The roar that has become a whimper!
Many of us are wildlife lovers and a number of my friends and myself spend many enjoyable hours watching Discovery and National Geographic channel. The sight of predators on the hunt is really spectacular but can there be anything more pathetic than a predator who has lost his energy and power? I had a similar feeling when I attended the latest joint campaign rally of the Shiv Sena and the BJP at Shivaji Park in Mumbai this week. The 'roar of the tiger' was replaced at this rally with a weak appeal to all activists by "the tiger" to support his son. For the audience it seemed like an endurance test, i sensed they were just waiting for the lacklustre show to get over!
As a political correspondent I must have attended over a hundred and fifty major rallies at Shivaji Park in the last 18 years but have never witnessed the kind OF disinterest and lack of enthusiasm that I saw in this campaign launch rally of the Shiv Sena and the BJP attended by barely forty thousand supporters. Shivaji Park has been the fortress of the Shiv Sena and most Thackeray rallies in the past here have seen a crowd of over a lakh at least. But this time the atmosphere was dull, the speeches boring and the video recorded message of Bal Thackeray which was played at the end could be only described as pathetic.
I have always been an ardent critic of the Shiv Sena and of Sena Chief Bal Thackeray's political ideology but this time I felt sorry for him. He could barely string sentences together, there was no aggression in his tone, and he failed to convince voters on why they should vote for his party. Many observers say the Dussehra rally that happened last year in October at the same venue was one of the last occasions when one could see Balasaheb commanding an audience of thousands. Maybe after his recent stay in the ICU of a reputed hospital, it is no longer possible for him to whip up a crowd.
Thackeray apart, even the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani sounded completely off-track in this rally. I have seen him addressing crowds in the past in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune and have seen people swayed totally by his flawless performances. But his time L K Advani chose to speak about things like the Madhya Pradesh government's "Ladli Laxmi scheme" in so much deadly detail that it put most of the Shiv Sainiks to sleep!
L K Advani and Bal Thackeray sounding off colour was not the only problem in this campaign inauguration rally. The body language of most Shiv Sena leaders and BJP leaders suggested that they were extremely uncomfortable sharing the same platform. There was no chemistry, no bonhomie seen at all. In fact, one of the only leaders of the state BJP who enjoys some mass support, Gopinath Munde, was asked to wind up his speech by Shiv Sena's Manohar Joshi Just when Munde had begun to make some very interesting comments on the Congress and applause for him was starting to build up from the otherwise disinterested audience. When he was asked to stop, he looked most insulted and wound up his speech in a few seconds after which Manohar Joshi began his own rambling discourse, most of which turned out to be the same old "Manohar kahani" that nobody in the crowd really wanted to hear all over again.
The only two leaders who showed some aggression and spoke on issues that seemed to touch a popular chord were Shiv Sena's working president Uddhav Thackeray and the BJP's state general secretary Vinod Tawde. But by the time they spoke, it was too little too late.
The poor response to the rally must have given a major jolt to the Sena-BJP leadership and sent a loud and clear message from the Shiv Sainiks and masses to the Sena-BJP leaders that if Bal Thackeray is not his usual self, roaring and performing on stage, they are simply not interested in coming to Shivaji Park and waiting for anybody else to speak!