Some yawns and many rivalries

Speaking to a man in the know, the other week, I was rather amused to hear him describe the situation in the Nationalist Congress Party rather succinctly.

“Sharad Pawar cannot stand his nephew Ajit. Ajit Pawar cannot stand his cousin (Pawar’s daughter) Supriya Sule. Supriya can’t stand Ajit either. Chhagan Bhujbal can’t stand RR Patil; RR Patil can’t stand Jayant Patil. His predecessor in the job of Maharahstra’s home minister), Jayant Patil cannot stand RR either … and so it goes on.”

I could have added: Uddhav Thackeray cannot stand Raj Thackeray. Ditto Raj vis-a-vis Uddhav. Gopinath Munde cannot stand Nitin Gadkari and vice versa. And no Congressman in Maharashtra can stand their own chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. Which is why when Ajit and Bhujbal tore into him for criticizing RR Patil’s handling of the home department at a cabinet meeting last week, not one of his own ministers came to his rescue.

If Maharashtra is, then, still standing on its feet and has not collapsed so far, it is entirely because, I believe, its people have done much good in the past to society (in the form of its pioneering reforms, etc). They helped themselves then and so God is helping the state along now.

With barely six months to go to the civic elections in Bombay, it was no surprise the that all political parties – bar the ruling ones – should jump onto the bandwagon of mill workers and demand free housing to them, 29 years after such a need became apparent. Is that scraping the bottom of the barrel? I think so – though no one denies the legitimacy of the issue, one wonders where all these political parties were when mill workers were languishing all this while.

Much was made of both Uddhav and Raj Thackeray supporting the move and many television channels even jumped the gun describing the two warring cousins as coming together for a common cause.

“Will they unite as the next step?” many queried. But I was pretty certain that that is not about to happen in a hurry. Raj refused to share the dais with his cousin and, not surprisingly, when Uddhav announced a bandh on August 1 to protest the rights of mill workers, Raj withdrew saying the better way, with an Assembly session underway, was to ask your own MLAs to press the ministers and put the government on the mat.

Of late, Raj has been coming off as the more measured and nuanced of the two, simply because Uddhav has been beating him to the kind of protests (street fights, et al) which would be right up Raj’s own sleeve. So if one decides to head north, the other would decidedly go south or east or west, so long as it is no where near his bete noire.

Now that’s the same with both Munde and Gadkari, except that both cannot stand Uddhav Thackeray either (and vice versa). They may well be able to get along with Raj but their alliance with the Sena does not allow them to explore that avenue, so each of their supporters undercuts the other’s

There is so much distrust within the NCP that only Sharad Pawar holds them together – and of course their fear of the Congress, which itself is racked with rivalry and incompetence, that the NCP seems far stronger.

In all my years as a political journalist, I have never seen any state, including my own (Maharashtra) in such a situation where no one knows where the other is going and almost everybody is resorting to reactions rather than actions.

Had it not been for the fact that Maharashtra is due for a big round of local self- government elections, across zilla parishads, municipal councils and municipal corporations, there would not have even been a morcha of mill workers on Thursday. These elections are a matter of life and death to the Shiv Sena, if no other party, and so there was some energy on display in both the government and the opposition this week. Nevertheless even that energy was a response, a reaction to situations and circumstances rather than original action. They are all turning Newton’s Law – every action has an equal and opposite reaction – not just on its head but to the side!

Without the benefit of these elections all political parties would have been content with their sloth and lethargy, thinking only about their petty squabbles and not at all about the welfare of the people that should be their prime concern.

Yawn! Gosh, their lethargy seems to have gotten into me and I am almost falling asleep at my computer! I am off for a cup of coffee – and I hope, in the meantime, political parties decide what’s best for the people and not just for themselves!

I hope the Congress and the NCP wake up long enough to remind the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, who were in the forefront of the morcha demanding free housing to mill workers, that their leader Manohar Joshi and MNS president Raj Thackeray are the ones who have bought up vast tracts of mill workers’ land in partnership with each other and are equally guilty of displacing them.

Moreover, when Bal Thackeray expressed the concern that these mill workers should be allotted homes in their upcoming projects, both Raj and Joshi were clear: these were commercial projects and there was no room for free housing for the displaced mill workers.

Come again?

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