A prominent politician from Vidarbha was expressing his concern to me the other day on whether the Congress will be able to retain one of its last bastions – Nagpur – if Nitin Gadkari were to contest the elections from the constituency in 2014.
“People don’t care about issues like corruption. They only worry about what’s in it for them. And if they believe he could be the prime minister in case of a BJP win, why should they vote for someone who may not even be a minister in case of a Congress win?”
Now that startled me because that was precisely the concern of another big politician from the state just a week before Rajnath Singh was chosen the BJP president and he, too, thought that Nagpur and perhaps Vidarbha, the Congress’s stronghold, were a lost cause for that very reason.
So I asked the Vidarbha politician if he really thought Gadkari still stood a chance as the leader of a potential BJP government at the Centre. “Oh, yes. Don’t forget, he is a rank favourite of the RSS leadership. And also please do remember that throughout his term he was advised by Rajnath Singh. The latter’s elevation is a temporary retreat by the RSS and essentially a move to counter LK Advani who has no love lost for the BJP president. Gadkari might still emerge as the dark horse in 2014.”
I was still brooding over that when I was startled to run into both Gadkari and Singh at the Nagpur airport early this week (they had jointly addressed a farmers’ rally in Chandrapur the previous day). Gadkari was cheerful, looking pleased as punch; Singh was his usual grave, graceful and dignified self and I wondered what had transpired at the RSS headquarters that morning.
But like Abhinandan Thorat, a prominent psephologist from Maharashtra, who has rarely gone wrong and almost always come within half a dozen seats of the final tally at every poll since 1999, told me, “The country is living in a fool’s paradise if it thinks the BJP will win in 2014. It will lose even at the Maharashtra assembly polls but that is no good news for the Congress. They should watch out for the NCP which will surely race ahead of the Congress in the next elections.’’
That is quite apparent to even Congress politicians who have noted that Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar is on a shopping spree – he is buying up disgruntled Shiv Sainiks from every district in Maharashtra wherever he finds the NCP lacking in strength or numbers.
But I do not share their fears. I go by my conversations with Ajit’s more illustrious uncle and if he cared, the veteran warhorse that Sharad Pawar is, he would tell the younger man that it is difficult to dent any political party for too long by poaching its leaders – unless the leaders are like Pawar himself. And even after being one of the few politicians who has never lost any grassroots elections in his life, Pawar knows that people vote more for an ideology rather than some individuals and that this is particularly true of the Shiv Sena where only Bal Thackeray ever counted with his voters who cared a farthing for anyone else, including the BJP.
So while I do not think the Sena will sweep next year’s elections even on a sympathy vote, it is also highly unlikely that its voters will prefer the NCP’s clock to the Sena’s bow and arrow in such measure as to bring about a major shift in the state’s polity.
Apart from the fact that Ajit will have to contend with his uncle in attempting to gain the upper hand in Maharashtra, I also believe that chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is the main reason for Congressmen feeling dismal about their prospects at the next polls, is not doing as badly as even most of his own MLAs presume. A slow appreciation is gaining ground among the people about his sincerity in cleaning up the corrupt systems in the state and those hating him for that are the kinds who don’t vote at elections anyway.
So, I guess, it is a question of whose handicap is the worst: the BJP with its fractious leadership, the Sena minus Bal Thackeray with Raj Thackeray playing spoiler, the NCP with its first family at war or the Congress sans a grassroots leader. May the best man win. But who, in God’s name, might the best man be?