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‘There are promises to keep...’

mumbai Updated: Nov 08, 2017 01:20 IST
Sujata Anandan
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis(HT Photo)

Even the opposition could not have thought of a more evocative way of embarrassing the government. When Devendra Fadnavis stood up to address a gathering of the Dhangar community in Nagpur, his home turf, on Sunday, the people began to play the hit Bollywood song, “Kya hua tera vaada”, questioning his promises, which rendered him speechless. The incident added to the delight of both the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena, who have lately been on a spree, attacking both the government at the Centre and the one in the state on various issues.

But the Dhangars on Sunday were concerned about the BJP’s promise to provide them reservations in government jobs. Keeping that promise was never going to be easy, as has happened with the Maratha reservations which require Constitutional amendments to make that possible. But after the silent morchas of the Marathas, playing a song like this one in full public hearing was another unique form of protest, and it has taken social media by storm.

I remember while I was still a rookie reporter, Arif Mohammad Khan, then Union minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet, had warned of the dangers of making rash promises during elections. In 1984, Rajiv had pitted his friend Amitabh Bachchan against Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna from Allahabad and no one, including Bachchan himself, had believed he would win against the former Congress veteran. But he did - and with one of the biggest margins in the country, matched only by Sunil Dutt’s from North West Mumbai, who defeated another veteran, Ram Jethmalani, by nearly two lakh votes. But, unlike Bachchan, Dutt had not made any rash promises, so he lasted longer on the political firmament. Bachchan, not surprisingly, was driven out by Congressmen themselves, most notably VP Singh and his brother, who was then president of the Allahabad Congress. They were afraid that if Bachchan kept every promise he had made, he would put down roots in Allahabad and become invincible and they just could not countenance that.

So while Bachchan’s promises were simpler, doable and not requiring any constitutional intervention, the Singh brothers made sure he could not keep even a single one of them. Bachchan then tried using his own funds to provide wells, schools and hospitals to his constituents but his opponents got the better of him by using the bureaucracy to create obstacles and ultimately forced him out of the Lok Sabha altogether - for he knew it would be impossible to show face among his constituents if he had nothing to show on his promises.

That’s when Khan told me, “The golden rule for politicians is: never make rash promises to the electorate, however doable or tempting. Stick to your party manifesto. And to anything that sounds undoable, just say you will try to persuade your party leaders to consider the matter - so that you are not personally held to account in the matter.”

But Fadnavis now could not have squirmed his way out in this manner, for the Dhangar reservation was no personal promise but one made by his party. He calmed the gathering down by saying he had not forgotten the promise - though that promise is not just his alone to keep. The Congress-NCP government during the last days of their regime had pulled a trick on the Marathas by giving them reservations that had no constitutional validity. Predictably, those reservations were thrown out by the courts. That is why the party is now having a hard time in Gujarat with the Patidars insisting that they come up with a constitutionally sustainable formula before expecting their support in the elections. The Congress knows it is in a bind and so is now beginning to speak of “EBC (economically backward class) rather than OBC”. Under the circumstances, that could be the best way out for not just the Congress but the nation as a whole - EBC might be just the thing to equalise society, leaving only two classes - the rich and the poor.

But that still does not absolve parties and politicians who have made fantastic promises to the people in the recent past, knowing full well that these will be impossible to keep. The burden of the unkept promises is currently on the ruling dispensation. But in view of the new found tendency of the people to hold their leaders to their promises, other parties too may not find it easy to celebrate Fadnavis’s discomfort with unabandoned glee for too long.