Send your cow to us ….
Almost at the end of yet another election in Maharashtra, I am both saddened and nostalgic.
Sad, because this election proved to me that, after Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray, there are less and less real leaders among the men (and women) in politics. And that brought about a deep nostalgia for the past when covering elections was fun as the leaders kept us on our toes and gave us great copy at the end of the day.
By contrast, now their campaigns are almost predictable. Most of the leaders have a set speech – if you have covered one public meeting, you have covered them all. The only exception to this rule is Sharad Pawar – he never has a fixed routine and you better not be caught napping (as I almost was last week on his campaign trail) or you might miss some real gems he throws your way.
My best story out of Pawar’s campaigns is this one: in the years when the Shiv Sena-BJP was in power in Maharashtra, he was trying his damnedest to influence rural voters into believing that the Sena-BJP had no knowledge about farmers at all. I guess they really didn’t. For, when sugarcane growers in Western Maharashtra complained to then Chief Minister Manohar Joshi that their crops were failing, he was very sympathetic and assured them that the government would provide the cane growers better “seed’’ next season.
Pawar pounced on that to bring home to the farmers that Joshi would never understand the farmers’ woes because he was city-born-and-bred and so they must vote him out. This is how he put it: when your bullock sits down and refuses to till your land, you first beat him with a stick; then you poke it with a pin. When it still won’t stand up, you have to put a rope through its nose, drag it to the market and sell it off.
It is Joshi’s reaction to this provocation that made that story worthwhile. So enraged was he at being thus ridiculed that he told Pawar, “Send your cow to us and we will show you what our bull can really do!’’
More than a decade later, Pawar is still on the rural rhetoric. This year I was almost asleep at the end of a long day when at his last public meeting that evening, Pawar dropped character to heap a good deal of ridicule on Uddhav Thackeray. The Maratha warlord generally eschews words of personal abuse but I guess Uddhav’s continuous reference to him as a `eunuch’ and an agricultural minister who has done nothing for the farmers had got under his skin.
So for the first time ever, I heard him break into abuse and refer to Uddhav as a `gadwa’ (donkey — or ass, if you will). I sat up in shock. Pawar was speaking in Marathi to cotton farmers of Vidarbha and he said, “That donkey does not even know the difference between cotton and cotton.’’
Actually neither did I. For translated from the Marathi, the words were `kapaas’ (kapaashi) and `ruiee’ (paraati). But then Marathi is not my native language. (I did know that kapaas and ruiee were the same thing, though).
Pawar always has issues that connect with the masses but I believe as of today there is no better speaker in Maharashtra than Raj Thacekray – he can electrify the masses like no one else and I have noticed youngsters travel miles from everywhere to just listen to him.
The only downside is that most of the time Raj’s agenda is negative – he is always provoking people into beating up North Indians or adding to violence in some other manner. But whenever he chooses not to create violence, I must admit, he is a delight to hear — even if you do not agree with his agenda. At the last Lok Sabha elections, he had managed to access Indian ration cards and passports in the names of Osama Bin Laden and his innumerous family members — I do not know if Raj just chanced upon those documents or actually had them made to prove his point that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India get a good deal of help in staying on from our own people. The embarrassment that caused the government authorities was something to really write home about.
But, like I said before, there are less and less of leaders – Raj does not have a vision or an original thought, everything is copied from the Sixties programmes of his uncle (the only difference being that beating up South Indians then has been replaced with beating up North Indians now). He is more of a demagogue in that sense but could rise a notch above the others if he cuts out the mockery, mimicry and personal abuse that lace his speeches all the time.
But, then, mimicry and abuse is a Thackeray trademark — even Bal Thackeray never could eschew these in a whole lifetime. And Raj is nothing if not a chip of the old block.