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Can the BJP-Sena get their act together?

By T V R Shenoy
October 26, 2009 11:15 IST
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How many ministers shall Maharashtra have in the Union Cabinet?

The Congress, you see, has a tradition. Maharashtra is too big and too rich a state to be insulted. So, when a Congress chief minister of Maharashtra is removed for incompetence or electoral failure he cannot just be put into cold storage. If nothing else, that leaves the ex-chief minister twiddling his thumbs in Mumbai, with nothing to do but plot against his successor. So the Congress 'high command' cannily switches the man to Delhi.

That is how we got Sushil Kumar Shinde as our Union energy minister and Vilasrao Deshmukh as the Union heavy industries minister.

It has been reported that Vilasrao Deshmukh has not moved into his allotted bungalow because Mani Shankar Aiyar -- who lost his seat in the last general election -- is refusing to move out. The heavy industries minister has not raised a ruckus so far since he was apparently hoping to move back into Varsha, the chief minister's bungalow in Mumbai.

Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party had the decency to follow democratic tradition and announce who their prime ministerial candidates would be. That gave the people of India the chance to make their preference clear. Why could they not follow that healthy precedent when it came to the Maharashtra polls?

It is utter rubbish to claim that MLAs or MPs make the choice.

Neither the Congress, nor the B.J.P., nor even the C.P.I.(M) gives its legislators that freedom. The BJP leadership asked nobody before demanding Vasundhara Raje's resignation in Jaipur; the Congress 'high command' will be equally autocratic in Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Itanagar.

The same situation prevails in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

Rajasekhara Reddy's sudden death has left a vacuum in Hyderabad.

Jagan Mohan Reddy was supposed to be the heir to the throne but the Congress leadership does not approve. That leaves K Rosaiah as the man in charge -- even though one of his first acts was to preside over a meeting that called for giving the chief ministership to Jagan Mohan Reddy.

One should note, however, that the Congress's problems pale in comparison to those of the BJP and the Shiv Sena. This election means that the allies shall be out of power for close to fifteen years by the time that the newly-elected Vidhan Sabha's span ends.

They lost the election despite the drought, the farmer suicides, the economic downturn and the job losses. Compare that to the way in which Haryana's voters decided to send a message to the ruling Congress.

It is not the fault of the voters of Maharashtra. Did the BJP and the Shiv Sena give them any reasons to vote in their favour?

Apologists for the BJP and the Shiv Sena are quick to point out that they have not been in power at either the central or the state level for several years. That is true, but they have been in power at the municipal level for a couple of years now, both in Delhi and in Mumbai not to mention a raft of smaller towns and cities.

Take a walk down the potholed streets of India's financial capital, remember how the monsoons flooded the city, get a whiff of the garbage piling up everywhere, and you will know just how badly the local government is run.

Yes, the Congress government of Maharashtra has proved incompetent and ineffective. But how, on the basis of seeing the Brihan-Mumbai Mahanagar Palika function, can anyone vote for the BJP. and the Shiv Sena? What kind of alternative do they offer?

By the way, the only reason that the Shiv Sena's Shubha Raul is the mayor of Mumbai is because the Congress and the NCP decided to fight each other in 2007. Come 2012, and who knows if the NDA allies can retain power at least at the local government level?

Again, if Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh, and Jagan Mohan Reddy represent Congress dynasties, it is no secret that both the Shiv Sena and the BJP have their share of prominent families. Which leads to the same question, what gives the voter any confidence that a Shiv Sena-BJP ministry shall differ substantially from the Congress-NCP alliance?

The best you can say for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena is that they have five years to get something right before the next Lok Sabha and the next Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha elections.

Tailpiece: Readers may remember that I mentioned Mamata Banerjee's decision to put up her own candidates in Arunachal Pradesh in a previous column. I thought the Trinamool Congress might get a seat or two, but winning five has, I hear, shocked even the Congress high command. Once Maharashtra is settled, will the Congress try to placate Mamata Banerjee before the West Bengal elections?

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T V R Shenoy