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Waiting for the credits to roll

The Maharashtra elections results will force Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray to reinvent themselves....

Written by Kumar Ketkar |
October 23, 2009 2:44:26 am

Finally,the Congress and the Nationalist Congress party have managed a modest victory belying grim predictions of arithmetical chaos in the state. One can,of course,deny them the satisfaction of the ‘first past the post’ glory of victory by citing the lower percentage of votes,by showing the dismal performance of the SS-BJP as Opposition and by stating the obvious: the Godsend of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which demolished as many as 38 seats,winning 12 out of them,thereby facilitating their victory. But as the saying goes,‘victory is victory.’

This is the golden jubilee year of the formation of Maharashtra state. On May 1,2010,the state will complete 50 years. None of the issues that tormented the people of the state have been addressed and if the ruling alliance continues to be as callous and disconnected from the people,then one fears,the issues could be fought on the streets.

This election is also curtain-call for some. Take for instance Sharad Pawar himself. He will be 70 this December. He has been on the political scene since 1967. He has been saying that he wants to retire. If he was sincere,perhaps he would not have accepted the ministry in the Union cabinet and could have functioned as elder statesman. But he said that he succumbed to the pressures of rank and file. Well,exactly ten years ago,when his party contested in the state as a parallel Congress (NCP) and had candidates against the Sonia-led Congress,he was working with the hope that not only would he be able to create a vertical split in the Congress Working Committee,but also would win Maharashtra almost on his own,thereby becoming a future lead party,a ‘true’ inheritor of the Congress. His hopes were dashed and when the results came,the leader with a ‘foreign origin’ had won more seats in the Maratha/Marathi state. That was a crucial year. If the Congress had performed badly,there was a distinct possibility of the NCP joining hands with the SS-BJP alliance,because only then the numbers could have provided the government. There was a BJP-led government in the Centre and Pawar had the best of relations with them. Indeed,Pramod Mahajan used to say that in Maharashtra,a radical change of alliances was likely. But Pawar’s Maratha followers,particularly in Western Maharashtra were not ready to join that game. Pawar’s efforts to create a new progressive democratic front did not lead anywhere,and he was forced to play second fiddle to the Sonia-led Congress and join the government. That is history. Ever since,Pawar has been trying to carve out a role for himself,in Maharashtra and with the help of the state support,to position himself at the Centre. So far,things have not worked out in his favour. He could not suffered a worse setback than in the Lok Sabha elections when his plans of becoming prime minister disappeared in thin air. Now,he will have to seriously think of a new role. In that sense,despite the Congress-NCP victory,his fate is almost sealed.

The second person who would have to redraw the map for himself and also for the Shiv Sena,would be Uddhav Thackeray. There are two things that must worry him. The first is of course the political challenge (or threat,if you wish) posed by Raj Thackeray. The question is not how many MLAs or corporators desert the Shiv Sena. They would not march towards Raj as yet. The reason is simple: self interest. If they choose Raj,they lose their seat,which they would not like to. But there is the second and third and the fourth rank. They have been waiting to go over to Raj. The appeal of Raj is to the young and importantly,to women across the age group. This ‘female following’ is interpreted as ‘sex appeal’,by some self-proclaimed psychoanalysts. The crowds that throng to Raj’s rallies have easily almost half of them,women. It is also important to note that many surveys showed that the ‘man’ in the middle age category tended to back Shiv Sena and the ‘woman’ in the family championed the Raj cause.

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The second factor Uddhav has to deal with is the alliance with the BJP. Despite contesting fewer seats,the BJP has won more and will now claim the Leader of the Opposition chair. That would considerably demoralise the newly elected members in the assembly. The Shiv Sena has always regarded the BJP as the younger kin and dependent on the mass appeal of the Thackerays. The Shiv Sena and the BJP are culturally poles apart. The BJP constituency is that of an ‘upper-caste,upper-class,urban,educated and generally anti-Congress’. The Shiv Sena,on the other hand represents the working classes,the lower middle layers,the poor and the lumpens. When the Shiv Sena was founded,it represented the hopeless,hapless and have-nots from the city of Mumbai,where they felt threatened — culturally and economically. All the initial campaigns of the Sena were to consolidate this base. At that time,the BJP and the SS hated each other. The BJP called the Sena “parochial” and accused it of dividing the misnomer called ‘Hindu vote bank’. Realising later that both of them were struggling and not succeeding,they chose to come together in 1985,when the BJP as well as the SS were bulldozed by the Rajiv Gandhi Juggernaut. But in 1990,the SS-BJP got as many as 95 seats together. And in the next election,in 1995,winning together as many as 138 seats,they dethroned the Congress. That cemented them together.

Now that cement is wearing thin. Both of them will have to rethink. If the Sena tries to outdo Raj in the ‘Marathi Manoos’ campaign,in effect they will help the MNS. If the alliance tries to play the militant Hindu card,they would be marginalised because that card,notwithstanding the 26/11 tragedy,has been proved worthless.

kumar.ketkar@expressindia.com

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First published on: 23-10-2009 at 02:44:26 am
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