A great leveller

On a day when Narendra Modi and the BJP decisively sweep the elections, I have hardly anything left to say except that I am truly stunned. I have not as much idea about states in other parts of the country to which I did not travel at these elections but I toured Maharashtra extensively and all my instincts rebel against the results – I and most of my colleagues who thought similarly are unable to fathom what went wrong for the Congress-NCP alliance.

Though a majority was indeed expected for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, I had not thought that some of the best performers in the Congress and the strongest candidates in the NCP would fall by the wayside. If anyone has saved the Congress a little patch of clean from the egg on its face, it is Ashok Chavan, former chief minister, so reviled for his alleged involvement in the Adarsh scam, whom the Congress was hesitating to award a ticket and who was, indeed, given one quite reluctantly.

What surprises me utterly is that while the Sena-BJP victory can clearly be attributed to Modi, the institutional lock-in of voters particularly in Western Maharashtra where sugar co-operatives play a big role in voting patterns, this time completely collapsed and the only candidates who won are what I call ‘the feudals’ – Udayan Raje Bhosale, the direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, another royal, Supriya Sukle, a modern-day princess and Chavan, a dynastic leader, all four Marathas (though at the time of writing there were reports that the Congress and the NCP might be winning one more seat each, but once again both are Maratha candidates).

The failure of the institutions to deliver remind me of what a farmer who had suffered terrible losses during the early summer hailstorm in the stte told me, “We do not want compensation from the government because that is a joke in the name of making good our losses. All that I got out of the 4000 crore that the central government released was Rs 3,000 – and I spent more money going back and forth to collect it. I had to dump my bananas at 80 paise per kilo and my tomatoes at one rupee per kilo. If they just gave us a good procurement price and did not bother with this compensation we would be far better off.”

That kind of economic discontent was not visible in Vidarbha but I was reasonably certain that the Congress-NCP might not do too well in this region because of its heavy dependence on caste candidatures – both parties got their combinations entirely wrong, the Sena-BJP managed their candidates much better and, in addition, Modi’s own background helped in bringing the substantial number of OBCs round to the Sena-BJP fold.

But what has comepletely failed to cut ice with the voters is Sharad Pawar’s once famed connect with the ‘farmers’. As agricutlrue minister, the crowd should have had empathy with him but Pawar has simply played too many games with this very core base of his voters in the past ten years as agriculture minister for them to have been impressed with his promises any longer. Pawar was always unfair to the cotton growers of Vidarbha, he cared only about the cane growers in his own Maharashtra, again only because the sugar factories’ profits would have been affected by their prosperity or lack of it.

If Dr Manmohan Singh had paid more attention to the complaints of his own party men – who presented him with excel sheets – detailing how prices of food commodities rose every time Pawar made a coded statement understood only by his trader friends and other commodities exchange associates, the Congress would have come to less grief in the state. Instead Dr Singh sent those men packing with the warning not to target his “best minister” who was left free to get up to all sorts of shenanigans throughout the second term of the UPA.

Pawar was also left to his own resources to campaign during these elections essentially because the Congress had no other campaigner of his calibre. The only other man who could have somewhat matched Pawar – Ashok Chavan – was busy contesting his own election and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was simply following Pawar around like a faithful lamb (as it turns out now – to the slaughter).

Pawar then must carry the can for this massive defeat from the state and instrospect on what went so wrong that the Congress posted a worse result than even in 1977.

Nevertheless, democracy is a great leveller and the results might somehow come as a boon to the Congress in Maharashtra which was otherwise gearing up to face a desertion from Pawar’s NCP in the event of a hung parliament in New Delhi. It will also be a boon to Pawar who was under threat from his own nephew and a sizeable section of his supporters rooting for Ajit Pawar who were planning to split the NCP soon after the Lok Sabha polls if Pawar Senior did not toe the line. All of Ajit’s candidates at these elections have lost their seats, only Pawar’s own (Supriya Sule and Vijaysingh Mohite Patil) have kept their necks above water.

It is a great salutary lesson. I wonder if the Congress and particularly the NCP will take this slap in the face with as much equanimity as did Pawar himself when he was actually punched by a stranger in New Delhi three years ago. If not, the Congress may yet revive but the NCP will be well and truly sunk.

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