anybody – we should not go to that level. That is the general feeling of everybody. And secondly, we don’t know who the person is…why he has done this? But, it’s all right…
Rupashree Nanda: What do you have to say about the attacker? It seems he that that he was tired of the scams. He appeared to be very angry. So do you feel that there could be genuine reason for anger even though it never justifies violence?
Sharad Pawar: I don’t think…. He was saying something about price rise. If anyone is unhappy with me… firstly I am not dealing with economic ministry. Ofcourse, I am dealing with agriculture ministry. It is my responsibility to see that the country’s food security issue is properly handled. It is my responsibility that agriculture produce should be enhanced. But, simultaneously, it is my responsibility also to protect the interests of those who produce. If fertiliser prices are going up, if diesel prices are going up … agriculture should not be uneconomical or unviable. And, in such a situation farmer should get proper price for their produce. Ofcourse, I always try to protect the interest of the farmers. If I will not protect the interests of the farmers, it will affect consumers’ interests. Because, if availability is not there that will affect the consumers. That should not happen in our country. So I consciously try to protect the interest of the farmers. That is why, suppose somebody is unhappy, I do not blame.
Rupashree Nanda: BJP tried to politicise the issue saying that there is genuine anger due to price rise.
Sharad Pawar: I don’t know. I don’t think anybody either BJP or Congress or anybody should do politics over this kind of incident. I got a call from Sushma Ji. I met many BJP leaders. In fact, the first person who came was Jaswant Singh … Rajnath Singh – so many others also. I don’t know what they have said but this is not the subject where anybody should bring politics. Forget about that. We have to condemn. It should not happen.
Rupashree Nanda: There are rising incidents – someone threw a chappal at Suresh Kalmadi, someone…
Sharad Pawar: Same fellow has done these things. Police people have told me same person has done these things. Only one person has done 3 – 4 incidents I was told. So looks like there is some problem with the person.
Rupashree Nanda: Do you feel threatened now?
Sharad Pawar: Suppose something happens, in public life we have to face it. I don’t feel threatened. As I said, 44 years of parliamentary career, not a single incident has happened. I have faced agitations when I was a chief minister, when I was a minister. I have faced agitations over certain issues but it is the basic right of every political party to express its views by way of demonstrations – but simultaneously no one should try and take law into their own hands.
Rupashree Nanda: Would you ask for enhanced security now?
Sharad Pawar: I am not going to say anything. It is upto the concerned authority
Rupashree Nanda: Would you forgive the man?
Sharad Pawar: I am not a judge. Neither will I take action or take the other side. It is upto the concerned people. For me, I have forgotten this incident.
Rupashree Nanda: NCP workers have taken to the streets in some places in Maharashtra, burnt buses… what is your message for them?
Sharad Pawar: I have already said that they should neglect this type of thing. One should not act in such fashion which will unnecessarily create a problem for the common man. Obstructing or stopping road movement or traffic ultimately affects innocent people. So we don’t want to trouble innocent people. I can understand their feeling, their sharp reactions but to control our own reactions has some meaning. I hope, am sure they will respect my appeal.
Rupashree Nanda: What about Anna’s comment (‘just one slap’)
Sharad Pawar: I don’t know. I don’t want to comment on that. Somebody wants to give some new direction, or new definition about Gandhivaad. Certainly he got every rights to say anything. Beyond that, I don’t want to … (goes back to signing papers)