History and Politics of Maharashtra’s Sugar Lobby
The story of Maharashtrian Jaagirdari is a fascinating story (and a murky one). Murky because although it has been antithetical towards nationalistic forces, it has not exactly been anti-Indic. It conveniently occupies the shades of grey in the ongoing battle between fissiparous forces and nationalists forces.
Polity of Maharashtra is as ‘Hinduised’ as it gets. NCP and Congress were as much Hindutva-vadis as SS or BJP or RSS inclined are. Even today, the ground cadre is practically indistinguishable. But a crucial difference exists beyond this. Congress (and NCP which is its offshoot) in Maharashtra is also additionally an elaborate system of Jaagirdari designed by Yashwantrao Chavan to please and yet maintain a separate existence from Nehru.
The process of putting together this intricately interconnected patronage system began after death of Lokmanya Tilak. Large number of Brahmin, Marathas and OBC youth were inclined towards Tilak and violent means. They were systematically liquidated by British after Gandhi suddenly decided to call off Non-cooperation movement after Chauri-Chaura incident.
The culling of 1920’s ensured that from Maharashtra (as was with Punjab and Bengal), only political pygmies will remain in the national discourse of Indian freedom movement. Only Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was the leader worth a salt who managed to emerge and escape from this pogrom of 1920s that too because of his Dalit cause. Even he was sidelined by Nehru for his pragmatic stances and to a certain extent Savarkar too but with his wings severely clipped.
Similarly, only Subhash Chandra Bose managed to emerge from Bengal post this ruthless purge by British in the 1920’s. And after Lalaji and hanging of Bhagat Singh, not a single national leader has emerged from Punjab. The fate of Punjab has always brought tears to my eyes. Muslims were overcome by Sikhs and just as they were raising British took over. Lala Lajpat Rai, Arya Samajis etc were again making Punjab rise but Lalaji was eliminated and brilliant young men like Bhagat Singh were sacrificed.
Same thing happened in Maharashtra. RSS, Hindu Mahasabha (HMS) shielded a large bulk of youth from Maharashtra, Central India and western Uttar Pradesh (basically all those territories which were once under stable Maratha occupation prior to 1818) suffering that fate from 1925-45. This gave rise to many stalwarts who later went on to shine in non-INC platforms like Jansangh, BJP and various subsidiaries of RSS. But the die was already cast in 1940s.
HMS and RSS (which in turn meant nationalistic youth from erstwhile Maratha territories) were beginning to be vocal and active with partition related violence increasing in tenor. Role of cadres from these organizations in saving Bengal and Punjab and even Kashmir (as far as I know, the runway of Srinagar airport was prepared by RSS guys in 1948 so that IA planes could land).
With Nehru heading the government, Nathuram Godse’s action gave the establishment a chance to cull these budding nationalist forces. The Brahmin-Maratha dispute has been going on in MH since 1741 (began with Peshwa-Bhonsale feud over Chauth of Bengal which resulted in infamous Maratha raids on Bengal). This was systematically used to drive out Maharashtra Brahmins from villages where they had mass-base. This was done by Congress under premiership of Yashwantrao Chavan and S K Patil. After exodus of Brahmins from villages, the Marathas got to place their fingers right on the pulse of power. This is where we see the rise of 96-clan lobby in Maharashtra (more precisely western Maharashtra).
It is not sufficient that person should belong to 96-clan Maratha community to rule over Maharashtra. Heck, Maharashtra-Brahmins have been severely deracinated since their eviction from politics (post 1920s). It is OBCs and the 96-clan Marathas who are more Hindutvavadis than many of the Maharashtra-Brahmins and form bulk of cadre of BJP-RSS-SS in Maharashtra. It is not only about caste. One should belong to right family.
This is the reason why BJP cannot win (so far) in western Maharashtra. BJP and RSS have stalwart Maratha and OBC leaders. Shelar, Tavde, Fundkar are dedicated BJP leaders belonging to 96-clan Maratha community who have strong following in Mumbai and urban MH. But they are outsiders to the lobby of Maratha jaagirdars.
