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Mainstream, VOL LI No 52, December 14, 2013 | Focus on Challenge of Religious Fanaticism to Democracy in Bangladesh

Lessons from People’s Verdict

Thursday 19 December 2013, by Bharat Dogra

As expected, elections to the five State Assemblies this year have turned out to be highly significant. While the overall results clearly point to a victory for the BJP, this cannot be called a clean sweep for the saffron party and much less for its most prominent leader, Narendra Modi. The BJP’s victory march has been checked to a significant extent by the Congress in Chhattisgarh and by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. The BJP was not even a factor in Mizoram where the incumbat Congress Government won another five-year term. On the other hand, the biggest setback for the Congress (even bigger than in Delhi) has been in Rajasthan.

The reason why the Rajasthan defeat is particularly distressing for the Congress is that, on the one hand, Gehlot’s popularity was well-established by several surveys and, on the other hand, the positive impact of his welfare measures such as pensions and free medicines was also widely acknowledged. During a recent visit this writer met several activists, panchayat leaders and villagers who confirmed the good impact of these and other welfare initiatives. But in addition they also said that due to the Joshi-Gehlot feud and other internal divisions within the Congress, the selection of candidates was often not to the liking of people. Secondly, organisationally the Congress had become so weak that even when they took very good steps, these achievements were not taken to the people by the Congress workers and follow-up work was not done. As one activist said emphatically, the Congress may have carried out large-scale pension reforms, but the actual pension forms were filled up at many places by RSS workers.

The absence of Congress workers was clearly evident in the hut colonies of Delhi where the support base changed very quickly in favour of the AAP and away from the Congress. While enthusiastic AAP workers could be seen everywhere, Congress workers were just not visible and when they came at all they contacted only the power-brokers, not the actual people.

In addition, inflation and corruption have proved to have had a very adverse effect on the Congress everywhere. Not only did the UPA Government fail to curb inflation, it kept saying that inflation was largely a result of factors beyond its control (international factors). Slum dwellers explained to me in detail how they are worse off even after the introduction of the food security law in meeting their food needs. The UPA Government had enough time to quickly take forward several good anti-corruption and grievance redressal laws, but the progress in this respect was too slow, with the legislative measures withheld for too long as high priority was not accorded to these. Failure on these two important fronts on the part of the UPA proved most harmful for the Congress in all the election areas.

The BJP benefited from these failures of the UPA, even though its own record on the anti-corruption front in States like Madhya Pradesh has been quite poor. Moreover, the BJP gained from the wider, stronger, more open political role of the RSS and its affiliated organisations in favour of the electoral prospects of the BJP. This can be a worrying and troublesome factor on India’s political scene in the days to come.

This trend as well as the clear choice made in favour of Narendra Modi’s leadership has led to increasing concern that the run-up to the 2014 general elections may witness increasing resort to the politics of communalisation and polarisation along communal lines. This worry was confirmed and accentuated by the most tragic communal violence at Muzaffarnagar (UP) and the displacement of a large number of people from their villages. Some of the leading accused persons belonging to the BJP were later honoured at a public meeting of the saffron party. Highly placed sources in Bihar have confirmed that there are apprehensions of somewhat similar type of violence there and the State Government is trying to take adequate steps to prevent this.

It is due to worries such as this that even those who criticise the Congress strongly for its neo-liberal economic agenda may not necessarily want it to be weakened so much in the present phase of the increasing role being played and strength acquired by the Sangh Parivar. There is a big question-mark whether following the rude wake-up call of the recent elections the Congress can move forward on the basis of unity in its ranks and better policies.

The AAP has achieved very significant success in its very first effort. Full credit should be given to the hard work done by its enthusiastic volunteers, particularly the youth. Arvind Kejriwal and its top leaders also deserve credit for their courage and hard work. However, this success has been achieved despite a rather weak ideological base. For example, Arvind Kejriwal’s book Swaraj, which has been described as a manifesto for future change and is a widely recommended reading for the AAP activists, says that in the USA at the local level no decision is taken without the ‘marji’ (consent) of the people. This book says till 1860 India had a system in which people took decisions and kings obeyed. If a party with such a weak ideological base could do so well with a good organisation, struggles on people’s problems and by establishing good linkages with them, then there is also a strong message in this for the Left forces which clearly have a far stronger ideological base.

There is no reason why the Left forces cannot forge broad unity and utilise their existing base among workers, peasants, students, women and other sections to emerge as a strong political force before the 2014 general elections. All sections of genuinely pro-poor, pro-peasant-worker and secular forces should be included in such a broad initiative, overcoming various kinds of narrow viewpoints and considerations.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.

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