Early this month something very unexpected happened in Maharashtra. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine won the civic elections in Mumbai. Losing Mumbai pinched the Congress the most as it is a rich city…and it also seemed to take them by surprise.

Why, even the winners seemed surprised. The Sena’s likely thrashing in the elections was being touted in the newspapers so often that everyone had started to believe it. The Congress had become so confident of winning that the party did not bother to mend fences and forge an alliance with the NCP. And this inspite of the fact that these two parties are in the state government together. Now, I am no political analyst, just an ordinary citizen, and I too felt that the Sena and the BJP would lose. This was the media hype that had been created.
But why exactly was an experienced party like the Congress so out of touch with the ground realities? On hindsight it is easy to say that the “Muslims were disillusioned with the government after last year’s bomb blasts triggered a crackdown on the community, or that “the Khairlanji killings had galvanised the Dalit community to express its outrage…” but the fact remains that political veterans failed to guage the mood of the electorate.
Or did they not fail? Was it possible that the people actually hate and distrust the BJP-Shiv Sena combine but did not vote for the Congress?

There are many reasons for this but in my opinion it was mainly a combination of strong-arm tactics, bribing and wooing by the BJP-Sena that worked. After all, those in power have a big advantage. The BJP-Shiv Sena have been in power for the last two terms, a period of 10 years. It made it easier for them wield the carrot and stick. When these smart tactics were combined with the inability of the Congress and NCP to come together it made a winning formula.
And in any case, the fact that mostly the poor vote also worked in favour of the BJP- Sena. In these civic elections for example only 45 per cent of Mumbaikars voted, just a tiny rise over the 2002 figure of 43%. A quote:

Low turn-outs in the past have helped the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance as they ensured their committed voters exercised their franchise.

It is a well known fact that the middle-classes and the elite sit at home and watch the elections on TV while the poor turn out to vote. Makes it easier for political parties to buy votes. A quote:

“With more than 50 per cent of Mumbai’s 12-million-strong population living in slums-and the elite known to be notoriously apathetic – your candidates are very likely wooing the slumdwellers in the neighbourhood shanty town…

Let me tell you something I know for from my own life. My maid told me that the Shiv Sena paid Rs 500/- for each vote in her slum. And if people (usually young unemployed youth) go around collecting votes and persuading people, they are given lakhs of rupees. She admits that she too is voting for the Shiv Sena even though she knows that they are ‘goondas’ (goons) and they do ‘tod-phod’ (destruction) and the young men who work for them become ‘kharab’ (spoilt).  She shrugs. Everyone gives them votes. They are obliged to. It is not just her family, but her whole ‘ilaka’ who votes for the Sena. The Sena looks after them, they give them money, presents. Thats her reason. My driver says: ‘Paishe vatath hote’ (they were distributing money.) Yes, he voted for the BJP-Shiv Sena and he lives in another area.  His area voted for the Sena as well.
Well, all political parties do this – distribute money, threaten and cajole to get votes…but I guess this time the Shiv Sena did it better. Their insecurity made them go all out.
I don’t want to sit in judgement over those who sold their votes but I think it is important that the middle classes and the rich come out and vote. Until that happens, the fabric of our country is not going to change.