By Amulya Ganguli
As always, the electorate has sent a clear message to every party in the just concluded elections.
For the BJP, the memo is that the regional parties cannot be ignored, as the Maharashtra results have shown. It was the same lesson which the BJP learnt in the parliamentary polls when it could not breach the regional fortresses of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Now, the BJP has seen that while it is able to reduce its former ally, the Shiv Sena, to the second place in the list of winners and losers, it is unable to gain a majority of its own in the legislature. To achieve that, the BJP has no option but to approach the discarded Sena – unless the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) bails it out.
For the Sena, the message is that it should not have been so fixated on making Uddhav Thackeray the chief minister as to deny the BJP the 10-odd extra seats which it wanted to seal the alliance. If that concession had been made, the saffron duo could have won a runaway victory.
On the other hand, the BJP can console itself that it has finally emerged as the No. 1 party in the state although the majority has eluded it. The achievement, however, is valuable for its own sake, for the BJP has been smarting under the ignominy of playing second fiddle to the Sena for a quarter of a century.
On its part, the Sena can derive considerable satisfaction for having reduced the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to irrelevance. In the battle of the cousins, Uddav has finally pulled well ahead of Raj, who has always regarded himself as the true inheritor of Balasaheb Thackeray’s legacy because of his aggressive, no-nonsense style. The voters have shown, however, that they prefer the mild-mannered Uddhav to the bristling, acidic Raj.
The sternest message, however, is for the Congress and the NCP which had been in power in the state for the last 15 years. But, it wasn’t only anti-incumbency which let them down, but the perception that they were both corrupt and inefficient, the two attributes which also sealed the fate of the Manmohan Singh government.
Similarly, the outgoing chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, had to pay the price for his perceived inadequacies as the head of the government and for the allegations of corruption which plagued both the ministers from his own party and the NCP, or the naturally corrupt party, to quote Narendra Modi. Little wonder that Chavan admitted in a newspaper interview, which he later said was off the record, that he was unable to “shed” Congress stalwarts like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan because that would have destroyed the party.
A similar consideration of organizational and political stability made him overlook the charges of dubious conduct against the NCP’s Ajit Pawar. An identical quest for safety also made Manmohan Singh overlook the shenanigans of Andimuthu Raja till the latter was put behind bars by the Supreme Court.
It has been suggested that the NCP’s offer of support to a BJP government in Maharashtra is motivated by the desire to remain in the corridors of power, or as near to them as possible, as an insurance against the wrongdoings of the party members in the last decade and a half.
What these events show is that sleaze no longer pays. If the law does not catch up with the suspects, as in Jayalalitha’s case, the electorate will mete out the requisite punishment, as it did to Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar for corruption and lack of governance.
It is possible, however, to retain a measure of political influence if the jail birds have a secure base of support. Haryana’s Om Prakash Chautala has demonstrated this capability by enabling the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) to come second in the elections.
But, he could not prevent the BJP’s comfortable acquisition of a majority in the state assembly although the party does not have a chief ministerial candidate except the virtually unknown Capt. Abhimanyu. In Haryana, however, the people were voting for Modi in the hope that he will provide clean governance and lift Haryana out of being a backward-looking, caste-ridden, peasant-dominated state with only the glittering town of Gurgaon showing that it is ready to enter the 21st century.
While Chavan admitted that he failed to act against the corrupt in Maharashtra, Bhupinder Singh Hooda stoutly maintained his innocence in the matter of the controversial land deals associated with Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra, in Haryana. But, it was an assertion which few seemed to have believed. Hence, the Congress’s relegation to the third spot in a state where it won nine of the 10 parliamentary seats in 2009.
How will Sonia and Rahul read what the voters have conveyed in unambiguous terms ? It will no longer do to “accept” the verdict – as if there is an alternative – and advise the winners to fulfil their promises. Instead, what the Congress has to do is to analyze whether the defeats have anything to do with a leadership devoid of charisma and out of sync with a changing economy. (IPA Service)