Cut down to size
By mid-day tomorrow (Sunday), the stage will be set for a significant churning and consequent realignments on the political scene.
By mid-day tomorrow (Sunday), the stage will be set for a significant churning and consequent realignments on the political scene. Already there are two pointers to the shape of things that can be expected. One is the decision of the Akali Dal government to restore the security detail for cricketer-turned-BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu; the second is Shiv Sena’s rollback of its anti-Modi stance.
Sidhu has earned the wrath of the Akalis by constantly sniping at the Badal family. Not being a regular politician, Sidhu has a short fuse. The Badals paid him back in full measure by withdrawing all the four policemen deployed as his personal security guards two days before polling in Haryana; however, the cops were sent back to Sidhu duty by the time polling ended. And in the state of Haryana, the Akali Dal and BJP have fought the election as adversaries, though both of them have been the allies in Punjab for long years.
While rural base is the Akalis’ mainstay, the BJP brought to the table its urban profile and thus both became a formidable alliance. The recent Lok Sabha election saw murmurs of disenchantment grow in the BJP particularly after the defeat of ‘time-tested strategist’ Arun Jaitley in Amritsar. Disenchantment turned into open discord when the Akali Dal entered the Haryana fray as an ally of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) of former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala. Punjab Chief Minister and Akali Dal supremo Prakash Singh Badal and Chautala’s father Devilal were good friends in good days and bad days. Badal would have loved to see INLD in the BJP camp, but it didn’t happen.
While the BJP generally refrained from attacking the Shiv Sena, its erstwhile Maratha ally did not reciprocate the same sentiment. Sena chief Uddhav and his mouthpiece, Saamna, were very vocal in their criticism of Hindutva Big Brother; there was also a personal attack on Modi which brought instant protests from the likes of Nitin Gadkari and Eknath Khadse. Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi chief Raj Thackeray did not lag behind in pouring vitriol on Modi.
On their part, the BJP leaders mostly focused on the 15-year-long rule of Congress-NCP combine, and painted the Gandhis and the Pawars as the villains. The no-holds-barred fight between the Congress and the NCP made the BJP task much easier. Well, it is unfair to find fault with the Thackeray cousins for what they did when the whole campaign had ended up as “Modi vs Others” battle. Even the redoubtable Sharad Pawar, whom PV once compared to a Mahabharata character that had made Bhishma retire from the Kurukshetra battlefield, deemed it fair and proper to charge Modi with neglecting his national responsibilities to focus on Maharashtra Sachivalaya. “Why are you (Modi) addressing so many (27 by last count) rallies?” he asked.
Post the exit polls, Pawar’s points man Prafulla Patel has begun dropping enough hints of NCP’s readiness to collaborate with Modi. And he is goading the BJP not to bother about small fry like Raj’s MNS. The Prafulla-Speak does not come as a surprise, and it entirely fits with the NCP profile. It also lends credence to the pre-poll talk in local political circles of a possible post-poll alliance between the NCP and the BJP. Pawar’s protestations and his open flaunting of his secular credentials did not silence his critics.
A common refrain one hears across Maharashtra even among many die-hard Pawar loyalists is that the Great Maratha cannot remain outside the shadow of power. Remember Pawar was associated with the Vajpayee government’s relief effort after the devastating earthquake in the Kutch region of Gujarat. His “principled” opposition to Sonia Gandhi and her foreign birth did not stand in the way of NCP becoming a junior partner to the Congress. Yes, to his credit, it must be said that he had publicly stated that he had given up his anti-Sonia plank. His confession did not earn him any brownie points from the Congress leaders; in fact, they don’t hesitate to confess in public their long-held suspicion of his motives and planks.
It is hazardous to crystal gaze political equations simply on the basis of exit polls in a country like India, which brings nightmares to psephologists. Yet one hypothesis that can be advanced is that we are heading for the days of single party dominance. Whether it is Punjab or Maharashtra, the days of local players calling the tune are over. The arrogance of the regional players is as much responsible for the changing outlook as the calibrated readiness of the new BJP leadership to take risks.
From the days of Indira Gandhi, the dominant national player generally allowed full freedom to the regional player in order to secure a comfortable position on Raisina Hill. In the process, ideology took a backseat. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, any Dravidian Party appeared good enough as long as it was able to “gift” the LS seats. Till Modi happened, the BJP too followed the same script. Not any longer. This is bad news to the likes of TDP. Interestingly, Modi has gone to the town, banking on the Indira refrain about a strong centre.
Modi “nationalising” Indira Gandhi and other Congress icons is a different issue. Yes, it is a good enough tactic to rattle the Grand Old Party. Being a seasoned warrior, the Sonia Congress will serve its interests if it begins to look beyond its nose and puts its house in order. Expelling a Gufran-e-Azam (a former Youth Congress general secretary and ex-PCC vice-president) in Madhya Pradesh or “silencing” a garrulous Shashi Tharoor doesn’t make the Congress fighting fit. In fact, such acts may end up doing more harm than good to its battered image. Because the issue championed by Gufran that Sonia had shown “more love for her son with low IQ than for the Congress,” and the comments by Shashi on contemporary political issues have wider appeal, and demand not quick-fix response but a well thought-out long-term action plan that would give marching orders to the sycophants in order to reinvigorate the party which is truly at the cross-roads of history.