New Delhi: “Politics mein bhi satta hota hai (there is gambling in politics too),” veteran actor Surekha Sikri’s character says in her debut film Kissa Kursi Ka, a political satire that came out in 1978, a year after the Emergency ended.
Four decades later, the Maharashtra row proves why Indian politics continues to be a goldmine for satire that is funny and biting all at once.
An overnight political coup facilitated by a renegade nephew, a supposedly unaware uncle, a blind-sided opposition alliance, and now, a battle in the Supreme Court — government formation in Maharashtra is replete with deceit, denial and drama fit for a Bollywood blockbuster.
“Aap vyapari hai, dhandewale hai, aap chunav ke chakkar mein kyun padte hai. Politics mein bhi satta hota hai. Aap is ghode ko chhodiye aur jeetne wale ghode par dam lagaiye (You are a businessman… you should bet on the winning horse),” Meera continues in the film, trying to convince candidate Gareebdas to withdraw from the election and pledge his loyalty to his adversary for Rs 5 lakh.
Gareebdas, who is on a horse (also his party symbol) at the time of this conversation, weighs his options and complies, deciding that a sure shot at power and money is a much safer bet than an uncertain political future.
After a month long see-saw, the NCP-Shiv Sena-Congress appeared to be on the verge of assuming power. Newspaper headlines Saturday had even hailed Uddhav Thackeray as the next Maharashtra chief minister.
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But things changed overnight. President’s Rule was revoked at 5.47 am on 23 November, and news broke that Ajit Pawar, the nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, had defected to the BJP camp, claiming to have the support of all 54 party MLAs.
Within hours, Devendra Fadnavis had been sworn in as chief minister, with Ajit Pawar as his deputy.
“Congress-Shiv Sena-NCP friendship for life confirmed,” TV anchor and comedian Cyrus Broacha joked on CNN-News18’s The Week That Wasn’t last week.
A spoof Congress spokesperson named “Prithviraj Chawan” told Broacha that “nowadays anyone can come and take anything, so I’ve decided to tie things up for safety”. “Scooters and MLAs also,” he added.
From Bhatti to Bollywood
Fears of horsetrading are rampant in Maharashtra as Fadnavis and Pawar don’t appear to have the requisite MLAs to form a government in the state.
A similar episode ensued in Karnataka last year as the BJP, led by former state chief B.S. Yediyurappa, staked claim to form the government despite not having the numbers. Yediyurappa had to resign after a three-day stint following his failure to prove a majority in the house (he is back as CM now).
Horsetrading — the purchase of rival MLAs to manipulate election results in one’s favour — was the theme of an episode of the late satrist Jaspal Bhatti’s 1995 satirical skit-show Full Tension, which aired on Doordarshan.
“Bholanathji, hamare hote hue aapko kaisi chinta. Hum aapko aise MLAs dilwaenge, ki aapki sarkar koi ghanto tak koi hila nahi payega (Bholanathji, why worry? We will get you such MLAs that no one will be able to shake your government for hours),” Bhatti is seen telling a fictional party chief in the fourth episode of Full Tension.
One there was Jaspal Bhatti!
I wonder, if he was alive, he might have been declared Anti-national and locked up.
Most frightening thing is that the satire still holds relevant today.
It is our defeat as the people leave Constitution!! pic.twitter.com/N3p4vDLz9P
— Divesh Garg (@DiveshSpeaks) November 24, 2019
In the sketch, Bhatti plays an “MLA broker”, offering up legislators for ‘sale purchase’ to parties that fail to get a majority. In the episode, two MLAs of a party that is three seats short of a majority approach Bhatti to buy legislators on the wholesale market. Bhatti takes out a calculator, punches in some numbers, and says, “Teen MLA toh 1.5 crores (three MLAs for Rs 1.5 crore), plus commission.”
1990s :: Jaspal Bhatti On Sale / Purchase of MLAs pic.twitter.com/GaVAUbpgk9
— indianhistorypics (@IndiaHistorypic) November 25, 2019
When the deal is on the verge of being struck, the party chief’s son is shown running into the room and telling his father there’s no need to go through. “Kisi ne humari camp se MLAs khareedkar, hamein hi barbad kar diya (someone has bought MLAs from our camp and destroyed us)!” he says.
The party chief then promises to kill whoever orchestrated this betrayal, to which Bhatti appears nonplussed. Unfortunately for him, his own deputy walks into the office, saying, “Sir, sir, we were successful in buying those 40 MLAS.”
In the comments section of the YouTube video, user ‘Knowledge Wala’ seeks to ask, “How many people here after watching horse trading of Karnataka MLA’s (sic)?”
