It’s a tough decision. Earlier, we in Maharashtra were faced with clear alternatives.
If the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance was ruling and you disliked the government, you opted for the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. Contrariwise, if the Shiv Sena-BJP ruled and you wanted a change, you voted for the Congress-NCP. If you had a soft spot for Hindutva, you voted for the BJP-Shiv Sena mob. If you thought you were secular, you plumped for the Congress-NCP gang. If you liked Sharad Pawar, you voted against the Congress-NCP, because you thought being out of power would be good for his soul. It was very simple.
True, some of us supported the smaller parties. Mumbai intellectuals who had never seen either a peasant or a worker voted for the Peasants and Workers Party. Chaps who felt an overpowering urge to help North Indians go back north supported the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. A select few, like me, were bowled over by Rakhi Sawant during the last Lok Sabha elections. But most people opted for one of the two big party combines.
It didn’t always work smoothly. You might like the Congress, but may have quarrelled with your North Indian wife the night before the elections, so you went and voted for the MNS. Your boss may not have given you a raise, so you felt like a disgruntled worker and voted for the Lal Nishan party. Or you might have mistakenly pressed the button against Gawde instead of Tawde. These things happen. But they were exceptions.
That golden age is now behind us. It’s a free-for-all out there now. Let’s assume you are a BJP fan. But the BJP candidate in your constituency is weak. Would you vote for the Shiv Sena then, in the hope the BJP-Shiv Sena will form a post-poll government, or will you prefer the NCP, because they too might tie up with the BJP post elections? Or take the hard-core pro-dynastic voter. Should he vote for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, or the Thackeray clan and if so which branch of the Thackerays, or the House of Pawar, or the Munde family?
If you want to support a Dalit party, would you go for the Republican Party (A) or the Republican Sena, or is it best to wait for Republican Party (B) and (C) to emerge? Be careful you don’t vote for SS (Shiv Sena) if you actually support the SS (Sangram Sena). If you are pro-capitalist, would you prefer to vote for the BJP crorepati or the Congress multi-millionaire or billionaires from other parties?
Choose wisely, for your vote may decide which chief minister gets the photo-op to sweep Mumbai’s streets.
The huge number of partymen switching sides is another complication. Ex-Congress and NCP people have got tickets from the BJP, disgruntled BJP workers have joined the MNS, Shiv Sena guys have migrated to the NCP and vice versa and all parties have rebels contesting as independents. If I vote for a chap who used to be part of the government but has now defected to the opposition, is that a vote against the current government?
Or is the problem, as George Orwell put it so pithily in Animal Farm, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”?
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal