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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 20, May 10, 2014

Too many as Primus Inter Pares

Monday 12 May 2014

by Mouli Dey

The following piece was written and sent to us sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons. However, despite some of the contents of the article being dated, the piece still retains its validity in essence; it is thus being used here.

Who should rule the country following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? This is a question which might crop up in the mind of any individual citizen of India eligible to exercise the right of universal adult suffrage. Indian politics has become so much complicated that nothing is placid, whether it is the electoral verdict or it is the type of party system or it is the leadership. There are numerous contenders for power but there exist ambiguity over the prime ministerial candidate. The final verdict will obviously be ‘of the people’ but it can be well speculated that the verdict will be fragmented with no one having an absolute majority because the party system of India, which is not at all uniform in nature, offers to its voters a menu of multiple choices. The contest for the 2014 elections is between many options such as the veteran Congress, the alternative to the Congress, that is, the BJP, the Left Front, the probable, yet-to-materialise Third Front consisting of Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, and the Front led by Mayawati and others. The regional satraps are now even more keen about having a bigger role for themselves at the national level. In fact, most of these regional level leaders are aspiring candidates for the august post of the Prime Minister.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had a nosedive in the previous 2009 general elections and is therefore seen to have already geared themselves with the preparations for the 2014 elections. It is being said that the party feels that it lost the 2009 elections (and earlier the 2004 general elections) because of its fanatic propagation of the ideology of Hindutva which did not catch the fancies of the people who had been witness to the dreadful post-Godhra pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat following the Babri Masjid demolition by the kar sevaks who were later on burnt alive in the Sabarmati Express as a mark of revenge. Presently the Hindu-Muslim and Mandir-Masjid issues have taken a back stage. As a result the party now projects itself as one which favours “development” and is trying to allure the citizens of the country with the Gujarat model of development1 as its trump card for the 2014 election campaign. Hence Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat for three consecutive terms, has been appointed by the party High Command as the BJP’s Campaign Committee chief for the 2014 elections so that he can catch the fancies of the present-age generation that is attracted to the neo-liberal technological advances. Thus it has been speculated that if the communal image of Modi has not stopped him for winning Assembly elections for three consecutive terms in Gujarat, then it will not stop him from performing outstandingly in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. If he wins he will become the Prime Minister without being a prime ministerial candidate. The BJP is yet to formally declare its prime ministerial candidate from its many options like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, L.K Advani. Although the projection of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate has been claimed by some sections of the party as a media hype.

So it is pretty well discernible that the party is suffering from a leadership vacuum since the withdrawl of Atal Behari Vajpayee at the national level. Hence if a party is not clear about its leadership, how will it steer the country through thick and thin if it emerges victorious after the 2014 elections? Moreover, there are many contenders from within the party for the post. It’s significant ally, the JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, is said to be one of the most aspiring contenders for the post. He is said to have publicly shown his despise for Modi as the prime ministerial candidate and has in fact already snapped the party’s ties with the BJP over the issue. Even the Shiv Sena, its long time ally, too has serious reservations about Modi. There is also considerable opposition from the top leadership of the BJP over the possible choice of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Sushma Swaraj and L.K Advani have firmly opposed his candidature. So the internal squabbles are so intense within the BJP-led NDA that it can be very well speculated that if it comes to power it will surely remain diverted from its primary task, that is, governance and this is an early sign of an unstable government. The BJP’s nexus with the VHP and RSS are also seen as conspicuously detrimental to peace, harmony and the secular fabric of the country. These organisations are highly militant in nature and are propagators of the fanatic fundamentalist Hindutva ideology. Paul Brass, a US academician and an expert on Indian politics, believes the BJP does not have a great future in India; neither does Modi. And it is a disgrace that he is still not punished and yet so highly talked about in the press. He does not think he will make it as the next Prime Minister. (The Telegraph, Sunday, August 4, 2013)

Recently the BJP-led NDA’s rebel ally Nitish Kumar of the JD(U), TMC chief and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the BJD’s Naveen Patnaik have expressed their desire to form a Third Front for contesting the next Lok Sabha polls. However, if the proposed desire materialises then the most serious problem will arise. All these prime leaders are equally lustful aspirants for the post of the Prime Minister. Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, has been well projected as a leader who has turned the state of development of the State back in shape; he might earn some dividends for himself in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Bihar development story is much in news and this might help him to fetch a significant number of votes; but eventually it might not be sufficient to form a government at the Centre. Hence the JD(U) will emerge as only one of the significant alliance partners in the next general elections. Similarly, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik have some feathers added to their caps. All the three would claim for the same post of prime ministership with no possibility of any compromise in the larger interest, the interst of the governanace for the people. A rat race will start for the post of primus inter pares. Eventually the people of the country might be presented with an unstable government ridden with factions and political bickerings over the post of the Prime Minister along with ideological incongruence, dissensions and disagreements on various issues ranging from leadership to policies.

