“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”. – Abraham Lincoln During high-decibel election campaigns, political leaders and their party candidates can say anything and wriggle out of it later on the plea that it was said in the heat of the moment and should not be taken too seriously. But after the votes have been cast and counted, everybody with half a chance of becoming the chief minister or a coalition partner has to keep a tight hold over their tongues and avoid loose talk of any kind.
In the atmosphere full of suspense and intrigue after the Maharashtra Assembly election, it is all about who is saying what and who is not saying anything. The Shiv Sena is the best example of putting its foot in its mouth. First, even before the final tally of seats became known, senior party member Sanjay Raut told a TV channel: “No doubt, during electioneering we said BJP had betrayed us. But now that Congress-NCP has been defeated, Shiv Sena and BJP will come together again to form the government under Uddhav Thackeray”. He also said: “Shiv Sena is part of the NDA headed by BJP at the Centre and will continue to be so. At the State level, BJP should support us for the sake of Maharashtra”.
Despite being a prominent member of the Rajya Sabha, Sanjay Raut has clearly not heard that the “inability to stay quiet is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind,” as British essayist Walter Bagehot has written. Nor did he pay any heed to the wise words of Conficius: “Silence is the true friend that never betrays.” Or, for that matter, American humourist James Thurber’s quip: “Most politicians lead lives of noisy desperation.” Raut’s noisy desperation was met with cold silence from Amit Shah, BJP president and sec - ond most powerful man in the country after Modi. He is evidently a follower of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s teachings: “Silence can be the source of great strength.” Amit Shah is also turning out to be a master of political body language. According to a reporter who had observed Shah closely during the UP Lok Sabha elections, Shah can sit in the same room with someone for hours on end without saying anything or even looking at the other person. Then, all of a sudden, he looks directly into the other man’s eyes for a few seconds and looks away again without uttering a word.
According to the reporter’s version, the other man, who happened to be a local BJP veteran, soon began to perspire – he did not know if it was a friendly glance or a hostile stare. He never did find out, except that he is still waiting to be given some responsible position under the Modi dispensation. In the Maharashtra context, it is not as if Amit Shah has said nothing about the postpoll scenario. He seems to follow the technique of Elbert Hubbard, an American writer who learnt about life during his days as a travelling salesman and who said: “Cultivate quietness in your speech. Wait for attention and then speak in a low voice. Your words will be charged with dynamite.” Amit Shah’s cryptic half-comment, in a low voice, that “BJP has won more seats that we were offered,” was pure dynamite. It sent shivers down the spine of all Sena-ites, Uddhav Thackeray not excluded. Sharad Pawar has for years been successfully practicing the art of silence and cryptic speech, action and non-action and uttering a single phrase replete with multiple messages and signals to multiple destinations. Amidst the nervy speculation about whether the BJP, though triumphant in its victory, would be compelled to make up the shortfall by making up with the Shiv Sena to form the next government, the sugar baron from Baramati made an unexpected, unsolicited and suo moto statement: “Offering outside support to the BJP is our best alternative.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes even ten words can set a thousand minds all aflutter. Even the best brains in the business of politics and journalism could not crack the Rubic Cube of the wily old Maratha’s seemingly simple statement. It was all a question of timing, which only a back in form Virat Kohli will be able to fully appreciate. Uddhav Thackeray, son of the late lamented Balasaheb, already embarrassed by his partyman Sanjay Raut’s blundering bluster, was thrown into a tizzy. Having earlier imagined himself a Napoleon whose plans soared up like fire, and now suffering the agony of the prospect of having to play second fiddle to the BJP, suddenly realized that even the second fiddle role was in danger of being snatched away from him by his arch enemy. Worse, he could almost hear the buzz among his loyal cadres and visualize the sad shaking of Sena heads: “If only Balasaheb had been alive, things would not have come to such a pass. The nephew has been wiped out. The Tiger’s son is left mewing like a kitten.” Swallowing his bruised ego, throwing his shoulders back in a manner befitting the President of the Shiv Sena, the proud flag-bearer of Marathi Manoos, Uddhav Thackeray went straight into mewing mode. “Let bygones be bygones,” he declared with magnanimous eloquence, “forget that I called you a betrayer and a veritable Afzal Khan; these are just words uttered in the heat of battle; were we not partners in blissful wedlock for 25 long years; let not a silly lover’s tiff come between us and government formation. For the good of Maharashtra, take me back; for the sake of all the Hindu Gods and their thousand wondrous names, please take be back. I will take whatever you give; I will do whatever you say...”
So far, the silence from Modi, Shah, Gadkari, Fadnavis, et al., has been more than deafening. Only young Pankaja Munde has whispered a word in support and sympathy. For Modi, Mission Maharashtra is over as far as he is concerned, and he has other things to do, other places to go to, like Kashmir and Jharkhand and, yes, Bihar. Amit Shah, even though he is unlikely to have read Samuel Johnson, is probably thinking: “You stabbed me with a cruel word but you know not that silence is the sharper sword.”