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Maharashtra voters spoilt for choice

Lord Palmerston had national interest in mind when he loftily declared, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” But there’s something universal about these words, and the thesis is equally applicable to politics.

Indeed, with both the alliances that dominated Maharashtra politics for long collapsing almost simultaneously, it could well be said, and said without recourse to skulduggery, that political parties have no permanent friends or foes; they have permanent interests. You could say that for politicians too.

The BJP parted company with the Shiv Sena, its ally of 25 years, because it believes that’s where its interest lies. The NCP broke its 15-year-old alliance with the Congress because it wants to protect its interest. That the Shiv Sena and the Congress allowed their partners to walk out on them bears testimony to their protecting their own interests.

In brief, there is no percentage in attaching a moral value to political alignments and alliances. There’s nothing ethical about such arrangements; they are merely driven by expediency and exigency. Which, in a sense, is the way it should be. Stripped of posturing, politics and political processes are all about power and authority: the winner gets to wield both.

It’s really meaningless to analyse, and comment on, the reasons why these four parties have chosen to go their own ways. Now that they are all in the race contesting against each other, it is irrelevant whether their alliances broke over who would get to become the Chief Minister, who would get the lion’s share of the loaves and fishes of office, who would control the levers of the state.

What is relevant, and of interest, is how the October 15 election will play out in the new scenario with four-and-a-half players (one cannot ignore the MNS), each seeking to notch up the highest score. In a State that has been nearly bipolar — Congress versus anti-Congress — for a quarter of a century, voters will be spoilt for choice this time round. They can select and reject at leisure.

Not so the contestants. To bag the highest number of seats, if not a majority of them, the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP will have to cast their nets far and wide in the hope of securing support from all sections of voters. A four-and-a-half-cornered contest means the narrowest of margins could decide victory or defeat.

The Congress knows that it is entering the race with a huge handicap. The Government it heads is hobbled by staggering anti-incumbency. But with the BJP and Shiv Sena now splitting the opposition vote, two negatives could just about strike out each other, or so the Congress would want to believe. What this does not factor in is the NCP spiking the Congress’s chances — how much of the vote will it walk away with?

The NCP clearly sees the Congress as a liability, a drag on its own prospects, more so after the summer Lok Sabha election. But will Sharad Pawar succeed in demonstrating that he still matters, that his clout remains undiminished? That would be a difficult task to achieve, not the least because in the popular imagination, both Congress and NCP are equally tarred by corruption.

The BJP believes, and as much is reflected in its attitude bordering on what some would call hubris-driven inflexibility, the Assembly election will throw up results similar to those of the Lok Sabha poll. But there’s a catch here. The BJP and Shiv Sena had contested the summer election as allies and scored an amazing 41 out of 48 seats. Of these, the BJP had won 23 and the Shiv Sena 18.

Also, the Modi Tsunami had swept all competition aside, reducing NCP to 4 and the Congress to 2 seats. That frenzied support for Narendra Modi is unlikely to be seen in an Assembly election where constituency level issues will dominate over everything else.

The Shiv Sena thinks a strident return to ‘Marathi Manoos’ brand of chauvinist politics will work wonders for it. It hasn’t in the past. It’s unlikely this time too. However, there is as yet no cause to write off the party. There’s more to electoral arithmetic than opinion polls.

Fools are brave enough to predict the outcome of elections, but that has never deterred commentators from having a go at predicting possible results. Perhaps we are headed for what’s called a ‘hung Assembly’? And what happens then?

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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