The bungalow that breathes politics

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Feb 2018 11:00:01

Vijay Phanshikar,

By no standard can the sprawling bungalow be associated with the aura of immense political power that is associated with the position of Maharashtra’s Chief Minister. The modest main gate to the estate, too, does not make any physical statement of the importance of the place, except of course, the plain board that says that the Chief Minister stays there. The security does defy that modesty, and the visitor or the onlooker gets a faint idea of what may be concealed behind the front wooded part between the gate and the building about a hundred meters inside.

Yet, ‘Ramgiri’, Maharashtra Chief Minister’s official residence in Nagpur, communicates an immense sense of history once one is inside the premises. The curved road that takes the visitor to the front porch of the bungalow, the piercing eyes of the security staff scanning the visitor, the hurried movements of well-dressed officers, the smileless terseness that is usually associated with high positions -- all these tell the visitor that he -- or she -- is in a place that matters, that makes the difference!

This is ‘Ramgiri’ for the people!
They recognise immediately the immense power that modest bungalow located on the eastern side of a spread-out estate conceals in its folds each of which has a story to narrate.

I have been visiting every Chief Minister of Maharashtra for decades now, sipping coffee with him and his associates, at times taking a lunch with him, asking questions and feeling vindicated if there is no answer forthcoming. Most meetings have been pleasant experiences, alright. Yet, some of those encounters were terribly tense, very awkward, daring the participants of a small group very serious in countenance to give out at least a crack of a smile. One meeting was so terribly hostile that I almost got up to leave in exasperation.
No matter all that, on each of those countless visits over decades, I never missed history lurking from every corner of the building as well as the entire premises. For, it is in this building that Maharashtra’s edifice of power arrives at decisions -- some very good, some very bad, but most coming only after deliberations whose depth only few can understand. For, what is at stake is not just political career of the resident of the building. What is at stake is the fortune of crores of people in the State. Each of the decisions that has come from behind the closed-door confabulations in this building has also affected, in turn, the entire nation. For, whatever Maharashtra does, other States follow directly or indirectly -- or even reject it outright. For every year since its inception on May 1, 1960, Maharashtra has always been the country’s leading State, and whatever it does -- or chooses not to do -- affects the rest of the country, politically or administratively.

‘Ramgiri’ communicates all this -- and much more.
Let alone the aura of power that the visitor may feel once inside the premises, ‘Ramgiri’ is a very ‘soft and delicate’ place. For, in its rooms and halls and hallways, what is discussed is issues that have one very delicate, tenuous part that needs to be handled very carefully. The people who occupy high positions in Maharashtra’s corridors of power are very different people -- deep and dedicated to their craft of running the State, the politicians or the bureaucrats. They know what they are doing. They might have made mistakes, but they also have done remarkably well on so many occasions. And all these men and women -- many times rough-looking -- know how to handle things delicately.

‘Ramgiri’ has housed friends and foes as its temporary residents. On many occasions, yesterday’s Leader of Opposition comes to live in ‘Ramgiri’ as Chief Minister. And in that case, yesterday’s occupant comes to meet him there as an adversary. This contrast may be difficult for common people to understand -- or accommodate in their personal lives. In politics, however, such situations are taken in the stride, something beyond common comprehension.

As a journalist, I have seen men like Vasantrao Naik, Shankarrao Chavan, Barrister Abdul Rehman Antulay, Sharadchandra Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Manohar Joshi, Ashok Chavan, Devendra Fadnavis as
temporary residents of ‘Ramgiri’. All of them were acutely aware of the temporariness of their position. Many of them demonstrated certain arrogance, too, that is so closely associated with power. Despite, in their hearts, most of them were quite fully aware that they were passengers on a great journey and would have to move on.

‘Ramgiri’ has sheltered all these men with equanimity -- and even non-chalance. Its walls absorbed all that politics, sometimes sublime and sometimes full of grime. They spoke no word. Yet, those who are sensitive to what can happen in corridors of power also sense those very subtle vibrations. If they do, ‘Ramgiri’ smiles invisibly. If they don’t, then also she smiles similarly. Over time, the
building has given up its inanimate status, so to say. It has assumed a persona that breathes, that pulsates, that vibrates, that speaks to itself.

The road in front of ‘Ramgiri’ is now a walkers’ paradise. Much effort by many walkers led to that status. On that road, every morning and evening, one can see political, financial, administrative, cultural, legal elites enjoying their daily constitutionals, in groups or alone. Animated
discussions in muffed tones can be sensed on this road, involving major issues that have the power to shape history.

To all that activity, ‘Ramgiri’ stands a silent witness.
That ability of ‘Ramgiri’ to stay unmoved and silent is the very special dimension of the character of the place!