In 1955, when the demand for Telugu language based Andhra Pradesh was beginning to take root, similar demand started in Maharashtra – this is called Sanyukta Maharashtra Samiti. All the non-Congress parties, the communists the Hinduvadis (who were flying low due to Gandhi assassination) joined in.
The convener of this movement was father of Balasaheb Thakre – Keshav Thakre, aka “Prabodhankaar”. It became obvious that unless something was done Congress would be eradicated from Maharashtra. In 1957 state assembly polls, SMS won large number of seats and Congress could barely win a majority. If left unchecked, by 1962 Congress would have been finished from Maharashtra forever.
Role of Yashwantrao Chavan
This is when Yashwantrao Chavan started Cooperative sugar factory movement in Maharashtra. This movement, although yielded rich economic dividends to MH, propelling MH to the position of wealthiest state in India (I think despite of last 15 years of misgovernance, MH still holds that position due to this movement by YC). Fantastic movement and full credit is due to Yashwantrao.
However, closer scrutiny of what this movement really was shows an interesting story. Like Raja Todarmal introduced Mansabdari system for Akbar in north India, thereby stabilizing Mughal rule in Ganga valley for three centuries, Yashwantrao introduced Mansabdari system for his Nehru. Each district of western MH (and fertile parts of Marathwada, Khandesh and Vidarbha) is given to family of 96-clanner Maratha to look after. That district was the Jaagir of that family.
Now, who is in this lobby – The requirements are that one has to be a 96-clanner person who owed allegiance to Yashwantrao (later usurped by Sharad Pawar) and who is NOT from Konkan. 96-clanner Konkani Marathas (like Narayan Rane, for example) can never be part of this Sugar-lobby. It has to be Deshastha Marathas only. But not all 96-clanner Marathas are from the Ghat. Those who owe their allegiance to Yashwantrao and who will go after him either with OR against Nehru and who were big farmers with great political clout and following AFTER having displaced Brahmin leadership (and farmers) from those particular district. Quite a tall order. Like the Delhi’s establishment elite circuit, this Maratha Jaagirdar lobby has been calling shots in Maharashtra and rest of KG basin since fall of Yadava Empire in general.
The opponents of this Sugar-lobby were the usual suspects – RSS, HMS, Communists, Dalits and farmer-worker party (Shetkari Kaamgaar Paksha). This Shekaapa was a formidable non-Congress, non-RSS force (kind of like Janta Dal of Lohia). Mr. Govindrao Pawar (father of Sharad Pawar) was promising leader of this party. Many say, he was an idealist. He was murdered, (some sources say at the behest of certain prominent Sugar-lobby members). After the murder of Govindrao, the Shekaapa lingered but toothlessly. Sharad Pawar, however, received great care and affection from Yashwantrao. Pawar was his protégé.
In this Jaagirdari model of Chavan, Nanded was given to Chavan (another), Satara to Chavan (Yashwantarao), Sangli to Patil (the RR Patil comes from same Patil clan of Sangli), Latur to Chakurkar and Deshmukh (Shivraj Patil-Chakurkar and Vilasrao Deshmukh), Kolhapur to Desai, Pune-Baramati to Pawars, so on and so forth. These families formed the first iteration of 96-clan Sugar-lobby of western Maharashtra which held tight to each other.
Like Pre-Shivaji Maratha feudal lords, they may change parties, they may even fight one-other occasionally but they never eliminate each other. When they appear fighting, it is more often than not, Maya only… Most importantly, in all this fighting and rabble-rousing, the territory and its resources remain with this lobby, no matter which master they serve.
The raison d’être of Sanyukta Maharashtra Samiti vanished when state of Maharashtra came into existence. The power of this new state went squarely to this lobby headed by Yashwantrao Chavan. The remaining social groupings (Dalits, Brahmins, OBCs and the rejected 96-clanner Marathas) were leaderless and started meandering towards Communism. This is where rise of Shivsena happened. SS and Communists were eyeing these exact social groups and in the process (at times with active support of Sugar-lobby), Sena defeated and threw out communists from Maharashtra. This included a series of political murders which will be digression here.
