Democracy is a great leveller. But then, Bal Thackeray as ever is the Shiv Sena supremo. Says former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, "No other leader can even begin to compare to Balasaheb. And no one can hope to overtake him as the leader."
This has been brought home as never before to both Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane. When the Sena tiger forced himself out of hibernation to make it to two public meetings in Mumbai and Thane, it was obvious that time had taken toll on Bal Thackeray. "I am old. My body has become tired," he said, sitting down (he could not even stand) to address the crowd in Thane.
Thackeray then kicked off a controversy by making some unparliamentary comments against President APJ Abdul Kalam. But the Sena’s supporters have never voted on issues. They have only ever voted for Bal Thackeray. So the beating that the Sena has been taking for nearly two years with the exits of Raj and Rane was reversed at these elections as Thackeray gathered in the sympathy from those who hated the fact that an old man was being lampooned for choosing his son, Uddhav, as his heir – a son, moreover, who did not seem to be a chip of the old block.
The nephew, Raj, thought he was a clone of the Sena tiger and deserved to inherit the party but Uddhav seems to have proved his mettle by making organisational changes within the Sena network. As a result, there was tremendous mobilisation at Thursday’s polls – the Sena made sure its voters got to the polling booths and cast their votes on time.
While the Congress has not done too badly, it might have done better had it not given in to Narayan Rane and offered at least 40 of the 229 tickets to former Shiv Sainiks. Rane has not been able to win more than five of those seats, which has now put paid to his plans to grab the party from within, as well as his claims that he would write the death warrant of the Shiv Sena at these elections.
But despite Rane’s failure to deliver the goods, the Congress might have done better still had the party leaders not failed to forge an alliance with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party. The NCP had acted pretty tough at the negotiations and failed to accommodate Congress’s interests in safeguarding the seats of their sitting corporators following which the party decided to go it alone.
Whjile the NCP has done well in Thane, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, where it has traditionally been a winner (the area is considered Pawar’s bastion), the Mumbai result shows that Pawar and the party will have to do a complete rethink and cannot afford to do away with its alliance with the Congress at the 2009 Assembly elections as it had been contemplating.
If the delimitation of constituencies goes through by then, more than half the seats in the Assembly will be from urban areas and a considerable number of those seats will be from Mumbai. In that sense the NCP has truly been put in its place.
However, the Congress was claiming before the elections that these polls would be a referendum on the good work it had done for the improvement of life and infrastructure in the city since 26/7 when the city had got flooded over by unprecedented rains in 2005. So why have the people failed to repose confidence in the party?
"Well," says Sanjay Nirupam , the party spokesperson, "we were not fighting on emotional issues. Our issues were only development and more development. That perhaps does not register too well with the people."
And the North Indians who were expected to emerge as a vote bank? Says Kripa Shankar singh, former Minister for home, "They were a confused lot this time. There were more Maharashtrians in the fray at these elections, so they did not vote en bloc. The vote got splintered."
The verdict is also split. But through it all the tiger, obviously, is still burning bright.