I would not have thought the dour and foxy PV Narasimha Rao could have had a sense of humour. But I have been forever amused by a very funny anecdote he related in his book, The Insider. It was about an election to the legislative council in Andhra Pradesh wherein the Congress handed the ticket to an old and impoverished freedom fighter who could not match the resources of the other politicians and businessmen buying up MLAs for their votes. He knew he was sure to lose, for these MLAs had been wined and dined for weeks, plied with gifts and money while the Congress candidate had nothing to go for him but his patriotism.
He needed a minimum of 42 votes (I could be wrong about the exact figure) and thought he would not get more than 20. When the results of the first round of counting were declared, he fainted - out of sheer shock and surprise - as he had won by securing 48 votes. The counting had to be stopped while he was rushed to a hospital and recovered enough to return to the counting centre. It turned out that the MLAs had voted for him voluntarily, even after taking loads of cash from his rivals because they thought he was honest and sincere. If they allowed the moneybags to win, they were sure they would be bought out of their tickets in the next elections and cut out of the reckoning by their money power. A simple honest man, they felt, was far better for their own survival in the future than venal power-brokers who looked out only for themselves.
I was somehow reminded of that story when I saw the results of a recent opinion poll (Nielsen-ABP Majha) with regard to the popularity stakes of various chief ministerial candidates in Maharashtra. Though I am sure chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is far more stoic and brave-hearted than Rao's poor freedom fighter and would certainly not have fainted out of shock or surprise, it is very revealing that the two men who are largely reviled by all political parties - Chavan and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray (in that order) - are leading the popularity charts. And those considered aggressive, grassroots leaders with both muscle and mettle - Raj Thackeray and Ajit Pawar - should find themselves at the bottom of that ladder. That only goes to prove that people are not really the fools that politicians presume them to be.
I know of another private survey, not yet in the public domain, where home minister RR Patil is at the top of the popularity stakes, leaving all the Pawars far behind in that department. Patil is so often dismissed as a puppet of Ajit Pawar which I have always believed very unfair to a sincere man who was never allowed to do his job honestly by the interfering Pawars.
In the venal world of Indian politics today sincerity and humility might seem like alien quantities but then I am again, with apologies to Albert Einstein, reminded of what he had said about Mahatma Gandhi - that non-violence is a means that might seem to work very slowly or not at all. But in reality there is nothing that works as fast or as effectively as ahimsa. I would paraphrase that again to say that bribery and corruption might seem like immense luxuries which not many can afford but in fact they have the opposite effect - of bankrupting leaders and governments as should be obvious from the example of UPA 2. I would rather take my place in the queue and wait for hours for my turn than have some rich man jump the line to throw money at the authorities and get what he could otherwise never have hoped to achieve through rightful means.
So I am now waiting eagerly to see who really wins the next elections - will it be Chavan or Uddhav for, as the Bible says again, 'Blessed are the meek for it is they who shall inherit the earth!' Given the common sentiment prevailing, it might be a victory worth fainting for!