Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar seems to have set his party’s plan for the next elections in motion. His voting constituents would be the migrants and minorities, mostly the non-Marathis. The reports about the speech at the concluding session of the state convention of the party in Pune suggest just that.
These two communities, according to his calculations, have a say in the outcome of as many as 84 of the 288 Assembly constituencies and thus would obviously determine which party rules Maharashtra for five years after the 2014 elections. These migrants who made Maharashtra a multi-linguistic state have also made it prosperous.
Maharashtra is not anymore what it set out to be – a linguistic state for which Maharashtrians fought unrelentingly, sacrificing their lives. Places like Mumbai which they did not want to be an independent state or go away to Gujarat, has Marathis in a linguistic minority now. Only a tad about a fourth of Mumbai’s population is Marathi-speaking.
Pawar has spoken about what is now the reality instead of merely being sentimental about Marathi, Maharashtrians and their asmita – identity – but may have intended to polarise the state: his core adherents, the minorities and the non-Marathis on one side and the asmita-nursing Maharashtrians on the other. This of course would sharpen the teeth of both Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
His few illustrations about the migrant’s influence on some sectors are telling. The taxis in Mumbai are driven by people from Uttar Pradesh. And so are those who mind horticulture in Nashik. The buffaloes are milked by the Biharis. These people have mingled into the mainstream and their votes should be tapped.
Though he did not mention it, there is anecdotal evidence about the penetration of migrants into even smaller towns. In Latur, one cannot find, it is said, a Marathi-speaking load carrier at the wholesale markets. In Nashik, when MNS drove out the migrant labour, industries had come to a virtual halt. Given their insecurities generated by the Sena and the MNS, they are useful pools of voters.
He has, in short, waved the red rag to the Marathi bull.
Shiv Sena swears by a Marathi state, had even been in a rage when non-Marathis, that is long-time migrants, wanted the Mumbai civic body to change its official language for conducting business to Hindi. It sees a design amongst the non-Marathis who flock to Mumbai ostensibly, in its perspective, for livelihoods here but to sabotage its linguistic character. Sena and MNS have always seen a big plot in this.
Apart from his determination of his constituency that would be needed to be wooed now by the NCP, the tone and tenor of speeches, especially of its state unit chief, Madhukar Pichad, have also helped set up a smokescreen. The NCP, which has had its basket of woes with the Congress thumbing its nose at it, would not hesitate to go it alone in 2014 in the state. Confusion in the enemy ranks during the preparatory period always helps in politics.
The popular view is Sharad Pawar is a shrewd, intelligent politician. His successor and also predecessor of one time, Sudhakar Naik, himself a calculative politician had once described him as a politician since Pawar could and does play poker and chess together in dealing with an adversary. But the man himself has now said he is only a ‘practical’ person.
Asking his cadre at the just concluded state convention of party in Pune to be practical, he recalled his student days. He got to score more in his class practicals than in theory. The 40 percent for that saw him swimmingly through to the ‘pass’ status and anything else from theory was a bonus.
That is his own psycho-profiling. He saw merit in it being adopted by the partymen because, come elections, people would judge them by what they have done and delivered, implying that mere posturing does not win votes. And who were the voters who can make a difference? The minorities and the migrants. Woo them, he suggested, but do your deeds as well.
Since a large number of assembly seats are urban, and urban implies a dominance of migrants in the economy of the cities, urban issues have to be flogged by the politicians. Urbanisation – obviously unplanned, mismanaged – has thrown up a variety of issues that beg to be tackled. The flow of the dissatisfied from the countryside to the city is growing. In this lay electoral opportunities. That have to be diligently tapped.
These obviously are practical aspects of his politics. He may be desperate, what with the possible weakening of his party, the corruption scandals involving his own partymen in ministerial positions, including his nephew, Ajit Pawar, whom he cannot ignore nor run free. To ensure the party’s success, he would not contest elections again but would hold its reigns of the party.
The mistake is that he has straightaway divided Maharashtra in locals and migrants, into the rural and the urban, and competition for their votes rendered sharp. And now onwards, till the election outcomes are announced, expect fireworks.