With Communists weakened, the natural gravitas of Maharashtra society started manifesting again by slowly moving towards anti-Delhi bias with strong Hindutva undercurrent. This is late 1970s I am talking about. The emergency and crackdown of RSS was visible to everyone. After 1920s, the emergency era saw deaths of so many RSS volunteers who were promising. Thankfully Sena did not allow the youth of Maharashtra to embrace anti-national movements as it happened in Bengal and Punjab (Naxalism and Khalistani movement respectively).
The public sentiment remained anti-Delhi, but staunchly nationalistic (at times Hindu-nationalistic). This undercurrent began to grow vocal as the great strikes of early 80s brought Mumbai to standstill. Sena (helped by businessmen and Sugar lobby) was overpowering communists. But fuelling Sena also meant fuelling and funding Hindutva ethos.
Rise of Sharad Pawar
Meanwhile Pawar had split from Congress for the first time to form Progressive Democratic Party (Purogaami Lokshahi Dal) in alliance with Morarji’s Janta Party against Indira in 1978. Riding the JP wave, he became Maharashtra CM in 1978. But when Indira came back to power, first thing she did was dismissing Pawar led non-Congress government from Maharashtra.
A.R Antulay Sahab, being a man from “peaceful community”, has his own links and baggages. But he was first person from outside Sugar lobby (He was a Konkani Muslim) to become Maharashtra-CM. Hence he was in touch with various Bhais (Haji mastan, Karim lala ityadi). He was convicted in extortion case and was forced to resign in 1982 after two years. He, being loyal to IG, was then shipped to Delhi to become minorities’ affairs minister. He was never heard from again, until 26/11 when he crapped out some Zaid-Hamid like stuff.
BabaSaheb Bhonsale became Maharashtra-CM thereafter and seeing the power safely in hands of Sugar-lobby; Pawar Saheb returned to Congress in 1987 as if nothing happened and within matter of few months packed off Shankarrao Chavan to Delhi and became CM of Maharashtra and president of Maharashtra Congress. Beautiful politics. He ensured power of Maharashtra remains in hand of Sugar lobby and not anybody else (including Nehrus and Gandhis). But in the process he cultivated his personal image of unreliable politician in minds of Delhi political establishment. Meanwhile SS had allied with BJP (in 1985), Shahbano incident had happened and RJB was beginning to gear up.
All this politicking requires a lot of money. Kind of money which stable Jaagir cannot churn up hence requires the dirty money. It is not easy challenging Delhi (and Indira) and to survive. This is where Pawar’s alleged connections arise with Haji Mastan and later with fugitive Dawood Ibrahim. The transfer of money started from 1978 (when he first broke off from Congress).
Various names like Choksi (the famous Hawala trader) along with owner of a well-known Gutkha company were part of all this. All this information is available in public domain. Plus lot has been said about Dawood, Pawar and 1993 blasts and Vohra report, so no point in repeating it. It is slightly tangential to our story.
After death of Rajiv Gandhi, Pawar was closest to the top-job since Bajirao-1 conquered Delhi in 1737. He was undone by his past, machinations of Dynasty-sympathizing lobby who wanted to prop up Sonia, ND Tiwari and Arjun Singh – who like Pawar were also vying for top job. The unlikely winner of this quadrangular match who pressurized (although temporarily, but resoundingly) all four contestants was P.V. Narasimha Rao who packed off Tiwari, Arjun Singh, Pawar and Sonia-backers. He used all his luck in this (and bomb and liberalization).
Sharad Pawar’s mishandling of name-change of Aurangabad’s Marathwada University, series of protests by Anna Hazare, series of demolitions of illegal constructions in Mumbai (mostly funded by builder lobby backed by the “bhai”) by G R Khairnar, BMC’s deputy commissioner, coupled with Mumbai Bomb-blasts and RJB wave prevalent throughout the country, had severely eroded the Congress.
