It was a twist worthy of cinema. There is a genre of films in which everybody double-crosses everybody else, until finally there is only one winner left standing. As things stand today, in Maharashtra, that seems to be the BJP. After failing in its initial attempt to form the government, it appeared to have stayed out of the proceedings, watching bemusedly as the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress entered into a very awkward and prolonged mating ritual. Then at the very last minute, just as the triumvirate had finally cobbled together an agreement, it swooped in and appeared to have upstaged them all. Of course, it is far from clear that it has the numbers, but for now, it does seem to have the upper hand.
The real lesson from Maharashtra is not about any one political party’s victory or defeat, but about the state of politics in the country and what it has done to all of us. Maharashtra exposes the fact as to how the practice of politics has corrupted everything and everyone that it has touched. No one is left with any right to speak. Everyone’s greed and opportunism have helped cancel out everyone’s else’s greed and opportunism.
The Congress’ claims about its commitment to secularism lie in tatters. In the current context, its attempt to position itself as a counterpoint to the BJP is rendered laughable given its willingness to partner a party that has historically been to the right of the BJP. The NCP, of course, has never had any claim to any kind of moral position, but in this election, it is widely believed that it was the image of a frail Sharad Pawar braving the elements and taking on the might of the BJP in a last-ditch effort that turned the party’s fortunes around. More than in the past, the NCP went head-on against the ruling alliance, which included the Shiv Sena, and managed to make a significant mark.
The Shiv Sena, which started it all, not only betrayed its long-time alliance partner but showed a willingness to move beyond its core ideological position in order to win power. The BJP too, continues its hypocritical attack on corruption, while actively fostering it in the way in which it ‘collects’ MLAs. In this particular instance, it has brazenly recruited all available mechanisms including the Constitutional offices of the President and the Governor in a manner that is unprecedented. The combination of exploiting fear and greed that has become its signature style is nothing but an open misuse of power, and it makes no bones about doing what it takes to win.
The truth is also that none of this is brand new. The BJP might be very good at this kind of politics, but it did not by any means invent it. All political parties in India have been quite adept at this kind of opportunistic promiscuity; it is only that the BJP has patented a particular formula that is proving to be more consistently effective than others have in the past. And, aided by a pliant and craven media, it has increasingly shown a willingness to be ever more brazen in its efforts to do what it takes to win.
What is new is how normalised this has become. Media speaks admiringly of these machinations, and the words used to describe what might otherwise have been thought of as despicable, underhanded betrayals of democracy are now accorded the status of ‘masterstroke’, wiliness, Chanakya-niti and suchlike. The language surrounding these episodes casts Amit Shah as the mastermind and Pawar as the ‘old fox’. Double-crosses are a source of delight. Subversion of the Constitution is thought of as a clever gambit. The absence of any real outrage in any quarter is a sign of how far we have come. What happened in Goa, Karnataka, Haryana and Maharashtra, just to cite a few recent instances, are seen as part of a game, one which must be played without any set of rules. This is sport, cinema, theatre, not real life.
And everyone is infected. The liberal commentators who suddenly suspended their otherwise visceral dislike for the Shiv Sena and urged the Congress to act quickly to seal the deal, are not that different from the BJP supporters who on the one hand, object to the Shiv Sena’s actions on grounds of betraying the mandate of the people and on the other, rejoice when their party ties up with those they campaigned against as being ‘naturally corrupt’. They also have no problems when politicians are widely known to be corrupt magically turn clean when they join the BJP.
Once we adopt this worldview, then no one is really to blame. Ajit Pawar is only safeguarding his future by getting a get-out-of-jail-card. Shiv Sena is only using the leverage it has to grab power, mindful that this opportunity may not come again. The Congress is doing whatever it can to prevent the BJP from coming to power. The BJP would be foolish not to use all its resources to retain power in an important state. For the liberals, any action that can help stop the BJP juggernaut is seen as legitimate, for how do you fight such a dominant force without mirroring its methods?
Once we treat politics as an unregulated market, every action becomes legitimate. There are no principles, and there are no consequences. Over a period of time, we will stop caring as to who promised what, who supported whom and who was once a bitter enemy. The nature of the political process has become such, that any hint of idealism has become an unaffordable luxury.
To think that only a few years ago, an influential movement had emerged from the ground that sought to reimagine politics feels like a flight of fantasy. For today, there does not seem to be a trace of anger or outrage at what politics has become. Not at who we have all become.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.