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

Kicking in the Womb of Uncertainty

Thursday 19 December 2013

by Arun Srivastava

Initial euphoria giving way to pragmatic analysis and evaluation of the election results of the four State Assemblies, the focus has now shifted to the free-market economy dictating the future character and shape of the Indian political establishment and also the political discourse and action. The reasons behind the rout of the Congress are more than apparently meets the eye. The political structure and programmes of any party at the surface level are no doubt attributed with the credit to bring about a change but more than that the real players have always been the translucent factors.

The way the market behaved, the abnormal rise of the senxex during the two days of the announcement of the election results made even the common people realise that the corporate sector and a group of businessmen, who were out to create a Hindu market by projecting Narendra Modi as the future Prime Minister of India, have to some extent succeeded in their mission. But at the same time it would be wrong to believe that they or their political bosses would liberate the Indian market and turn it into an absolute free economy market.

No doubt the verdict is viewed as a manifestation of the weaknesses of the Congress leadership, especially pointing to the Prime Minister, also expressed by the NCP chief, Sharad Pawar; at the same time it is to be perceived as a message sent by the middle class that it was no more willing to play political second fiddle to any other social and economic force.

Little doubt the strategy to ride two horses at a time—flirting with the forces of globalisation and reforms and also continuing to uphold the cause of the poor and courting the socialist ideals primarily opposed to theory of reforms— proved disastrous for the Congress and made it lose the crucial four State Assembly elections. Instead of sticking to the one-line theory, the Congress preferred to experiment with the polemics of the two-line one which has eventually pushed it to the threshold of losing its identity. Though the party was faced with a similar predicament in 1967, there is one significant change in the ground situation. In the late sixties the party was holding its traditional support base of backwards and poor which was at the focus of the emerging new regional forces. But this time it was the skepticism of the stakeholders and support base that made the Congress vulnerable.

The status quoist middle class looked at the Congress with total distrust. The middle class, that had reposed its complete faith in the leadership of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and his UPA-2 Government during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, refused to repose its trust in him. The Prime Minister has earned the wrath of the middle class. The ambivalent stand of the Congress towards pursuing reforms por-trayed Dr Singh as a weak leader. Unfortu-nately, emphasis on pursuing socialistic pro-grammes also failed to earn the trust of the poor as they viewed it with suspicion. The middle class perceived that the policies pursued by the Congress were not in favour of its class interest. This was the reason that the government was accused of suffering from policy paralysis. The Food Security Bill, which was opposed by the industrialists and businessmen, did not also find favour with the middle class. They were in a hurry to carrying on the reforms.

The Congress’ attempt to hook on to its traditional vote-base obviously proved futile. The dithering of the party in adopting anti-poverty measures scared the rural poor, Dalits and backwards of the intentions of the government. The situation was simply compounded by exposures of various scams. The averseness of the government in taking action against the scamsters, who were rich and mighty, simply endorsed the charges of the BJP that the government was for the rich and wealthy. Unfortunately the rural poor too perceived the Congress as the party of the rich, least bothered to eradicate poverty and bring equity.

The voting pattern in urban areas, and particularly in Delhi, underlines this. The poor, the slum dwellers in this case, rallied behind the Aam Aadmi Party notwithstanding the fact half of its candidates are crorepatis. It cannot be denied that the Congress failed to send a clear intent. The middle class want the reforms to continue but the Congress leaders expressed themselves in favour of the rural poor, the anti-poverty programmes. The Congress must stick to its basics, but at the same time it should not construe that voicing the concern of the poor, the aam aadmi is antithetical to reforms or globalisation. For pretty long it was being said that the government must evolve the Indian model of reforms. But no heed was paid. The move to toe the capital world’s line proved to be the hindrance. The situation was simply complicated by the BJP, which created obstacles even at the cost of compromising the interest of the country and its people. Simply welfare schemes for the poor are not enough, the people must identify and correlate with the programmes. If welfare schemes alone could win the election, then Ashok Gehlot won’t be making way for Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan. The Congress brass must realise that robust economic growth was essential for funding the welfare schemes.

