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Grandstanding at Ballot Box

Grandstanding at Ballot Box
Highlights

Whoever wins the race to Maharashtra Sachivalaya next month, one thing is clear for sure. A lot of egos will be headed for the slaughter house.

Whoever wins the race to Maharashtra Sachivalaya next month, one thing is clear for sure. A lot of egos will be headed for the slaughter house. It is because of the inability to pocket the ego when needed, the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena-BJP alliances have fallen on the wayside just two days before the last date for filing of nominations, and opened the floor to multi-cornered contests.

Multiple centres of power in Maharashtra Congress have played no mean role for the party’s split with the NCP, an ally of 15 years. Surprisingly, the high command in Delhi has kept quiet all through the negotiations phase. It did not pull up the busybodies with an agenda. It also did not play an activist role either in order to keep the alliance intact.

True, Sonia Gandhi was away in the West for a check-up for many days. Rahul Gandhi, the Crown Prince, was in and out of the country during this period. Their physical absence from the country did not alter the equations in the party and both or either of them could have put the seat-sharing talks on track. From what is available in public domain, no such effort appears to have been mounted to save the alliance. This is intriguing, to say the least.

Even in the best of times, the Cong-NCP alliance was a marriage of convenience; it was not based on any lofty ideals either. And they were not made for each other despite the common Congress DNA. The tantalising half- way mark in the state assembly made them sink their differences in 1999 after fighting each other bitterly. Since then they have been allies who loved to snip at each other in public and private.

Notwithstanding his stature at the national level, Sharad Pawar is a regional leader at the core and his NCP was and is a regional party. A Tariq Anwar in Bihar and an occasional Purno A Sangma in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills do not make NCP a national player. Sharad Pawar is acutely conscious of his limitations. Yet, it was his compulsive love for red beacon that made him remain as Congress ally in the state and at the centre.

Any other leader would have walked out when he was divested of Food and Civil Supplies Ministry as Sonia-Manmohan combine did in the UPA-II to Pawar and entrusted the portfolio to a loyal junior. Another occasion for walk out was when Pawar loyalist Praful Patel was unceremoniously moved out of civil aviation, again in UPA-11. But Pawar did not, and stuck with the Congress – a good enough reason to reward him, more so after he had conveyed to Sonia Gandhi early this week that the alliance should fight the Maharashtra elections together.

There is no denying that the ground situation has changed after the Lok Sabha elections. The NCP had won four seats while the Congress was successful in two. Yet, even when negotiations on seat-sharing reached cliff hanger stage, local Congress leaders led by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan were gunning for Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar. As if to give a new coat on his image as Mr Clean, Chavan also resurrected irrigation scam cases against Ajit, and hoped thus to make the NCP yield at the negotiating table. The gamble failed.

It is difficult to buy the theory in circulation that the Congress high command was unaware of the local equations and cross-firing. After the Adarsh scam-tainted Ashok Chavan became an albatross, Prithviraj Chavan was sent from Delhi to take over the Maharashtra mantle and to continue the Operation Checkmate Pawar. The Lok Sabha result showed that Prithviraj did no splendid job. Sonia-Rahul combine toyed with the idea of replacing him in May end but what saved him from the sack was absence of immediate alternatives and the emergence from semi-retirement of Narayan Rane for the “promised” pound of flesh besides the fact that the assembly elections were round the corner.

Put simply, by the time the Congress entered into seat-sharing talks with the NCP, it was a hopelessly divided and tainted house, and, therefore, is not in a position either to put its best foot forward or opt for a solo fight. Only intervention by Sonia Gandhi could have saved the day for the Congress. She did not, though she was very much in Delhi during the last leg of negotiations.
This raises the question: Is Sonia Gandhi losing her grip over the party. Also, Rahul Gandhi for that matter?

Both questions were answered in a manner of speaking by the first list of the Congress for 118 of 288 seats which was available on Friday. Rahul boys have not found a place in the list. Old timers did to the dismay of GenNext. Frankly, the NCP is in no pink of health. Its presence is mostly limited to the backward Marathwada, which means NCP has not yet made a dent in 25 of the 35 districts in the state. If it has upped the ante, it is because of the conviction that the Congress needed an ally in these days of Moditva and the belief that like in J&K and Meghalaya, in Maharashtra too, the Congress will be ready to share the CM’s chair with the ally after the mid-way mark to the five-year term.

This gamble failed at the altar of Congress party’s original resolve to keep teaching a lesson to Pawar. This resolve goes back to the days when he had opposed Sonia Gandhi on the grounds of her foreign origin.

Similar ego at its unadulterated best resulted in the Shiv Sena- BJP ending their 25-year-old alliance. And Om Prakash Chautala sharing the platform with the likes of Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, and H D Deve Gowda at Jind on Thursday and declaring that his INLD would form the next government on its own in Haryana. “It doesn't matter whether I contest elections or not, but one thing is for sure, I will take oath as CM from Tihar jail,” he said in an obvious reference to the fact that he is yet to complete his jail term in the teachers recruitment scandal of 1999.

Misplaced optimism? Well, it is normal in most camps on the eve of elections even when locked in a do-or-die battle. As a veteran of many political battles once said, oxygen for politicians is hope of a win at the ballot box.

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