A Silent Lament for the ‘Secular’ Forces

Photo: Deepak Salvi
Photo: Deepak Salvi

There are contrasting shades to the picture that has emerged in wake of the Maharashtra polls, even as the overall scenario has dovetailed into the predominant projections. The kind of anxiety transparent in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to help the BJP cruise to power is symptomatic of the malaise that has come to afflict Maharashtra politics. From Ajit Pawar to Praful Patel and several other top shots in the NCP camp, the attempt to buy protection from scams in the guise of support is too obvious to go unnoticed.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo has succeeded in neutralising the Shiv Sena to a considerable extent even when the latter is still trying hard to please the BJP and offer it support in return of certain plum posts for itself. Interestingly, former RSS spokesman MG Vaidya has been quick to recommend the cessation of the high-voltage, vituperative propaganda war between the BJP and the Sena as they are “brothers” and “natural allies”.

The third factor is the halting but significant emergence of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in Maharashtra, a significant foray in view of the considerable dilution of the Congress support base among the Muslims in the state.

All these parallel strains suggest how the BJP’s studied resolve to go it alone has impacted the post-poll scene in a state where aggressive pitches and high stakes are forever the flavour. The beleaguered Congress is obviously in no position to assert itself even when the NCP has claimed that it approached the party to look at the possibility of a Sena-NCP-Congress tie-up to prevent the BJP from coming to power.

The dominant thinking within the BJP is to broadbase its support from outside and lean on more players rather than go with either the NCP or the Sena, as it would like to keep both the parties at a distance. Reports indicate that the pre-election strain in the saffron alliance remains serious enough for the BJP to keep the Thackerays at bay. There is talk of the BJP even considering forming a minority government with its own distinct impress by getting the support of more than one player (including a clutch of independents) from outside.

The Sena is seeking some kind of parity with the BJP even after the results, whereas the BJP, for argument’s sake, is insisting on the so-called 1995 formula under which the senior partner gets to have a say on two-thirds of the Cabinet pie.

One thing that the election has shown is that the aggressive pitch of the Marathi Manoos slogan has become considerably diluted. While the Modi-Shah duo is likely to showcase this as a successful gambit to project the BJP’s own identity, voices like that of Vaidya, who would much rather have a ‘normal’ saffron alliance in spite of the vitriol of recent weeks, are also audible.

Despondent Congress leaders blame former CM Prithviraj Chavan for the party’s debacle
Despondent Congress leaders blame former CM Prithviraj Chavan for the party’s debacle.
Photo: Deepak Salvi

The misgivings within a section of the BJP to legitimise the NCP’s somewhat tainted profile are also germane to the eventual resolution of the jigsaw puzzle. A cursory look at the NCP’s roll call of scams would implicate Praful Patel (Air India scam), Ajit Pawar (irrigation scam), Chhagan Bhujbal (disproportionate assets among other irregularities), Sunil Tatkare (irrigation scam and disproportionate assets), Ganesh Naik (cooperative bank scam) and Jitendra Ahwad (Adarsh housing scam). The list is quite forbidding for any party to accept support from such a source.

There is also the charming ambiguity about the NCP still seeking to project its distinct ideology after having opposed the BJP for a decade and a half and now seeking an “unconditional” partnership or arrangement with it.

While aggressive pitches are made for various claimants from Nitin Gadkari to Devendra Fadnavis and Pankaja Munde, the tussle for the top post has been rendered that much tricky because of the good margins that almost all the claimants have managed. Vinod Tawde and Sudhir Mugantiwar are also said to be very much in the mix, sources aver.

In the dynamic of Maharashtra politics, a new element has been introduced by the MIM, which resorted to a direct, no-holds-barred attack on the so-called secular parties like the Congress and the NCP to drive its point home. A telltale example of the MIM approach was advocate Waris Pathan’s election leaflet, which made no promises per se but only emphasised the MIM identity and his own quiet espousal of the same. He emerged as one of two MIM winners in the election, the other being Imtiyaz Jalil, a former TV journalist.

The three Owaisis — father Salahuddin and sons Asaduddin and Akbaruddin — have sought to pitch as much of their own montage as they have plumped for their radical party’s overt posturing.

In Byculla, where the MIM won, Muslims constitute about 45 percent of the electorate. With Pathan being the only serious candidate drawn from the community, his victory was not surprising. But the shrill pitch of the campaign, on the one hand, and the absence of the Congress from the contest in the area, on the other, provide a subtext to the increasing alienation of the community from the grand old party. Much as it played up its own identity, the MIM did not forget to project Dalit candidates and emphatically assert how much the party respects Bhimrao Ambedkar.

The fact that the Hyderabad-based party managed a reasonable share of the total vote and wrested two of 24 seats it contested must have exhilarated the MIM leadership’s spin doctors even as it reflected rather poorly on the Congress. The MIM’s success is being seen by observers as a direct outcome of Muslim distrust and anger towards the Congress-NCP for their failure to fulfil long-pending demands. The Owaisi brothers’ distinctive brand of oratory, which emphasises the community’s victimhood, was also very much in evidence.

The fact that the Owaisis assert the socio-economic backwardness of the community through telltale statistics went in their favour even when few objective commentators would assert that they had done “ great work” for the community. Still, Maharashtra’s Muslims have for long nursed a grievance against the ‘secular’ parties to have disregarded the findings of the Mehmood-ur-Rehman committee, which had been appointed by the Congress-NCP government in 2008 to study the status of Muslims in the state. The report, which focusses on the community’s socio-economic marginalisation, is most likely to be forgotten given the contemporary complexion of the state’s politics.

In a manner of speaking, even after the huge reverses they suffered in the Lok Sabha election, the Congress and the NCP have remained intriguingly indifferent to the growing discontent among their once loyal vote bank. The Muslims have to countenance a situation where the Owaisis are the only ones who matter in a party like the MIM — everything else, like who the candidates are, is purely secondary. It seems the anger was directed that much more against the Congress rather than being in the MIM’s favour per se, such has been the kind of disjunct between the grand old party and its one-time established bastions.

However, it should be kept in mind that the halting strides of the MIM do not completely reflect the overall mood, which even now is wary of the polarisation and isolation that such avowedly single-aim parties as the MIM in a state now governed by hidden agendas are bound to bring in their wake.

In a way, the intriguing touch that characterised the run-up to the election remains even after the results are out as the saffron horses haggle and other players barge in to complete the picture. The BJP, rather than mollycoddle the Sena and subserve its eccentricities, would for a change behave and function like a ‘national’ party much as the Congress used to do in its halcyon days.

While Uddhav Thackeray cannot hide his great peeve, the Modi-Shah duo is already cock-a-hoop for having scripted what they howsoever grandiosely term as a Modi ‘tsunami’ or second wave. While the Sena mouthpiece is distinctly wary of shooting from the hip in wake of the rather tepid electoral fare for the stormtroopers, it is only to be seen whether the BJP can actually afford to completely rein in its own zealots and the assertive Nagpur bosses, who can change only a little from their own hard Hindutva ways. Further, observers can only lament about the absence of any cogent or coherent opposition to the saffron surge and with the Congress preferring to submissively revert to nothingness, saffron will only gain further traction. The point of interest in the short term remains simple: Will ascendant saffron take the risk of overlooking sleaze in one wannabe supporter even as it seeks to maintain its distance from the assertive claims by its regular ally until recently?



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