Auto vs bullet train
The art of political repartee is evocative precisely because of its ambiguities. A phrase or a slogan is meant to capture the moment, freeze it and own it, while offering a stinging rebuke of an opponent’s ideology and practice. The game, in essence, is about framing the conversation and finding the right metaphor to act as an appropriate caricature. And in Maharashtra, it’s game on. Two leaders of the NDA — former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union minister Ramdas Athawale — compared the ruling Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance to an autorickshaw. Like the three-wheeler, they suggested, the allegedly unstable alliance would make heavy weather of reaching its destination.
Modes of transportation have a history in Indian politics. In 1977, soon after she faced an electoral rout post the Emergency, Indira Gandhi arrived in Belchi in Bihar, but not with a convoy of cars and jeeps. A large number of Dalits had been murdered by landlords, and sensing the political moment, Mrs Gandhi arrived at the flooded village astride an elephant. The elan provided by the mode of transportation — regal, traditional as well as symbolic in terms of the community’s politics — marked the beginning of her political comeback. In 1989, V P Singh famously rode a motorcycle — playing both angry young man and man of the people — during his election campaign against Rajiv Gandhi. And more recently, and less successfully, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav made the cycle — his party’s symbol — a calling card.
The manner and mode of transportation has been used to establish both political credentials and electoral constituencies. Fadnavis and Athawale’s three-wheeler jibe, though, may have backfired. Uddhav Thackeray claimed that his was indeed an “autorickshaw sarkar” that will try to take people along, not a “bullet train government” that leaves them behind. The thing about vehicles in politics is this: The dictum, the more expensive is better, does not always hold true. An elephant and a rickshaw can give competition to the bullet train.