Coming up soon : A one-sided election
For the first time since I began covering elections more than three decades ago, I can say 40 days before the polls and even before the Election Commission starts the process, that the results are a foregone conclusion. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will sweep, and even the Shiv Sena will not be able to stand in its way. I marvel at how Uddhav Thackeray, who had kept the Sena flag flying high nearly this long, has been taken for a ride by Amit Shah, and how Sharad Pawar has been rendered a cipher after reigning as the uncrowned king of Maharashtra for well-nigh four decades.
When I spoke to a Sena ideologue recently, he admitted that the BJP had outsmarted and outmanoeuvred the Shiv Sena quite royally since the Lok Sabha polls. “Sirf topi nahin pehnai, BJP ne Uddhav ko bahut badi topi pehnai hain,” he told me, adding that Uddhav knows it too, but there is not a thing he can do about it.
“If we go with the BJP, we will win but gain nothing in terms of power. They will give us a couple of insignificant departments and keep us confined to the side lines as they have done in Delhi. If we don’t, we will lose our existing seats and as the BJP is likely to get a full majority, the party will use the next five years to confine the Shiv Sena to the margins.”
So what the BJP did not achieve five years ago by breaking the alliance with the Shiv Sena – reducing it to nothing – it is all set to do this time either which way, and the Sena has painted itself into a real tight corner.
Even chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in private conversations admits that the Shiv Sena is of no more use to the BJP, but they will keep throwing a bone or two the tiger’s way to keep it from going hungry and preying on the BJP.
Having virtually imploded the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) by emptying it of most of its leaders of consequence, the BJP has almost neutralised the only threat it had in Pawar. Yet I must admire the man for his ability to continue influencing the Congress which is better placed in terms of committed workers – unlike NCP men seeking only power or protection to cover up their scams, many Congressmen have stood their ground and resisted both threats and temptation thrown their way. Which is more than Pawar can claim of his own supporters – he kept them at his side through all these years with a mix of fear and favour, but now that they know he is never coming back to power, they have deserted him in droves.
So why has the Congress given the NCP 125 of the 288 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly? It is more than what the Shiv Sena is likely to contest, if the saffron allies go by the formula of dividing all the seats they lost in 2014 equally – the BJP will then be contesting around 170 seats and the Shiv Sena just over 100.
However, I am told that Congress president Sonia Gandhi believes that her party has no one of Pawar’s calibre in campaigning skills and so must accommodate his interests. Which now, piquantly, leaves the Congress as a party which has no leaders and Pawar as a leader who has virtually no party to speak of. They might then as well merge into each other.
It is also about time for the warring Thackeray cousins to come together in the interest of survival. I believe Raj Thackeray will be making a fundamental error in not contesting the coming Assembly elections. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) supporters need a party to vote for – Pawar has realised that despite Raj’s formidable campaign during the Lok Sabha elections, MNS votes did not transfer to the Congress-NCP, and so he has already closed the door on Raj in terms of an alliance for the Assembly elections.
With the Sena too in an existentialist crisis, the two cousins need to draw into an informal arrangement that will maximise their gains and minimise the losses being dealt to them both by the BJP.
But then there is another factor we must contend with – the voter, who is being taken for granted by all political parties. As one-sided as the coming election seems to be, there are realities on the ground that could cause many a slip between the cup and the lip. I am not placing my bets just yet.