Will Congress lose a God-sent opportunity?
“We did not discuss government formation. We only discussed numbers,” Sharad Pawar said after his talks with Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi.
Decode that to read: They are forming the government, but some good old-fashioned hardbargaining is underway to decide who gets what in this unexpected coming together of the two secular allies with the Shiv Sena. Considering how the Nationalist Congress Party was virtually decimated at the start of the polls and the Congress not expected to get more than 20 seats in a House of 288, I feel vindicated at my previous assertions that only God stands between the Congress and its utter decimation. That Sonia Gandhi is at all in a position to discuss even numbers with Pawar or Rahul Gandhi, as reports suggest, is opposing an alliance with the Shiv Sena on ideological grounds, can only be because someone prayed hard and requested The One Above to rescue their party from the doldrums. For no one really worked for any victory and if they are at all in a position to bargain for the post of a deputy chief minister or Speaker, this really has to be God working in his wondrous ways to create the miraculous survival of a party that deserved little better than decimation at the polls.
For, quite apart from the fact that the Congress had given up – even as Pawar was fighting hard for his and their survival – reports suggest that some leaders of the Congress (particularly the dhoti-clad ones from Kerala) who did not even once visit Maharashtra to campaign, are now bitterly opposed to tying up with the Shiv Sena for the kind of action against them that was unleashed by Bal Thackeray – Hold your breath, half a century ago!
At this point, I would like to roll my eyes and tell them, “Oh, c’mon! Get yourself a sense of proportion and history!” For, I am sure none of these leaders ever lived in Mumbai or understood its politics, though Thackeray’s comment against their garment of choice now seems to affect them more than the need to rescue their party from oblivion.
Admittedly , Bal Thackeray who referred to South Indians as “yandugundus” for the kind of sound that he thought fell upon his ears (which could have been anything between Kannada, Malayalam or Tamil) had coined the phrase “Bajao poongi, hatao lungi” (worn by all south Indian communities and even by Thackeray at home – though his lungis were pure silk or satin in colours as vibrant as purple, orange, red, blue or pink, as I often saw during my visits to Matoshree). But we must not forget that Thackeray’s anti-south Indian sentiment was encouraged by blue-blooded Congress leaders of the time, specifically to take on one very powerful, very influential, unbeatable and seemingly invincible south Indian from Bombay – VK Krishna Menon, the union defence minister in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, who lost India its war with China for his arrogance and failure to listen to the better counsel of his generals. But he was a Nehru favourite and, try as they did, Maharashtra’s Congress leaders could not dislodge him from Nehru’s affections. They found that opportunity only after Nehru’s death. But by then Menon had the support of all other parties, including the then formidable Communists and socialist parties. It is a matter of record that Congress leaders funded Thackeray to help them defeat Menon by consolidating the Marathi vote in favour of the Congress candidate (which he did). But as was the case with Frankenstein’s monster, things went out of the Congress’ hands and their creation found his own métier in violence and sectarianism, long before the entry of the BJP or Hindutva on the Indian horizon.
But if they do not know the history that goes that far back, they should at least have a sense of the support they took from Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena MPs to have two of their Presidents elected – Pratibha Patil in 2007 and Pranab Mukherjee in 2012. This was after the Mumbai riots of 1992-93, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. So if the Congress could hold Thackeray’s hands then, why can they not extend their hand of support to Uddhav Thackeray who has consciously mainstreamed his party to bring it on the tracks of civil democratic discourse?
The Congress, without quite deserving it, truly has a historic opportunity to set the agenda and regain the narrative. So if they do not seize this munificence from God with both hands now, no God might be able to rescue them in the future.