Polls in sight, parties bring out the big guns

Elections, be it for Lok Sabha or state assembly, always come as a testing time for political parties. For a quick recap, take the example of Janata Dal before it was divided into the united and secular groups. The party was the principal opposition party in the state assembly for years together with stalwarts representing it in the house. Today, it has no representation in either houses of the state assembly. It has gone almost into oblivion.

A mere whiff of election time sends political parties’ offices in a tizzy, as they search for faces that can drub rival parties. It’s also a fact that public rallies charge up the atmosphere of elections. For this, political parties need big guns with a capacity to create mass hysteria rather than just intellectuals or thinkers.

So, in our democracy, two types of leaders gained maximum popularity — those with an ability to spellbind the audiences and others who could churn controversies in the run-up to the polls. It is not very surprising, then, that political parties are looking for such faces these days, with one eye on the upcoming general elections, likely to be held in November.

Despite voices of dissent and reservations from man y quarters, the BJP has gone ahead with the appointment of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as chairman of its election committee. While doing so, the party with a difference (or differences) ignored its old guard L K Advani, who during his heydays contributed immensely to the BJP’s success with his whirlwind tours and programmes.

It’s not just Gujarat’s development model that is going to be Modi’s appeal but his capacity to take on the Congress by hurling barbs at its star campaigners. His hardliner posture as a Hindutva mascot is going to polarise voters and will be the spark of the battle between him and champions of secularism.

Prior to this, BJP’s state unit got Devendra Fadnavis as chief on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections followed by the state assembly elections due in October next year. Known as an intellectual face in the party, Fadnavis can unnerve the rival Congress-NCP combine with his oratorical skills. The BJP could have appointed him much earlier but it did not. Instead, other faces that avoided direct confrontation with Congress-NCP were appointed.

Now, with his hard-hitting speeches, Fadnavis is expected to lift the party’s sagging spirits before the elections. Be it Modi or Fadnavis, BJP wants aggressive leaders. Both of them are expected to build bridges with another aggressive leader Raj Thackeray, with whom they maintain good equations in order to align with the MNS for the coming elections.

Taking a cue, the NCP sprung a surprise by picking Bhaskar Jadhav and Jeetendra Awhad as party’s new state unit chief and working president respectively. Both of them are known to be hot-headed big guns. While Jadhav, a former Shiv Sainik, can go all out against the Shiv Sena, Awhad is expected to take on the BJP in general and Modi in particular. While picking up the duo, the NCP ignored senior leaders of the party who maintain excellent rapport with BJP and Sena.

Even Madhukar Pichad, Jadhav’s immediate predecessor, failed to cut much ice due to his advancing age and retirement plans from active politics. While asking Jadhav to take over, the NCP ignored the recent controversy over the lavish marriage ceremony of his children. It’s only because of Jadhav’s capacity as a vehement orator and his capacity to take on the Sena leadership. What went in his favour was a recent statement he made ridiculing Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya, the chief of Yuva Sena. While Uddhav needs the support of party MLC Neelam Gorhe, Aaditya is still a calf, was his stinging remark that enraged the Sena ranks.

Similarly, Awhad’s forceful defence for residents of illegal structures in Mumbra and Thane — that constitute a huge vote bank - earned him political kudos.

Ignoring the voices against him, Awhad raised a clamour over the demolition drive and persuaded NCP chief Sharad Pawar to tour the area.

Not just the NCP but all the political parties are looking for gutsy players such as Modi, Fadnavis, Jadhav and Awhad. While endorsing Jadhav and Awhad, a seasoned leader such as Sharad Pawar argued that it was time for the younger generation to take over. Here, he was referring to age in political years as Jadhav has crossed 50 and Awhad is close to it, but both are junior to many others in NCP.

In the near future, while the state is likely to witness some fierce political battles between the NCP, BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS, the national level will see Modi and Rahul Gandhi in the fray, as the Congress scion has already been made chief of the party’s campaign committee. But Congressmen are worried about his reticence compared to leaders from contending parties. Eventually, the Congress may have to rely on its old hands like Digvijaya Singh.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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