All these factors and this history, combined caused the aberration of SS-BJP coming to power in 1995. They did fantastic job when in power, just like Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh. Yet in 1999, Congress (which means Western Maharashtra based Sugar lobby) was back to power. How?
This too is fascinating story. The anti-Delhi sentiment has always been popular in Maharashtra-public imagination. This is connected to Maratha-Mughal antagonism. Delhi, subconsciously, symbolizes enemy seat which rightfully belongs to Marathas. The terms like “Dillishwara” or “Dilli-pati” means Sultanate and to be precise Aurangzeb. The “rebellion” of Pawar against Sonia prior to 1999 assembly and general elections diverted public attention. 1999 elections are really fascinating. The state and general polls happened simultaneously in Maharashtra. Public chose SS-BJP in Lok Sabha and Congress-NCP in state – within matter of 5 minutes, public chose two different poles of political spectrum.
Banking Network and Sugar Lobby
I could not understand how Congress-NCP (later UPA) could come to power in Maharashtra after people witnessed whirlwind progress under SS-BJP. The reason that I now understand is that SS-BJP were not meant to be in power. They did not “win”. Sugar-lobby let them win while they set their houses in order meanwhile and reorient themselves in accordance to changing polity and realities of India. SS-BJP did progress, but they did not (could not have) destroy the mass-base and dense network of industrialists, farmers, traders, politicians, police and bankers which form the back-bone of Sugar-lobby. The large network of cooperative banks, societies, factories, farms spread across villages of Maharashtra is the real strength of Sugar-lobby.
Last of the banks which were holding out against this lobby were sacrificed at the altar of Congress (the new Sonia-MMS-Chidambaram’s Congress). The stories of United Western bank and Ganesh Bank of Kurundwad and their mergers by Chidambaram in IDBI and Federal Bank (originally an Evangelical-funded bank from Kerala) respectively was the last nail in the coffin. SP again hoped to be PM in 2004 when he allied yet opposed Sonia to be PM. Sonia, via Chidambaram, tightened the screws on him by forcing Ganesh Bank to merge in Federal Bank.
United Western Bank was a very strong and robust bank since 1907 (they funded, covertly of course) to many of the Tilak’s protégés. With Tilak’s demise, the bank although dominated by Brahmins, stayed on very good terms with Sugar Lobby. Almost entire Sugar-belt was dominated by this bank. Chidambaram decided to screw this bank up to teach Pawar a lesson. I do not know what Pawar did, but he saved UWB from merging into Federal bank.
People say the relations between Chidambaram and Pawar soured greatly after Pawar played some game and did not allow Federal bank to make inroads in Maharashtra. An interesting trivia here, but the Hindi word for Insurance is WIMA (Not Vima). It is an acronym for Western India Mutual Assurance which is the parent company established by Anna Chirmule (The founder of United Western bank) in 1907. This just shows how popular and deep-rooted this institution was. There was a director of United Western Bank who refused to give shady loan to Sugar-lobby.
Furthermore, he had the audacity to claim the pending loans too. He actually made Pawar pay up. This caused much furore in Maharashtra. It is here that the fate of UWB was sealed. The bogey of Brahmin-Maratha dispute was brought up and United Western Bank suddenly became “Brahminical Bank”. It’s comical, really.
This was a lengthy essay. I have wanted to write this for long time. This is the source of Sugar Lobby’s power. In all my previous articles I have praised Sharad Pawar for keeping the nose of “Delhi” (which meant Nehru/Indira/Sonia) out of Maharashtra. He went to great lengths (unethical lengths) to do so. But he has so far ensured that power of Deccan stays in Deccan and Delhi only gets a nominal Chauth in exchange of staying away. He is one of the reasons why there was hardly any Evangelical conversion activity in 1980s and early 90s in Maharashtra. Of course, the chief being the natural tendency of Maharashtrians which periodically gravitates towards Hindutva.