It’s not just satire. The vagaries of Indian politics have also been a recurring theme in Indian movies, especially Bollywood potboilers.
Resonance of the Maharashtra row, for example, can be observed in the 2000 movie Kurukshetra, where Om Puri’s character, chief minister Baburao Deshmukh, is approached by opposition leader Sambhaji Yadav, played by Shivaji Satam (ACP Pradyuman of CID), for an alliance.
In one of the scenes, Yadav offers the support of his MLAs to help Baburao attain the majority — all he wants in return is the deputy chief minister’s chair (a la Fadnavis and Pawar?).
Baburao explodes at the suggestion. “Main gatar ke kinare ke khujli wale kutte ko deputy CM bana dunga, par tere ko kabhi nahi (I’ll make a diseased, road-side dog my deputy CM, but not you).”
When the Ajit Pawar-Devendra Fadnavis shocker reached the annals of the internet, people were quick to remind the chief minister of a not-so-prescient tweet from 26 September 2014.
BJP will never, never, never have any alliance with NCP. Rumours are motivated. We exposed their corruption in assembly. Others were silent.
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) September 26, 2014
In politics never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever….say never. 😂 https://t.co/hmpS2vuPVb
— Akash Banerjee (@TheDeshBhakt) November 23, 2019
Ah, politics. Why do we even subscribe to Netflix when the content here is so good 😛 https://t.co/4aQ7rGvjdf
— Anisha Dutta (@A2D2_) November 23, 2019
Obviously, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics.
The honest politician
A popular pop-culture trope for politics is the surprise encounter of noble, well-meaning citizens with a duplicitous political world. Cue Nayak (2001) and Satta (2003).
Since the Maharashtra imbroglio broke out, tweets have asked Bollywood star Anil Kapoor to take over the reins of the state, a clear throwback to his role as chief-minister-for-a-day Shivaji Rao in Nayak.
महाराष्ट्र में जब तक कोई रास्ता नहीं निकलता तब तक @AnilKapoor को ही मुख्यमंत्री बना कर देख लेते हैं। पर्दे पर उनके एक दिन का कार्यकाल पूरे देश ने देखा है और सराहा है। @Dev_Fadnavis और @AUThackeray क्या सोच रहे हैं ?? pic.twitter.com/GSCIL9mo2R
— Vijay gupta (@vijaymau) October 30, 2019
Mean while let's try anil Kapoor as a cm of Maharashtra (NAYAK) until they decide between @Dev_Fadnavis and @adityathakekar …
Jokes apart we all knew that is the reality #MaharashtraAssemblyElections pic.twitter.com/VTSNWQ1Zy0
— Parth Patidar (@ParthPatidar7) November 1, 2019
Nayak is the story of a determined, honest young man who takes over as chief minister on a dare from the corrupt incumbent, and then revolutionises governance.
“Ek chaprasi se lekar upar tak, aap sab lok corrupt ho chuke hai (everyone is corrupt, down to the peon),” Rao announces to a room full of ministers in one of the scenes.
Satta, meanwhile is the story of Anuradha Sehgal, played by Raveena Tandon, who enters politics after her politician husband is arrested. In one of the scenes, her character tells the media that “being in politics doesn’t mean seeking a position or title”.
“If the common man doesn’t start participating in this country’s politics, then power will be in the hands of gangsters and the corrupt,” she adds.
These films present the common fantasy of a perfect politician — born of and working for the people.
Just like the movies, fraught relationships have also informed a significant part of the drama unfolding in Maharashtra, where a Twitter war between uncle and nephew (Sharad and Ajit Pawar) has been playing out since Saturday.
I am in the NCP and shall always be in the NCP and @PawarSpeaks Saheb is our leader.
Our BJP-NCP alliance shall provide a stable Government in Maharashtra for the next five years which will work sincerely for the welfare of the State and its people.
— Ajit Pawar (@AjitPawarSpeaks) November 24, 2019
There is no question of forming an alliance with @BJP4Maharashtra.
NCP has unanimously decided to ally with @ShivSena & @INCMaharashtra to form the government. Shri Ajit Pawar’s statement is false and misleading in order to create confusion and false perception among the people.
— Sharad Pawar (@PawarSpeaks) November 24, 2019
From the Gandhis, to the Abdullahs, Badals, Chautalas, Hoodas, Jindals, and Delhi’s Dikshits, among a host of others, family feuds and dynastic rivalries are perhaps the most Indian cultural trope to play out on the political playground.
Even on screen, cousins have been seen battling for power in movies like Rajneeti (2004).
In the film, Veerendra Pratap (Manoj Bajpayee) is upset with his father for handing over the party’s reins to his brother. In essence, Bajpayee is at war with his uncle.
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