People’s power versus political opportunism
Indian democracy always has a manner of course correction that could be both unbelievable and uplifting. The Maharashtra Assembly election results have given us another glimpse into the incredible manner in which the powerless people can prove to be more powerful than the high and mighty, sometimes even without compelling reasons.
Nearly a dozen days after the results, this becomes more obvious as the BJP, which had been able to form governments even when it was not the single largest party in the Assembly of a given state, has simply not been able to do so in Maharashtra, despite winning the elections. By now it should have been a cakewalk for it to get newly elected legislators from both the Shiv Sena and the Congress and NCP or even the substantial number of independents to, well, walk across the floor and into the arms of the ruling dispensation. Indeed, for at least the past couple of days, there has been heavy speculation on social media that at least 20 MLAs each from the Sena, Congress and NCP are ready for it. So why has it not happened so far?
This is where the people’s power kicks in. Amid rumours of defections from these parties are also reports that no legislator wants to risk losing his newly acquired hard won seat as was foolishly done by former NCP MP Udayanraje Bhosale. He quit the party in less than four months after a hard fought election and believed it would be a child’s play to win it back by recontesting on a BJP ticket. There was absolutely no reason why he should have quit the NCP, but for sheer opportunism and still less reason why he should have lost. The NCP could not even find a charismatic enough candidate to take on the 14th direct descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at the bypolls to the Satara seat and had to pull out a former bureaucrat and governor out of semi-retirement to take on Bhosale, who had the top leadership of the BJP campaigning for him extensively. But Shriniwas Patil’s large margin of victory despite that was stunning.
It reminded me of a story that former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao narrated in his book ‘The Insider’, said to be a fictionalised biography. He recounts the incident of the Congress putting up an impoverished freedom fighter for the legislative council polls in Andhra Pradesh against some moneybags who lures away the voting MLAs, sequesters them in a five-star hotel for 10 days and then buses them into the Assembly building at the last minute, so they can vote for him without the Congress leaders having enough time to persuade them otherwise. But when the first round results were declared, the freedom fighter simply fainted – he had to be rushed to hospital and the poll process halted until he recovered and returned to the counting hall.
For, expecting to lose, he had won five more votes than the stipulated number necessary for a victory. It turned out that all MLAs, despite their wining and dining, had decided against voting for the moneybags precisely because they thought he could use that wealth to contest the Assembly elections next time around and buy voters in their constituencies. It was safer not to empower him and elect a poor freedom fighter interested only in social work, thus posing no challenge to them in the future. Years later, the Satara result not just similarly defeated political opportunism and restored grassroots democracy, but also instilled a healthy fear in potential defectors, amid reports that leaders of all political parties, including the Shiv Sena, have come to a tacit, behind scenes understanding that were any of their legislators to defect, the other parties will not put up any candidate against the wronged party. With the BJP failing to cross the halfway mark against a completely devastated and fractious opposition, those likely to be poached are afraid they will not stand a chance against the combined opposition strength, in addition to incurring the kind of ire of the people that Bhosale did at his bypoll. Unlike those who quit the Congress and the NCP to join the BJP before the polls, they are at the start of their term and don’t want to risk frittering away their good fortunes so soon.
So our powerless common people do pack a political punch and they are all you need to get our skewered democracy back on its feet, one could say!
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