Who has the bigger mojo?

In 1995, when the Congress was pushed below the majority mark in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance was struggling to cop up one of their own, Sharad Pawar, the sitting chief minister, well, just sat back and did nothing.

The House of 288 members had thrown up 45 Congress rebels with the Congress bringing in about 80 members on its own. Pawar could easily have utilised their services to continue in government but he declined then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s request to do so.

“Ruling with those independents would put unnecessary pressure on the administration and interfere with the implementation of our manifesto. I am not prepared for those kind of battles through the next five years.’’

When then finance minister Ramrao Adik went down on his knees to Pawar pleading with him not to allow the Sena-BJP into government “for they will ruin the state and it will take us the next 15 years to get it back on its feet again.’’ Pawar once again refused.

When I asked him why, he said, “The public mood is against us. So we should not now give them the impression that we are only interested in keeping power at any cost. Otherwise the Shiv Sena will come back with such resounding majority that we will not be able to displace them for the next two decades.’’

To Adik he said, “Trust me. Give me just three years. If the Sena-BJP do not implode in that time, I will give up politics forever and take sanyas.’’

Pawar was absolutely right on both counts. It took just about three years for all sorts of scams – including Raj Thackeray’s alleged involvement in a murder case — to explode into the open and the 45 Congress rebels who teamed up with the Sena-BJP ro form the government, demanded their pound of flesh to such a huge extent that the state went bankrupt. It did take the Congress-NCP (by then Pawar had split the Congress) a decade or more to fix all the shortages (like electricity) and the debts, cancel all the bad projects (like Enron, which was renegotiated by the Sena-BJP in the worst possible terms for the state) and reduce the dependence of the treasury on overdrafts from the Reserve Bank of India to acceptable levels.

It is essentially because of many more such administrative and policy failures by people who did not know how to pull together as a cohesive whole that the Sena-BJP has not been able to come back to power again in Maharashtra, despite the fact that the Congress-NCP scandals have perhaps overtaken those by the Sena-BJP and there is really no sparkling leadership in the state.

So I had thought it might not be a bad idea for the UPA government at the Centre to go in for a mid-term poll for the Lok Sabha to enable them to get rid of troublesome allies like Mamata Bannerjee and her Trinamool Congress. Given the fact that no one, not even Nitish Kumar of the JD(U), is really willing to touch the BJP with a barge pole owing to the Narendra Modi factor (and this is also why even Bal Thackeray plans to contest Gujarat on his own his December), I am sure the mandate would have been both fractured and fractious and the Congress-led formation could then have allowed everybody to try their hands at government.

All the votaries of the opposition, I am sure, would have been sick in no time at all (as even the friends of the BJP were in Maharashtra preferring a smoothly functioning government, even if led by the Congress, to a fractious one by their own party) and like Pawar said in 1995, they would have imploded in no time at all. Unlike what the BJP seems to believe it would not even have been within striking distance of that government – as should have been obvious to them with the teaming up iof Telegu Desam president Chandrababu Naidu with Mulayam Singh Yadav rather than his old friends in government at the centre.

Naidu’s problem is the same as Mamata’s today as also even of the Shiv Sena – after the Gujarat eriots of 2002, the BJP’s allies are facing diminishing returns, with Thackeraym, too, believing he ahs completely lsot the minority vote he ahd continued to retin even after the Sena’ involvement in the 1992-93 riots of Bombay. Which is why Nitish Kumar, too, is chafing at the bit. Naidu has clearly said that despite a good record in governance he lost the elections in Andhra Pradesh not once but twice because the Muslims in his state viewed his party wityh suspicion vis-a-vis the BJP. With a new kid on the block (Jaganmohan Reddy and his YSR Congress which is a credible option to voters in AP) Naidu is not going to risk losing that vote again. And having burnt her fingers once, Mamata, too, has more than the usual percentage of minority votes in her state to risk teaming up with the BJP again. And that is true with even one-time ally Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party who has earlier been part of BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh. Ditto Navin Patnaik of Orissa

That, perhaps, is the reason why even the BJP wants status quo and will not push for a no-confidence motion against Dr Manmohan Singh’s government in New Delhi. But while even I was taken in by the high drama of the last week, as the c Congress recovered from the teetering brink it was on, I told myself: I should have known. The Congress squeezes every drop out of its term, unlike the BJP which twice – once at the Centre in 2004 and earlier in Maharashtra in 1999 – got taken in by its own rhetoric to call for early polls, It lost both times, never to win the governments back again. And all because of the Gujarat massacres of 2002.

So it is rich now that Modi should take a dig at the Prime Minister for the failure to contain violence in Assam (the last I heard, Modi had failed even more miserably in 2002) and for the BJP to congratulate Mamata on quitting the UPA. At least the UPA (including Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi tried and succeeded in containing the damage far sooner than Modi ever did in his own state. I find the BJP today in that very state of `majestic isolation’ (they are very good with words) today that they had wished upon themselves during their campaign to block parliament over the coal scam.

The Shiv Sena (a half-hearted friend at the best) and the Akali Dal are all that the BJP has been left with in terms of allies and the party is having to discover that your enemy’s enemy might not necessarily wish to be your friend. There are some things a that are quite unforgettable and unforgivable. And majestic isolation could also be very cold, unfriendly and very, very lonely.

The Congress, today, which has got rid of a troublesome friend and gained back its `mojo’, as some newspapers have said in context of the Prime Minister (‘mojo’, in terms of current usage, simply means the power of a magical personality to charm people, perhaps also true of Narendra Modi today) must surely be having the last laugh. For all you know, it might once again find the opportunity to laugh all the way to its (vote) bank.

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