Elections are considered a celebration of democracy. However, the upcoming elections in Maharashtra seem to be a festival reserved only for our netas. After the inception of the state, the political ethos in Maharashtra has degraded consistently but in the 2014 elections, it has hit rock bottom. This assembly election is centered around wholesale political defections, criminals gaining in stature, and the naked display of wealth. And the media, which is supposed to keep an eye on this, is allegedly indulging in paid news. The Congress, NCP want to retain power by hook or by crook and the Shiv Sena, MNS and BJP have sniffed their best possible chance as well. In the lust for power, conscience has gone out of the window.

Bowing down to the 'rising sun' is a commonly seen mindset. Unsurprisingly, defectors are hovering around the BJP who have in turn welcomed these defectors with open arms. Among the 256 seats contested by BJP, 59 candidates have been imported from various parties. One-third of these imported candidates belonged to the NCP. Of course, the Congress, Shiv Sena and MNS are not an exception to defections, but their numbers are not as big. If BJP emerges as the single largest party, one-third of their candidates will be those not loyal to the party’s ideology. In 1990, the Congress gave tickets to criminals like Pappu Kalani and Hitendra Thakur. At that time, Sharad Pawar overlooked their shady character and focused only on elective merit. The BJP and other opposition parties had rightly gone hammer and tongs against this. But 24 years later, the BJP has followed the footsteps of Pawar by incorporating people like Vijaykumar Gavit and Babanrao Pachpute. More than 70% of these imported candidates are crorepatis.

But why pillory the BJP alone? Shiv Sena has given candidatures to Uday Samant, Deepak Kesarkar, Prakash Surve, Ravindra Phatak, and Anil Babar. All of them have been welcomed from the NCP-Congress. Then, Prithviraj Pawar, a BJP leader, is fighting on behalf of the Shiv Sena. The only reason why defectors have not thronged the Congress, NCP and MNS is that their chances of winning are negligible.

Criminalisation of politics dates back to the early 90s. The agitations of Anna Hazare and GR Khairnar had given voice to the distressed electorate. Sharad Pawar was capsized. But all parties have conveniently forgotten this history. The Association for Democratic Reforms scrutinized 2336 candidates and 798 of them have criminal backgrounds, which is 34%. Among them, 23% have serious charges like murder, attempt to murder, abduction, communal instigation and so on leveled against them. BJP and Shiv Sena lead the race here as well. BJP has gone a step further by giving a candidature to Anil Gote, who was imprisoned in the Telgi scam. Chhota Rajan’s brother, Deepak Nikalje, is a candidate from the Republican party of India (RPI), BJP’s ally. The most shocking aspect of this is that these tainted leaders share the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi with pride. Then there are Suresh Jain and Gulab Devkar fighting the elections from jail. Imprisoned because of their involvement in Jalgaon’s Gharkul scam, they have shamelessly been given tickets by the Shiv Sena and NCP respectively. Udhhav Thackeray has also given deported Suhas Kande a chance. The Congress-NCP have mastered the art of criminalisation and it should come as a surprise if all their candidates are clean. MNS is not an exception either. Raj Thackeray’s party has openly espoused violence in the past. Deplorably, these people will make laws for us after they become MLAs.

Another NGO has found that 47% of the candidates across the state are crorepatis and that 10 of them have made more than 100 crores. The NCP that had 76% crorepatis last time, has 83% crorepatis now. The BJP’s rise is also staggering -- from 54% to 81% crorepati candidates. Congress’ number of 66% has gone up to 81%. The Shiv Sena is not behind either, they had 45% crorepatis in 2009 and today the number is 71%. After looking at these figures, it would hardly come as a surprise if cars stacked with cash are found during the campaign. More than Rs 15 crore has been confiscated and a complaint has been filled against Ajit Pawar as well. Majority of the candidates perceive this as an investment, which will pay huge dividends in the next five years.

The campaign has ended now. From Shivaji to Afzal Khan, and from roaring tiger to a mouse; everyone has been invoked in this election. But the issues that dominated headlines in the last five years have vanished from the agenda of political parties. The irrigation scam, farmers' suicides, the state’s derailing economy, unemployment and women’s security - none of these issues have been relentlessly pursued by the political parties. The campaign has come down to passing slander remarks about others and stylish oratory skills. And as I mentioned earlier, very few media houses have admonished our politicians for being responsible for the degradation of the political discourse. Most of them are busy making money.

Maharashtra, a state that is known for its philosophers, stooping down to this level is a gloomy development. The results will be out on October 19. All the surveys predict unprecedented success for the BJP. It will be a historical result if the BJP comes out with an absolute majority, something that has never happened since the inception of the state. If this happens, one will have to credit Modi for it. However, the moot question is: whoever forms the government in Maharashtra, are they going to dedicate themselves to cleaning up this gutter?

Views expressed are the author's own

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