Sonia-Mayawati bonhomie no precursor to a coalition of clashing ambitions.
It is said a picture speaks louder than a thousand words. Indeed, it often does. For proof, look again at the beaming visages of Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati at the largest congregation of Opposition leaders and non-leaders—the latter too many to name here—at H.D. Kumaraswamy’s oath-taking as Karnataka Chief Minister. With the two clasping each other’s hands and raising them in the air, it would seem as if the newest bonding in Indian politics may have already ended their mutual distress at the loss of power.
In a way, it was appropriate that this show of bonhomie between the marginalised politicians should take place where a shotgun marriage of two bitter political foes was solemnised. Uncertainty would dog the new marriage of convenience in Bengaluru as much as there would be doubts galore whether the Mayawati-Sonia hand-holding would actually lead to something substantial electorally or would end up as a mere photo-op.
Fear and loathing of Narendra Modi may not be the sole reason for the hitherto imperious prima donnas to try and make a twosome in politics. The fact is each one has lost her grip on her old constituency and is desperate for regaining relevance. The way the Modi-Shah juggernaut threatens to roll over all opposition yet again in 2019, anyone finding herself irrelevant, per force, would feel obliged to seek solace under a single tent, however leaky and tattered it might seem. But even for the hackneyed resort to a sham of wider opposition unity, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati agreeing to hold hands is not without significance.
For one, Mayawati, who until very recently had spurned with disdain vote-pooling on the ground that such an arrangement invariably left the BSP feeling shortchanged, while the ally profited from her loyal Jatav voters dutifully transferring votes, seems to have come to terms with her vastly diminished appeal even to the UP Dalits. Newer and far more aggressive Dalit senas and fronts have come up to a) focus on her perfidy in using them as a captive vote bank while she lined her pockets with tonnes of illicit lucre, and, b) during her stint in power she failed to address the basic grievances of Dalits who continue to suffer from age-old discriminations and deprivations. Her diminution is a prerequisite for other Dalit outfits to gain traction.
Besides, going by her track record there is justified scepticism in political quarters whether she can persist with her current anti-Modi posture. All through the UPA decade, it is said but only half in jest, a DIG-level CBI officer would ensure “her good conduct”, her voting with the ruling party when needed or abstaining, depending on his “gentle suggestion”. With the advent of Modi, her vulnerability has only further increased with her brother, Anand Kumar, whom she post-haste inducted in BSP as her heir apparent, alone said to be in possession of huge assets.
So, if she is now emboldened enough to challenge frontally the Modi Sarkar either it is due to the promise of a bigger thailli from an array of crony capitalists now scurrying for cover for fear of liquidators demanding return of public funds looted from various banks under the benign UPA regime. Or it is a ploy. And Mayawati might leave everyone stunned, betraying the new-found allies on the eve of a crucial electoral battle on the say-so of the self-same DIG. In short, she is not trustworthy, though it could be argued that given that she drew a blank in the Lok Sabha poll and managed to bag a paltry 19 seats in the UP Assembly, her very existence is in jeopardy and has to necessarily throw her lot with the anti-Modi forces.
Well, as for her new hand-holder, the situation is no less grim. Sonia Gandhi realises that the latest member of the dynasty she has nominated to take over the family firm is not up to the mark. He needs external help. The Gandhi Brand is much devalued now. It is a herculean task to recapitalise it in the political bazaar. Therefore, shedding the akela chalo arrogance and a mightier-than-thou attitude, she too feels obliged to sup with anyone and everyone who can help keep the family business afloat.
How this growing bonhomie will pan out when the voters in the past have taken a rather dim view of most khichdi alternatives is hard to say, but what can be asserted with some authority is that the Modi-Shah duo is no pushover. Besides, history of pre-poll alliances is not encouraging. 1977 was different. The Emergency and sterilisation catapulted the hurriedly put together four-party hotchpotch in power only for it to disintegrate due to clashing ambitions and a lack of a programmatic and ideological unity.
Besides, Modi’s own popularity remains intact, though the errant behaviour of the loonies loosely associated with the party is a concern. Equally importantly, the obscurantist uttering of a few leaders, including, notably, the young Chief Minister of Tripura, tends to put off the middle class, a core base of the BJP. Modi has to enforce course-correction in social and cultural spheres, for sure. His handling of the economy by and large has been fine, leaving aside the ill-conceived demonetisation and hasty GST. Admittedly, the rising global crude prices in an election year can be problematic.
But to come back to the Bengaluru photo-op, Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi, despite their majboori, cannot make easy partners. The former will always live in fear the latter might try and gobble up her Dalit constituency or whatever is left of it. Besides, Congress has very little to offer Mayawati in UP, the only state where she hopes to regain power. Marriages made in heaven have a better chance of survival than those made on the political terra firma by desperate politicians staring at irrelevance.
EACH ACCORDING TO HIS POWER
The timing of the complaint that the Congress Party’s coffers were running dry was a dead giveaway. The party feared that after the loss of Karnataka, the only other big state besides Punjab in its stable, money might be hard to come by. Yet, it was unfair to suggest that the BJP cornered all the funds. Not true. Because if for two major states under its belt, the party received Rs 225 crore last year, the BJP rules in 21 of the 29 states. Do your sums. At more than a hundred crore apiece, the Congress tally is higher in proportion to the BJP’s Rs 1,000 crore for the 20-plus states.
Besides, if there is such a paucity of funds, draw a small amount from the mountains of illicit cash hoarded away in benami real estate or in secret foreign accounts. In the off-chance voters take kindly, the party can recoup the amount with compound interest. Why whine like bad losers?