Thursday, January 02, 2014

Focus: Is the AAP Broom NCP In The Face In Maharashtra?

By Rahul Vaidya | Mumbai

ANALYSIS If the broom gets going in Maharashtra in the 2014 elections, it could well force one of India’s most ambitious politicians, Sharad Pawar, to bite the dust. All of Pawar’s projections and calculations would have to be reworked in the light of Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) emergence and its assault on everything that smacks of corruption. All the more because the AAP has identified Maharashtra as one of its next electoral destinations.
Enveloped by a string of political scams which have led to an intense anti-incumbency environment, the AAP has a strong support base in Maharashtra right from the days of the India Against Corruption (IAC) and the Jan Lokpal movement. Pawar has all along been stating that it is regional parties and not the Congress or the BJP who would hold the key to government formation after the 2014 polls. 

Now, barely six months before the general elections, the AAP has emerged as a new entity on the scene, a development that could have a bearing on national politics and not just his own future. Is Pawar sweating at this point of time? Sweating out of frustration and anger, if not fear, over the completely unpredictable developments that have swept Indian politics in the aftermath of the Delhi assembly elections? 

One would be inclined to think so, especially as Pawar was among the first politicians to scoff at AAP’s victory in Delhi and call the upstarts “pseudo activists”. As the AAP’s spectacular performance stunned the nation on December 8, Pawar blamed the party’s victory on "weak leadership" in the Congress. He wanted to see how the AAP went about its electoral promise of bringing down prices of onion, vegetables and electricity. 

According to him, the "pseudo activists" of AAP were not connected with the ground reality and had been propelled to power by the youth, middle class and the poor. The new ground reality would suggest that it was politicians like Pawar who disconnected from the reality that saw the political discourse involving the aam aadmi change suddenly. 

The discourse appears to be rising above Hindu-Muslim issues and transcending the politics of caste and sub-caste to focus on issues of accountability and governance. This is the new reality of urban voters, a reality that could extract a heavy price from not just the Congress but also its alliance partner, the NCP. If the Congress has the albatross of the Adarsh scam hanging around its neck, Pawar has his own tainted image to contend with, apart from the burden of a political party with at least half-a-dozen ministers facing serious corruption charges.

These ministers include his own nephew Ajit Pawar, cursed by the irrigation scam and his offer to piss in the dams to mitigate the effects of the drought. Corruption and the crusade against it is a central theme with the AAP and this could prove heavy for the NCP which is perceived as a party of corrupt, self-serving politicians. 

Pawar incidentally was one of the first targets of the Anna Hazare-led Jan Lokpal movement when he was forced to resign from the Group of Ministers on Corruption in April 2011 . At this point of time, Ajit Pawar’s hopes of becoming the next for chief minister of Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar’s dream of a larger role in national politics, stand frustrated. 

The NCP is likely to suffer not just in prominent urban hubs like Mumbai and Pune but also in rural regions like the sugarcane-growing south Maharashtra and parts of western Maharashtra where the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader and MP Raju Shetty has emerged as a force to reckon with. Shetty who enjoys a warm rapport with Arvind Kejriwal is already in talks with the AAP for an alliance in Maharashtra. 

By attacking the AAP, Pawar is not just eroding his carefully cultivated image of a progressive leader, but is also alienating urban voters who have suddenly woken up, shaken equally by the results of the Delhi assembly polls. The other politician who could stand diminished and relegated to the sidelines is Raj Thackeray who had held the promise of the rising youth icon in Maharashtra. 

Raj stands overtaken by today’s national youth icon, Arvind Kejriwal who is inclusive and not divisive like the former. Like citizens in the rest of the country, even the Marathi manoos has been fascinated by Kejriwal, putting a question mark on the electoral issues that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is likely to project.

The MNS was so named because it offered the promise of good governance as a differentiator from the rest. However, it could not resist the temptation of attacking North Indians and other “outsiders”, thereby narrowing its agenda. 

Will such a strategy work in the face of AAP’s all-inclusive approach, its disdain for caste, communal and divisive politics and its single-point emphasis on good governance and clean politics? After Delhi, it is Maharashtra which is bound to capture the national spotlight as the nation hurtles towards the 2014 elections.
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