The political upheaval in Maharashtra has caught the attention of the entire nation. My colleagues from the other states are asking me “since when have you people started behaving like us?” How will this crisis end and what will be its consequences? Will Uddhav Thackeray be able to retain the chief ministership or will he lose power? Is Devendra Fadnavis returning to power? What will happen to Eknath Shinde’s political career? Will Shiv Sena split? What is the role of Pawar saheb? And where is Congress in all of this?
Political machinations have begotten such ill-will and animosity that everyone who believes in democracy is asking the same question, “is this the culture of Maharashtra?” How can I tell my friends that I am deeply hurt by the political turmoil being witnessed in Maharashtra and feeling suffocated, for the nature of politics in the state was never like this before. The politics in Maharashtra has been full of affection and harmony. My Babuji, veteran freedom fighter Jawaharlal Darda, was a towering figure in Maharashtra’s politics, so I watched the political developments in the state closely since childhood. I used to see opposition leaders too maintaining bonhomie with Babuji. I felt on several occasions that during that period, personal ties used to be very strong even between staunch rival leaders. They used to share each other’s joys and sorrows. After stepping out of the House, they used to forget their differences and would spend the evening together and have dinner together like friends. This has been the political tradition of Maharashtra. There are many politicians who follow this tradition even today. I personally respect this tradition even today and behave accordingly. But the unfortunate thing is that the political tradition of Maharashtra has been vitiated by a hunger for power. Today, politicians are thirsty for each other’s blood. Ideology has been kept on the backburner.
I have been witnessing politics very closely for about 50-55 years. I have also sat inside the Indian Parliament for 18 years. I have seen Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Bhai, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P V Narasimha Rao, HD Deve Gowda, I K Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh going to Parliament and understood them. There has been a time-honoured tradition of respect for each other at the national level as well. Even though they used to pour a can of worms on each other in Parliament, outside the House, their relationship was full of mutual affection and respect. There were very few incidents of indecency and verbal attacks for which most of them used to regret later. Once Devkant Barua had used a derogatory term for Panditji. Instead of getting angry with Barua, Panditji called him for tea and said that ‘sometimes you get excited’. After the death of Pandit Nehru, when Barua came to pay his homage, he bowed thrice. When a prominent journalist Chalapati Rao asked him the reason for bowing thrice, Barua said the first salute was to the great freedom fighter, the second salute to the general who kept democracy alive, and the third salutation for my mistake for which I couldn’t gather the courage to apologise to him.
Atalji was a bitter critic of Panditji, but after losing the election, Panditji brought him to the Parliament. Atalji used to attack him sharply but a fair amount of decency was always there. He had faith in democratic values. Let me tell you about an incident. Atalji became foreign minister in the Janata Party government in 1977. Somebody removed the oil painting of Pandit Nehru in the South Block. One day, Atalji passed by and asked, ‘where is Panditji’s portrait?’ No one answered, but the very next day, the oil painting reappeared where it was. After the victory over Pakistan in 1971, Atalji addressed Indira Gandhi as Durga. When Pakistan tried to attack India in the United Nations in 1994 on Kashmir issue, the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao sent the then leader of Opposition Atalji to Geneva to defend the country.
Let me tell you another incident of mutual affection and respect in Indian politics. In 1988, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was battling serious kidney ailment. The treatment was available in America but Atalji could not go for want of money. When Rajiv Gandhi came to know about this, he got Atalji included in the delegation going to New York for United Nations’ meeting, and also told Atalji ‘to return only after getting treatment.’ After the death of Rajivji, Atalji himself disclosed this and said had Rajivji not been there, he would not have been alive. During his treatment in America, Atalji wrote his famous poem ‘Maut se than gayi’. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a teary-eyed farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha. There have been many such instances of mutual respect, affection and cooperation.
But in the changing times, the political relationships are also getting soured. As far as leaving the party and politics for power is concerned, this is not the first instance. Sharad Pawar was a minister in Vasantdada Patil’s government but he left Vasantdada overnight and the government fell. P A Sangma left the Congress along with Pawar, and the same Sangma later left Pawar too. Many people changed parties. As far as Shiv Sena is concerned, the party was not in power when Chhagan Bhujbal left it in 1991 and Narayan Rane in 2005 or when Raj Thackeray quit the Sena in 2005. Interestingly, when Shiv Sena is in power, several MLAs led by Eknath Shinde have ‘left’ the party. This development has begotten a lot of bitterness. They are using a language as if they are bete noire. In the game of politics, maintaining decency and humanity is very essential. In this situation, the million dollar question is how will the soul of democracy survive? This question is troubling me. People like me are definitely feeling suffocated.
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.
There should not be a sense of enmity in democratic politics. After all, everyone does politics in the name of public service. But unfortunately, the difference of opinion has crossed the limits and all are behaving like enemies of each other. I am feeling suffocated in this situation. How will such politics strengthen democracy? Mutual affection, and not enmity, is required to strengthen democracy.