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Maharashtra polls: Short, but not sweet

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
September 30, 2009 17:21 IST
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This time, the elections to Maharashtra Legislative Assembly could have been short and sweet because the names on the ballots were frozen on September 29 and they are to be cast on October 13 – just a nice tight schedule of just a fortnight. Instead, this promises to be quite bitterly contentious, unpredictable, and has virtually every party and alliance in a fix about the campaign.

It is going to be a single day poll. That puts a constraint on the number of places any party's big-ticket leader can hop from stump to stump canvassing for support. Sheer logistics is going to be a nightmare, especially because after the death of Y S Rajashekara Reddy's death in a helicopter crash. That means of transport seems less favoured now though not entirely abandoned.

Which means, depending on longer hauls in cars, even if they are high-speed vehicles to cover as much ground as possible. It also means each constituency gets much less time and attention because there is not enough to divide between the claimants when the clamour for support, any support, becomes unmanageable.

Advantage lost

The only advantage of the single-day poll is that the people would be less inflicted with the sound and fury of the campaign where decibel levels are raised, the streets are clogged, life disrupted and interfere less with the preparations for Diwali. However, that does not amuse the several parties or their leaders because they are at a distinct disadvantage. Their spending is not going to be less. Next few days would go in preparing for the push towards the ballot boxes. Then it would be frenzied.

That means, though short, the campaign is going to stretch the human ability of even the robust leaders like Sharad Pawar who can take more heat and dust than any other politician known can. Others like Uddhav and Raj Thackeray, being younger can manage this rough and tumble but it is not going to be easy. Money may not be a constraint to all parties, but time certainly is.

The quirk

Another peculiarity of this election is the sheer unpredictability of the outcome even in the well-nursed constituencies of the barons who are in the fray. The spate of rebels has put a new dimension to the contests which were already multi-polar in virtually all seats, with atleast two set ups -- the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Republican Left Democratic Alliance -- posing a threat. The least they can do is be spoilers.

Much time could have been saved for the campaign had the parties gone in for quick seat-sharing arrangements. They spent it instead in haggling, after initially indicating the need to go it alone, as far as the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress were concerned. So much so, these two parties lost precious time and could not formulate their manifesto, opting for a joint document instead at the last moment. Here too, they found that opposition parties had taken the wind out of their sails with clones of their intended poll promises.

Though the BJP and the Shiv Sena tied up the seats, they have not fared any better in securing a lead in the campaign. The steam could not be gathered quickly enough because of the latter's preoccupation with having to fight the intra-family battle between Uddhav and Raj. However, Raj, with some 125 constituencies to cover, given his maverick status in politics now, is getting a lot more media attention.


In this background, not just poll pundits, but even the party bosses are now in a sweat. Of course, the potential damage each rebel can do to the official candidates is seen as immense, and the big leaders are dwarfed because their dictats the rebels to withdraw were unheeded. There is scarcely a precedent of such a large scale, collective thumbing of noses at the bosses. That only underscores that politics is less to do with ideologies, programmes and more a frothing up of personal ambitions.

All political parties come out as if they are so weak that they could not control their local barons. The most affected, of course, is the Congress and apparently, the talk of wanting to go alone, initiated by Vilas Deshmukh seems to have stoked many an individual's ambitions. When the seat sharing came through, they hardly had any room to manoeuvre themselves out of the race. Even the NCP leadership appears weak on this count for similar reasons.

To a plan?

Unless, of course, the rebels are clandestine strategies of major rival parties to stymie the chances of their alliance partner's candidates chances and cut each other down to size so that it becomes easier to dictate terms when the spoils have to be shared when the cookie crumbles on the counting day. This has happened in the past, but on a relatively smaller scale. This time, it appears to be unplanned. So be prepared for several surprises.

The short course of the campaign, it would be assumed, would mean less spending because the number of days to spend on is fewer. However, that is not going to be the case because given the moneybags characteristics of most candidates, and the high stakes involved and reputations to prove and keep. That is so because a rebel losing his bid stands to be in disfavour for atleast half a decade with the party he belonged to; a rebel winning is embraced with open arms when coalitions are fighting for even a marginal numerical advantage.

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Mahesh Vijapurkar