Maharashtra's home minister Raosaheb Ramrao Patil appears to be insistent on spoiling his copybook. His obsession with banning dance bars is so intense that it naturally receives the maximum coverage, dwarfing the positive aspects of his tenure. At a time when corruption and politics have become synonymous, here is a man who is known for his incorruptibility.
Right now thousands of constables are being recruited across the state, but there has not even been a whiff of corruption. Hundreds of police officers are being routinely promoted and transferred, but no one has alleged that money changes hands. The home ministry is required to procure arms, ammunition, security and telecommunication equipment worth hundreds of crores, but there has hardly been any scandal attached to the process. These are no mean achievements considering the fact that in the past hundreds of crores used to change hands for jobs in the police, postings and transfers.
Through his 'tantamukht gram gram yojana', thousands of disputes have been resolved at the village level itself, thereby encouraging social harmony and also reducing the load on the police and justice mechanisms. Even his worst critics in the Opposition, the acerbic Eknath Khadse, for example, have not personally accused Patil of corruption.
His brother is a police inspector, but he has been given a 'side posting', whereas Patil could easily have included him in Mumbai's elite crime branch.
Senior officers who are required to interact with Patil regularly often talk about his honesty, capacity for decision-making and ability to grasp issues fast. He lost his job the last time after the 26/11 attacks not for any other reason than his poor Hindi.
Indeed, 56-year-old RR Patil aka Aaba is the poster boy of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar. Many NCP ministers are tainted by corruption, but Patil stands out for his clean image. He was groomed in politics by the late chief minister Vasantdada Patil. Thus, Vasantdada, a veteran freedom-fighter who was shot at by the British police, remains his political guru, not Pawar.
Despite such a rich background, it is not clear why Patil is persisting with single-minded devotion the issue of dance bars as if that is the most important problem confronting Maharashtra. Patil's justification for the ban is that a large number of families are ruined, with the men splurging money on the dancers. Also, he alleges, these bars are, really speaking, glitzy fronts for prostitution rackets. If this is the case, he should ensure the closure of all red-light districts in Mumbai and other cities and clampdown on matka gambling with equal zeal.
The fact is that flesh trade is burgeoning in geometrical proportion across the state. Prostitution has gone online. It is rightly said that it is easy to get an 'escort' delivered to your doorstep than have an ambulance come over.
The bar owners refute Patil's allegation of prostitution with telling logic. Said dance bar owner Ramesh Shetty (name changed): "If we indeed wanted to promote prostitution, why would we invest lakhs of rupees in hiring premises, have the interior decorated, hire staff for the kitchen/bar, get the girls dancing, obtain a whole lot of licences from the police and other departments and, over and above that, pay regular 'haftas' to the local cops? All one needs to run a prostitution racket is a mobile phone with contact numbers of the prostitutes. Patil's allegation is at best ridiculous. The man is simply obsessed with dance bars."
What is particularly irking them is that Patil is introducing a fresh legislation to ban these bars after his earlier law was rightly thrown out of the window by both the Bombay high court and Supreme Court. "Just one minister's single-point agenda is spoiling nightlife in Mumbai like nothing else," Shetty observed sadly.