Congress slumps and BJP blossoms?
By Dr Jay Dubashi
Mumbai is a city of gold. If you don’t believe it, ask Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan, who came to Mumbai with nothing and are now its uncrowned kings. Or ask a man called Kripashankar Singh, who came from Bihar forty years ago with nothing on his back except a towel and is now the owner of a hundred cars, twenty flats in the city and thousands of crore worth properties in Jharkhand. He is also the president of Mumbai Congress Committee, an unusual job for a man who is semi-literate and speaks broken Marathi if at all, which may be one reason why his high-ups in Delhi, some of whom can’t speak any Indian language either, have favoured him with the job that has showered on him such untold riches.
But money is not everything, as Kripashankar has now discovered, and so has his friend, Sharad Pawar. They came together for the first time to fight municipal elections together and hoped to oust the ruling front led by Shiv Sena and BJP. The front has been in power for the last seventeen long years and the opposition expected it to crumble under the onslaught of the above two billionaires. That is also precisely what Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, had promised his bosses in Delhi, and Kripashankar and Pawar had believed him.
That is not what happened. The Congress tally slumped from 76 last time to 50, a loss of 26 seats, while Shiv Sena and BJP together held their own. In fact, they would have done much better had not a party called Maharashtra Navanirman Sena or Manase, led by a nephew of Bal Thackeray’s, increased its strength unexpectedly by 21 seats. Pawar’s Nationalist Congress stayed put at its old level.
Everybody expected Shiv Sena and BJP, the so-called saffron brigade, to lose heavily. There was the anti-incumbency factor as also the fact that the demographics of Mumbai has changed dramatically over the last five years and there are more people of non-Marathi origin in Mumbai than before and those who call themselves Marathi have become so “westernised” that they have become virtually non-Marathis and disdain their roots. But this time a large section of non-Marathi apparently decided to vote for Shiv Sena and BJP and dumped the Congress. For the next five years, Sena and BJP will together rule Mumbai (along with Thane and Nagpur) and the Kripashankars and the Pawars will be twiddling their sore thumbs.
Congress runs the state government with the help of Pawar’s party and had promised huge funds for the Corporation, if elected to power. The Sena was somewhat apologetic about its performance but had promised better results in future. It had nothing in its favour but the charisma of Bal Thackeray. The man addressed a few meetings in Mumbai which, as usual, drew big crowds. He said he couldn’t promise much because he had no funds. But he promised something else. He spoke about the Maratha pride and how the city was being destroyed by Congressmen and other Marathis who shunned Maratha pride in favour of the so-called secularism which was essentially a Western import. The fight, he said, was not about flyovers and roads, not even about security and schools, it was essentially about Marathi or Maratha culture vs. imported culture, and was therefore a do-or-die fight for the soul of Mumbai, nothing else.
This went down very well, for Indians know who is their real enemy and who is their real friend. A person from Italy cannot be their real friend, even if the person now works through her progeny. In his editorials in Saamana, a daily newspaper, Thackeray is always very harsh on the dynasty who is never spared. He is probably the only political leader in India who attacks the dynasty frontally and makes no bones about its negative impact on the country. And this is what makes him such a powerful critic of Congress and the Pawars and the Mulayam Singhs who are always pussy footing about the dynasty’s role in Indian politics.
Politics is not about money, nor is it only about development. No party ever says it is against development; it is therefore futile to say that your party is for development. But a political party is not only about development, which would reduce it to the level of Public Works Department. A political party is about the country’s soul, its culture and its history, and its role in the nation’s life. A political party is not put together by Tatas and Birlas. It is put together by its farmers and its workers, its professionals and its soldiers, and, above all, its young men and women and their ideals. Without them, it is nothing but a Public Works Department.
Thackeray emphasises that development is important but only if you do not forget the philosophy behind it. Politics is not only about how many flyovers you have built – Hitler and Stalin also built them along with concentration camps and gas chambers – and how many roads you have asphalted. It is not about the size of your airports or the height of your skyscrapers. It is not about the speed of your suburban trains or the grandness of five-star hotels. They are all important and make a great difference to people’s lives. But there is more to politics than that, even if it is municipal politics.
Neither Pawar nor Kripashankar Singh, nor, for that matter, Prithviraj Chavan, current Chief Minister of the state, realise this. Bal Thackeray may now be an old man – he turned 85 last month – but he is an authentic Marathi or Maratha, just as Winston Churchill was an authentic Englishman. Thackeray speaks the language of the insider, not an outsider posing as an insider, as some Congress leaders, particularly in Delhi do. His words go straight home, and when he says he has nothing to offer, people understand what he is trying to say.
And what he is trying to say is very much what people elsewhere are also trying to say. He is saying that the so-called secular people are phony, they do not understand this great Hindu nation, and are therefore unfit to rule the country. We are being ruled by foreigners in every sense of the word – foreign dynasties, foreign money, foreign ideas – and are slowly losing our freedom. It is not therefore a fight for this or that, but for the very soul of the nation, and it is not only a fight for Mumbai, but also, figuratively, for Delhi.
Congressmen like Chavan and Kripashankar do not know what has hit them. Chavan had promised that Shiv Sena and BJP would be routed and wiped off the map on counting day. They simply could not believe the figures as they appeared on the screen. Is this a sign of the shape of things to come in the assembly elections due two years from now, or perhaps in Uttar Pradesh too? The Congress is on its way out, along with the dynasty, with its unending line of sons and daughters – not to speak of grandsons and granddaughters – and, of course, its retinue of servants like Chavan and Kripashankar!?