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Capital Grapevine   
Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine   

Virendra Kapoor

Maha, Haryana poll: BJP paying price for its own pre-poll hype and arrogance

It is one of those outcomes where the winners seem to have come second. Or, have they? For the widespread impression the BJP has no one else but itself to blame. Its arrogance and overconfidence led it to hype it to so much that even the most prescient political pundits were taken in, pronouncing it to be a one-horse race.

Humility would have served the BJP’s cause better. But humility went missing the day Modi swept to power in May 2014. A spate of victories since made every BJP leader, from the top to the mohalla-level, strut his act as if he owned the world. So, the first lesson that the BJP can learn from this setback is not to be cocky, to shun arrogance. However powerful the leader, the voter remains the absolute sovereign in the polling booth.

Having said that, there is a real danger of over-interpreting the result as a full-scale revival of the Opposition. If the BJP itself is to blame for its less-than-hyped win, how does it redound to the credit of Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana? BJP treated its old and established leaders with disdain, denying them tickets. It made a bigger mistake embracing defectors, rewarding them with tickets at the cost of loyal local leaders.

The voter did not treat the defectors kindly, be it Maharashtra or Haryana. Why, even in the two by-elections in Gujarat, where the BJP had snagged the prominent youth leader, Alpesh Thakur, fielding him from one of the seats, he was roundly routed.

Of course, this election would pep up the Opposition. Not a bad thing, all things considered. Pawar trumping the bigger ally in Maharashtra would restore him to his rightful place as the State’s foremost Opposition leader, and not anyone from the Congress stable. Even at the central level, his voice ought to carry more weight than anyone from the Congress Party. For, there is no one in the so-called Congress High Command who is a leader in his own right. And, as for the Gandhis, they were mostly AWOL in this poll, though on a rare occasion or two we did hear Rahul mumble Rafale.

The new State governments will experience constant conflict and cooperation, an unending game of one-upmanship. It will be easier for Manhoar Lal Khattar if only he allowed the latest Devil Lal legatee to do what they have always done between elections, that is, make lots and lots of money. Given Khattar’s ingrained sense of integrity, if there is a clash between him and his deputy it would be over his partner’s propensity to bend rules for ulterior motives.

In Maharashtra it seems unless the BJP calls the Sena bluff, it would be hard to make them behave like normal allies. Given the numbers in the Assembly, Devendra Fadnavis instead of bending to his knees, ought to allow Sena to go its own way and let them explore government-formation with the help of the NCP-Congress support. A willingness to renounce power for principle ultimately proves rewarding --- in personal life as well as in politics.

All in all, interesting times lie ahead. An early glimpse will be available when the parliament meets next month.

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Air India story repeated in BSNL-MTNL

Tens of thousands of MTNL landlines are dead in the national capital for weeks but you think anyone is bothered? No. Because MTNL is a public sector white elephant and guaranteed a regular feed come what way till eternity. We can only hope better sense prevails with the rulers, and they give it an early burial. Even paying off the parasitical employees a golden handshake will be better for taxpayers than wasting good money on its revival – a la Air India.

Along with MTNL, BSNL too is on oxygen, surviving on old reserves or fresh handouts from the public treasury. To try and revive these public sector behemoths when the rigor mortis has already set in is an impossible task, though the government seems bent to waste tens of thousands of crores on the unrealizable task.

Clearly, no lessons were learnt from the Air India fiasco. Year after year finance ministers wrote out cheques of amounts of roughly Rs. 5,000 crores each to help it turn the corner. But how could it when the man in-charge of nursing it to good health was determined to take it to the graveyard. The Civil Aviation Minister in the UPA did his best to squander the national carrier’s assets, rights and privileges – brazenly transferring them to the private airlines with whose owners he was in bed with. Let us not talk of Praful Patel any more. Before they could complete investigations into Patel’s perfidious role in AI, they have moved on to his shady links with the Mumbai drug lords.

But if Patel dug the last nail in Air India’s coffin, his colleague in Telecom did the same in BSNL-MTNL. The day A. Raja in league with private telecom players prevented BSNL from participating in the auction for 4G spectrum, the BSNL was destroyed. Now, only the last rites remain to be performed. Between them the BSNL-MTNL have about two lakh parasitical employees, guaranteed of life-time pay and post-retirement pension, perks, etc. No reason they took customers for granted ----persisting with irresponsible and arrogant ways even after the emergence of private players. In fact, top bosses joined in sabotaging operations goaded by private players who coveted public sector customers.

Now, however well-intentioned and clean the current regime, the problem with it is that it distrusts the private sector even more than it has faith in the public sector. Little does it realize that after a point what matters is not the ownership of a public service utility but its viability. If the private sector can provide the same service at relatively competitive prices it makes little sense to pour tens of thousands of crores in reviving a near-dead whiter than white elephant. But a leadership stuck in ancient swadeshi and statist dogmas remains antagonistic to economic pragmatism.

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Muslim League alias AIMIM?

The success of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen in the Bihar and Maharashtra elections ought to alert the political observers to the early portents of the dangers that lie ahead. In the Muslim-majority Kishanganj assembly segment in Bihar Owaisi’s candidate defeated the BJP’s with a comfortable margin. In Maharashtra too the AIMIM came up trumps in two constituencies. More significant point was the Malegaon seat. Here the BJP candidate polled but only 1450 votes while the AIMIM candidate got 1,17,242 votes.

This raises two clear questions: If Owaisi’s party gets a predominantly large share of votes in Muslim- majority seats is it an epitome of secularism-liberalism? Or is it a newer avatar of the pre-Partition Muslim League which when the time comes in the not- too- distant future will bare its fangs? Two, is the secular-liberal class guilty of spotlighting what it perceives to be the majority community communalism to the exclusion of brazen communalism of AIMIM and other such groups pandering to narrow religious affiliations?

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Fadnavis stays put

The outcome in Maharashtra may have effectively put paid to the plan in some sections of the BJP leadership to move Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to the Centre. Before the results, it was said that after grooming another leader for the CM’s post , Fadnavis would be inducted in a cabinet-ranked position in Delhi. The party needed relatively young leaders on the national stage. Fadnavis fit the bill perfectly, ready to be groomed for a bigger role in the years to come. But the less-than-lustrous showing has pushed the plan on the back burner. Holding Maharashtra itself has assumed primacy given that the Sena is set to play a perfect spoilsport, pin pricking Fadnavis constantly.