I must begin this column by admitting that this election season, I simply did not see it coming – I had expected the BJP to be the single largest party and do considerably well in Maharashtra too. What I certainly did not anticipate was this near complete rout for the Congress and the NCP – the only comforting thought is that none of the political parties expected it either and all were considerably shocked at the results.
The lack of leadership in the Congress has finally shown up at these elections; I recall Sharad Pawar once telling me that Congressmen are incapable of campaigning for themselves and winning their elections under their own steam. “They always depend on the high command. If one of the Nehru-Gandhis holds a meeting for them, they believe they have won the polls. They don’t work for it themselves.”
Well, this time round the Congress lost almost everywhere that the Gandhis held those meetings. Indeed, the only two constituencies where the Congress managed to come through – Nanded and Hingoli – were seats where the candidates Ashok Chavan and Rajiv Satav made their own efforts (apart from one rally in Hingoli by Rahul Gandhi). Even Praful Patel of the NCP, who believed a joint rally with Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar would seal the deal, has had to bite the dust this time round.
But the Congress is what the Congress always was – I have always insisted that even its own leaders have no idea how they win or lose elections. It just happens to them. The greater message here, though, is for the smaller players: it is dangerous to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds at one and the same time, and that is a pointer to both Pawar and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, who have now clearly fallen between two stools.
Throughout the electoral process, Pawar was dilly-dallying between Narendra Modi and the UPA; no one was quite certain if he would switch sides or stay loyal to the Congress. Ditto Raj Thackeray – he topped even Pawar with his bizarre stand of putting up candidates against the Shiv Sena and the BJP and then espousing support to Modi. The attempt by both was clearly to confuse the electorate, but both leaders must now realise that the voters can no longer be taken for granted and are able to discern well enough their attempt at obfuscation and deliberate confusion, better stated as “dishaabhool” in Marathi.
Now, on the other hand, despite a certain amount of anti-incumbency at play, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa and Navin Patnaik have done extremely well in their states – I presume because of their equidistance from the two main parties, their clarity on their stands and their lack of obfuscation about their immediate goals. Mayawati might blame her lack of electoral success this time on her association with the Congress, but she was no less in confusing the electorate about which way she might swing after the polls results.
I believe our old time leaders have not fully grasped the fact that there has been a sea change in India, particularly the inroads that technology has made – people see for themselves and come to their own conclusions. There can then be no denials, no obfuscation, no pretense that you were misrepresented – people know exactly what their politicians are all about and they do not want to be served chalk mixed into their cheese and then be told by the politicians that the calcium in the adulterated cheese is good for their health. They know the uses of both and they want to be given a clear choice.
I am sure the Congress will eventually limp back from this body blow but the danger here is clear and present for both Pawar and Raj Thackeray. It is the danger of extinction.