Significantly, attempts are being made to read too much into the success of the AAP. It is utopian to believe that the AAP has the panacea to the malaise afflicting the body politic or governance. Basically there is need to understand the gulf between Kejriwal and the AAP. Kejriwal is not the AAP. It is a byproduct of the Anna movement. The issues and concept of the movement provided the ground, seed and fertiliser for the AAP. The party has no agenda. It is simply concerned with the local issues and problems. Corruption is not new in India. It is endemic and a fight against it would encompass broader political and economic elements. The AAP simply symbolises the people’s anger and frustration and is certainly not the panacea. The AAP leaders must realise that Delhi is not India. And any crusade must have the peasantry and rural poor as the main force, the vanguard. They are also confident of capturing state power if re-elections are held. But history says otherwise. Often such forces lose momentum.

If the urban middle class rallied behind the Aam Aadmi Party, the slum dwellers also voted for the broom. Little doubt they reflected the deep disillusionment and disgust the people nurse towards the politicians and political establishment. They could exploit the ambivalence of the poor towards the Congress. But it is doubtful how far they would be able to present a viable and credible alternative. History is replete with stories of honest persons turning renegade once they enter the powerhouse.

The Congress is contemplating to project Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate. But how far it would help the Congress is not yet clear. The people have refused to subscribe to what Gandhi told during the campaigning. He also did not impress the urban youth. Being himself young he should have articulated the aspirations and voice of the new generation India. But that did not happen. Surprisingly, Rahul Gandhi is seeking an answer to this question from his party leaders. In fact the answer to this question should have come from Rahul. The reason is simple: the youth do not find any common connecting ground with him or his party. While his election speeches had no relevance for the youth who are looking for a better future, the rural people were not willing to listen to the oft-repeated fairy tales. The Congress must reinvent itself.

Even Narendra Modi failed to project and promote the BJP as the only national party which can replace the Congress. The BJP should refrain from looking at the verdict as a semi-final or view the scenario from the perspective of a “Modi Wave”. Just consider the figures. The election data reveal that Modi addressed high-voltage public rallies in six constituencies in the Capital but the BJP candidates from only two constituencies could win. The party lost four other seats, Ambedkar Nagar, Ballimaran, Sultanpur Majra and Rohini. Similarly, in Chhattisgarh the BJP lost five constituencies out of 12 where Modi had done intensive campaigning. But for the fanatics of Modi, the BJP owed its victory to the Modi Wave. The Bihar BJP leaders had virtually turned a blind eye to the ground realities and failed to see anything beyond Modi. In their hurry to project him as the new face of India, they are ironically not ready to acknowledge even the contributions of Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje. The Bihar BJP leaders must realise this kind of sycophancy would not do good to either the BJP or Modi. If for some reason Modi fails to ensure the defeat of Nitish Kumar and the JD(U), in that case what is the guarantee that these leaders would not dump him?

In the changed situation Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan stand equal to Modi. After all, both Chauhan and Singh have made hat-tricks. They are no less important and asserting figures than Mr Modi. The party President, Rajnath Singh, must exercise restraint and see the writing on the wall. He may think of projecting either Singh or Chauhan, as the two leaders have got wider acceptability than Modi. Rajnath Singh must pause and think whether he was unwittingly sowing the seeds of discord and dissent in the party through his action of projecting Modi.

In spite these aberrations, the fact remains that the Congress still commands the loyalty of around 26 per cent of the people at the all-India level. Or else, the party would have been completely wiped out by the aggressive campai-gning of Narendra Modi. But that did not happen. The results of the elections to the five State Assemblies make it abundantly clear that the magic of Modi did not work for the BJP. Modi had addressed at least 55 public meetings in the four States. But except in Rajasthan, the BJP failed to bully the Congress in the other States. This assertion may sound ridiculous as the BJP has won in all the four States. But a fact is a fact and it cannot be denied. Look at the Chhattisgarh election. Modi had put his entire might in his campaign in the State. But Raman Singh somehow could salvage his position and pride. What is of importance is that the Congress made an impressive gain in the tribal region of Bastar which in the 2008 elections had favoured the BJP. The Congress has significantly improved its share of seats in the State Assembly.

In Rajasthan, the Congress was the favourite even two months before the elections. Suddenly what went wrong that the party was vanqui-shed? The fact cannot be denied that Rahul Gandhi’s decision to give a free hand to C.P. Joshi, a bête noire of the incumbent Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, and also project him as the future Chief Minister proved to be the major reason for the defeat of the party.

The author, a Kolkata-based senior journalist, can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com

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