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Mainstream, VOL LII No 5, January 25, 2014 - Republic Day Special

Indian Political Scene

Tuesday 28 January 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

The Indian political scene, even though fractured and patchy, is acquiring a shape of sorts. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), founded by NGOs, sneeringly called the jholawalas, has changed the scene. It has provided the much-needed alternative to the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which are the same wine in two different old bottles.

Regional parties, which have a sway in the States, look like the biggest losers. Their appeal in the name of language, area or religion has lessened in effect. The success of the AAP in the Delhi Assembly elections has hit the polarisation the most as the party has transcended caste, creed and such other considerations.

When both the Congress and BJP admit that they have to learn from the way the AAP has come up, they should transform themselves. Yet they remain the citadels of status quo. Whether the AAP has Marxists and Naxalites within its ranks does not matter as long as they are in tune with the people’s aspirations. Ultimately, the test is how soon the AAP eliminates poverty which encompasses half of India’s population even after 67 years of independence. One thing is sure: the Left has been trampled upon mercilessly. It is a loss, no doubt. But the Communists and the nascent Socialist Party have to blame themselves because they are no more tethered to the grassroots. Espousing the cause of progress and egalitarianism cannot be confined to slogans or rhetoric. The AAP has come out with an agenda and time-frame for uplifting the lower half.

When the Communists could not improve the quality of life in West Bengal in their 35-year-old rule, they have proved that the Marxism of their type is only a veneer of progress. Scratch their skin, they are found to be part of the establishment. What they could not do—arouse the poor to have their say—for decades, the AAP promised to do in about 12 months.

The two main parties, the Congress and BJP, are like the mahants in temples. They have learnt nothing, forgotten nothing. Instead of correcting their policies, they consider the AAP an aberration or a bubble which will burst by the time the Lok Sabha elections are held this April. They are mistaken because the party has caught the imagination of the people and it has spread like wildfire. Lakhs of people who have joined the AAP show that.

The manner in which the wave of Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, has waned indicates that he does not command the crowd he once did although the media continues to play him up. That is the reason why the RSS is frantically telling the BJP to stop the AAP, not the Congress, which has been its opponent for years. The attack by the leaders on every step the AAP takes in governing Delhi confirms the perception that the Congress has slipped to the third position.

The Congress has reportedly come to the conclusion that it should unofficially support the AAP to stall Modi. It also means that the Congress has realised that it cannot come back to power. In fact, it may try to marshal the different parties in the States along with its own strength in support of the AAP to form the government at the Centre.

The Congress will leave no stone unturned to keep Modi out of power. The most disturbing aspect of the political scene is corruption. Both the Congress and BJP, the latter especially, have no hesitation in getting the support of tainted leaders. The Congress refuses to take action against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbadhra Singh who allegedly favoured a company in which his relations have a large number of shares. Modi, otherwise talking about cleanliness in public life, retains in his Cabinet a Minister who has been convicted by the court. Both Bihar’s Laloo Yadav and Rashid Masood of the Congress ceased to be Members of Parliament as soon as they were convicted. Why is the BJP shielding the convicted member in Modi’s government in Gujarat?

Another disturbing feature visible is the personality cult. The democratic polity is sought to be changed to the presidential form. Modi is to blame the most because he has raised the slogan of a strong man and a strong government. A ruler, who presided over the massacre of his own citizens some 12 years ago, can be dangerous to the dissent that the Constitution guarantees.

It is not surprising, however shocking it is, that the police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR) against Modi at Ahmedabad. The snooping scandal which implicates Modi in having a girl under surveillance raises many questions. An FIR is in order to determine the truth. A Centre-appointed commission may be able to dig it out. But the State machinery is not willing to cooperate, as is obvious from the attitude of the local police.

The Congress should have seen through Modi’s game to convert the 2014 elections into a clash of personalities, not of issues. But the party is guilty of projecting Rahul Gandhi as if the contest is between the two. Rahul Gandhi is too often speaking on important policy matters and having the government’s decision reversed. One example is that of the ordinance to save politicians from the Supreme Court judgment that a legislator would cease to be a member once he is convicted.

Yet another issue is that of the housing scandal in Maharashtra. Rahul Gandhi has partly retrieved the Adarsh Housing report which was rejected by the Congress-led government in the State. Still the politicians have gone scot-free. Only bureaucrats will have to bear the brunt.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should realise that the AAP Government is not coterminous with him. Strange, he retains 16

departments. The Janata Party in the wake of a movement by Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan did not last. But it saw to it that there would

be no repetition of the Emergency. Democracy was deeply entrenched. If the AAP could clean the system and make sure that it stays that way, this will be a great contribution even if the organisation does not last.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com