It is not only the small parties contesting the polls that may decisively influence its outcome. Some parties not contesting at all may do the same.
One such is Maharashtra’s Peasants and Workers Party (PWP). It put up candidates for two seats in the last Lok Sabha poll, but this time, has decided to support the Shiv Sena in both. The alliance was sewn up during a fish-and-rice lunch the PWP’s Jayant Patil had with the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray at Raigad town of coastal Maharashtra, two weeks ago.
Had the alliance not been forged, both Raigad and neighbouring Maval seats, would have seen fierce three-cornered battles (Congress is the third contestant). Given the Congress’s choice of candidate — veteran leader Abdul Rehman Antulay — its chances would have been very strong. But now, Antulay has a tough road ahead. In Maval too, the NDA’s chances have brightened.
But the tie-up has raised many eyebrows as well. The PWP, founded in 1948, professes a socialist ideology. Its natural place ought to have been in the Third Front.
“I know we are being severely criticised for doing this, but for our party it was a question of survival,” said the 54-year-old Patil. “If we had not allied with the Sena, the Congress was most likely to win, and we did not want that at any cost.”
Why not? Because for one, the Congress has been the traditional rival of the PWP. “For another, the farmers, who are our main supporters, are totally opposed to the special economic zones the Congress seems hell bent on creating here,” said Patil. “We expect the BJP and Shiv Sena to be more reasonable in this respect.”
Fifty years ago, when the Congress bestrode the political scene like a Colossus, the PWP, having won five seats in the second general election and 32 in the state, seemed well on its way to becoming the main Opposition party in Maharashtra.
That early promise was never realised. But the brother-sister duo of Jayant and Meenaxi Patil, who run the party, have at least ensured it was not obliterated from India’s political map. In Raigad district, the PWP still calls the shots.
The two control the local zila parishad, the Raigad District Cooperative Bank and about 200 other cooperative bodies in the area. No industrialist, not even a Tata or an Ambani, can set up a plant in Raigad unless the Patil siblings allow it.
Jayant, who inherited the mantle of the PWP from his father Prabhakar Patil, an MLA for four decades, is a rare politician whose livelihood has nothing to do with politics. It was he who built the jetty at Dharamtar — 108 km from Mumbai. He also runs a successful catamaran manufacturing plant. “I prefer to make money through business, not from politics.”