Joy and relief for some, gloom and doom for others, a local newspaper had titled its report. This was not about Diwali, bonuses, deprivation or deaths as one would have presumed in the season of festivities as well as rising prices and terrorism that are contributing to those emotions. When I began to read the story, I was quite taken aback at how openly the newspaper had portrayed this tale of greed in the election season that is underway in Maharashtra.
Local self-government bodies are going to polls across the state and among these, some are scheduled to the Legislative Council from various constituencies like teachers, graduates and LSGs. One of the municipal councils that will go to polls this month is the Yavatmal Municipal Council (November 27), which is also slated to elect a member to the Legislative Council on November 19.
The report was in a Marathi newspaper and, unused as I have become to such free and frank expression of greed and human venality – in the national media we are rather more careful and circumspect – I found it both funny and sad. I have noticed over the years that it is only the Election Commission that has been able to bring some probity into public life and be it the filing of affidavits on educational qualifications or wealth before and after elections, only these documents can expose the honesty or otherwise of our public figures. For example, one election year (2004), after Shrikant Datta Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore who had listed his palace dutifully among his properties and thus was the richest candidate with more than Rs15,000 crore in personal wealth, the second down the line was actor Sunil Dutt with Rs22 crore. When I told him about this distinction, he asked in genuine puzzlement, “But what happened to Sharad Pawar? He has less than me? And aren’t there more Maharajas contesting elections this year ?” He was not being tongue-in-cheek.
Now I believe even the Election Commission knows how the wealthy fudge their accounts but it still tries to do it best. This year, then, they decided in their wisdom that elections for the Legislative Council would be held before rather than after the polls to the municipal body – even if it meant that the incoming winner would have been elected by outgoing councillors and may have no connect with the elected representatives of the council who elected him or her to represent them in the Vidhan Parishad.
That was why, funnily enough, there was both joy and relief and gloom and doom in the EC’s announcement. The report clearly said, “Those who were wandering with long faces, suddenly lit up with smiles like Diwali lights. And those who were twiddling their thumbs at the sitting councillors and saying ‘thenga’ to them suddenly plunged into darkness and despair.”
Sadly, it was very clear why this reversal of, literally, fortunes had taken place. Of course, the EC had tried to restrict corruption – it is their presumption that parties will not be compelled to pay more to the outgoing group and they have virtually taken away the bargaining powers of the newcomers. All the four major political parties are equally placed in terms of candidates and their chances and hence, it seems to be a free season for all this Diwali. Even as chief minister Devendra Fadnavis celebrates two years of his government then, I wonder, with at least 17 ministers in his cabinet facing various allegations of misdemeanours, both big and small, how easy or difficult it might be for him to get a grip on such venality and rid at least his cabinet of corruption charges. It is sad that, faced as he is with internal strife in his party, he was compelled to hold out a promise to former revenue minister Eknath Khadse for reinstatement in the cabinet during one of his recent television interviews.
I believe the enormous unease of doing such business at all levels is one of the reasons that at least one company – Foxconn—brought in with such fanfare, has decided not to put down its roots in Maharashtra. Fadnavis admitted during a public address in Nagpur that the state has slipped to the tenth position in industries. There is more across Maharashtra, like farmers’ suicides, malnutrition deaths etc, to be sorry about than celebrate.
Hopefully, Fadnavis’s third year in office will bring us more cheer – and not just the kind of joy for some and gloom for others that the newspaper headlined.