By Vijay Darda | 20-10-2014
Congress: Self-inflicted loss
The assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana had assumed a significance beyond the ambit of merely determining the shape of the political formation that would be ruling these two states. Coming within four months of the biggest success achieved by prime minister Narendra Modi in bringing his party to power at the centre, the polls in these two states were to determine the answer to two critical questions. Firstly whether the Modi magic still works, secondly whether the humiliated Congress had learnt any lessons and regrouped to face the challenge.
Well, the answers are there for us pretty loud and clear. The Modi magic is still at work, and the Congress has not been able to find an answer to his challenge. Indeed, the magic has worked even after the BJP has gone ahead on its own steam instead of teaming up with partners that wanted it to play the second fiddle. In Haryana, the party had never won more than 16 out of 90 seats, and in Maharashtra it had never contested more than 119 seats. In this backdrop to win an absolute majority in Haryana, and grab 122 seats all alone in Maharashtra is then a well-deserved encore of the Lok Sabha elections when it had won 7 out of the 10, and 24 seats of the 48 (with 18 going to the then alliance partner Shiv Sena) respectively in these two states.
But then it would be a fallacy of the first order to merely credit these triumphs to the personal charisma of the prime minister. The organizational wizardry of his comrade in arms Amit Shah, and the foot soldiers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh provide the bulwark of the force that transform this personal magic into votes for the party’s little known candidates. The manner in which the Shah-Modi combine operates, and deputes senior leaders from other states down to the constituency level is something that has been unheard of in the electoral dynamics of the country. There is just one yardstick – Modi addressed 27 rallies, Nitin Gadkari spoke in 104 constituencies and one can be sure that senior leaders of all the other parties put together would not touch base with so many constituencies. This of course is backed up by a high voltage media campaign that simply leaves nothing to chance. The BJP seems to have perfected its recipe for electoral success, to such an extent that it can win even in regions where it has been an untested electoral commodity.
The superlative effort put in by the BJP only contrasts with the abysmally poor and unplanned campaign the Congress conducts despite being the party in power. The Congress effort for these two elections was a re-run of the poor show of the Lok Sabha elections. On the ground, it was if the party had thrown in the towel much before the first vote was cast, and the candidates were left to their own devices. The fact that the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul did not address even one fourth of the public rallies as compared to Narendra Modi is quite an eloquent commentary on the state of affairs. Besides, if the state leadership was guilty of acts of commission, then the central leadership failed through acts of omission. In Maharashtra, for 10 years there has been a chief of the state unit whose son has finished a poor fourth, after denying the ticket to the widow of a successful MLA, whose seat she had won in a by-election. There has been a chief minister for nearly four years, whose stature has been the same as a chief secretary in administrative matters. That he is a cipher in political terms is something that he has revealed himself three days before the polling in a sensational media interview, where by describing himself as a prisoner of circumstances, he dented his own clean image. Little wonder he has struggled to win his assembly seat and the winners among his cabinet colleagues have scored big and impressive victories even amid the party’s ruins. The writing on the wall, that there is a political disaster awaiting the party, yet there wasn’t any sign of a change in attitude or planning or campaign effort. When Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were meticulously planning their moves to finish their political rivals, the Congress leaders in Maharashtra were busy in the infighting within, with central party leadership being just a mute spectator to it all.
Political logic dictated that after the Sena-BJP split, the NCP and the Congress should have stuck together. Their combined vote share of 37 per cent would have placed them in a position of advantage. But then it is not for nothing that Sharad Pawar has developed a reputation for shared power. The alacrity with which senior NCP leader Prafulbhai Patel announced the unilateral outside support to the BJP within hours of the clarity emerging about the numbers gives ample reason to suspect that this is a pre-meditated move. The NCP was sick of the Congress, and the BJP was tired of the Shiv Sena, they were just looking for an opportunity to embrace each other. The numbers have offered them this opportunity.
One only hopes that Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, grabs the real essence of this verdict. With his 63 seats, he has shown that he is not a pushover and carries forward the legacy of his illustrious father the Balasaheb with the same vigour. With this impressive performance in the assembly elections, he has proved another point that Shiv Sena’s success in Lok Sabha elections had nothing to do with BJP surge. Uddhav Thackeray not only fought like a lion but also proved that he is not ‘toothless tiger’. He now has the muscle power and the legitimacy to ensure that no one really plays with the future of Maharashtra. More so, as the state witnessed another disturbing phenomena as the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musulmeen (MIM) has made a shocking inroad by winning two seats. The MIM of Hyderabad’s Asaduddin Owaisi is a party poisoning people in the name of religion. The dawn of such a party on the political horizon of the state may well be construed as a grave threat to the secular fabric of Maharashtra. Anyway, future alone will tell, if he has the statesmanship and the political sagacity to shape the Shiv Sena into a proper regional player. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena too has learnt a lesson with its poor show in the assembly polls. In this background, let us hope the MNS will display the prudence of letting Shiv Sena grow as a formidable regional party in future.
Given that the contours of the political landscape have not changed much since the emphatic win by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, it would be difficult to describe this victory for them as an endorsement of the NDA’s policies over the last four months. It can, however, be safely said that this is a case of the ‘more of the same’, and the same electorate which voted for them with a sense of hope has stuck to it and has had no reason to change its mind.
In so far as the Congress is concerned, these defeats are not a cause for concern per se. A defeat after 15 or 10 years in power can be easily attributed to anti-incumbency or the people’s desire for a change. But the problem is that the party has lost its mojo. It just does not show the will and the ability to fight back. In a politics when a week is considered a long time, four months is an eternity, and yet the party did not initiate even one corrective step. It repeated the same mistakes. This indeed, is a matter of real concern.