Therefore, again we can conclude that this Third Front also does not have a clearly defined line of leadership which we can look up to for casting our valuable votes. Apart from these, there might be two other forces that can become equally potential contenders for power and a major political competitor to the ruling Congress-led UPA. These forces are a motley crowd of the Leftist parties, and another Front which will comprise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Prasad Yadav and some other important political forces who might became serious contenders for power and they may expect to emerge victorious as an alternative non-Congress, non-BJP government. These Fronts will not fetch the necessary number of seats but might form an alliance with the leading party. These parties neither have a national base nor have their leaders a national appeal. These Fronts too lack the necesssary defined and clear line of leadership. These Fronts may not, in the ultimate analysis, turn out to be significant game-changers.

On the other hand, the Indian National Congress, the leading party of the ruling UPA II has not yet officially declared its prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It has a lot of prospective candidates. Although there is a rumour that the Congress might go for another dynastic succession after 22 years and nominate the newly elevated Rahul Gandhi, the Vice-President of the AICC, as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. It appears even the Congress party is not being able to project a confident and a prospective candidate for the post of the PM. UPA I did not confront such a dilemma in declaring its prime ministerial candidate for the 2009 general elections because it had Dr Manmohan Singh who was bestowed with the image of credibility, wisdom and composure. However, this persona had suffered an eclipse with his present government being burdened with charges of corruption (which involved his name as well in cases like 2G, coalgate scams), non-performance, economic crises, issue of rising prices, etc. This has jeopardised the image of the government of aam admi based on which UPA I, headed by Dr Manmohan Singh, managed a comeback as UPA II.

Meanwhile, the Congress is busy meticulously doing its electoral arithmetic by trying to take within its fold a maximum number of allies either by creating Telangana or by giving an assurance to Nitish Kumar of awarding a special status to Bihar or by intelligently wooing Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party who has kept himself free from the burden of chief ministership by handing over the State’s mantle to his son so that he can become more visible in Delhi once the 2014 Lok Sabha elections are over.

The Congress-led UPA II is grappling with crises which include charges of corruption ranging from CWG, 2G, mining scams etc. to rising prices of essential commodities etc. The allegations of corruption involve many of its allies as well as leaders from the Congress itself. The Congress lost the 1989 general elections following the alleged involvement of Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors scam. So it is being speculated that the series of corruption charges might have a dampening effect on the Congress’ electoral fortunes and might contribute positively to the electoral fortunes of the BJP. Following the cases of corruption, India witnessed a crusade against corruption under the banner of ‘India Against Corruption’ movement (which has been compared with the JP movement of 1974) for a Jan Lokpal Bill to cleanse the system of improper practices. Although the Congress has resorted to strategies like maintaining silence, giving assurances, strong denial of any wrongdoing, sacrificing allies etc. but still the Congress might have to forego many seats and may have lesser share in the number of votes in the next general elections.

The party emanating from the corruption crusade, namely, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) under the stewardship of Arvind Kejriwal, a civil society activist, might help in splintering the votes of the Congress and BJP respectively. Kejriwal played an opportunistic role by forming a party thereby giving manifestation to his own political aspirations under the veil of a corruption-crusader. The AAP is a political novice with no potential of emerging as a leading party. Unlike other parties the Congress does not have any such significant leadership vacuum as such but it is now saddled with the problem of credibility before the masses. Hence it might have to win the elections not exclusively on the basis of pro-people policies such as Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition Bill, Pension Reform Bill or direct benefit transfer schemes etc. or through a popular leader but emphasing more on the policy of winning the maximun number of alllies. The election mandate will be fragmented with no party having absolute number of seats and a coalition government is for sure on the cards followed by continuous bargaining, negotiations and messy compromises.

Hence it can be concluded that such a big democracy like India is passing through a crisis of a clearly defined leadership especially in the case of the BJP. This a matter of serious concern. The parties running for the next general elections are trying to rely on the strategy of popularity in terms of declaring their candidate for the post of “first among the equals”. None has a required line of leadership focussed on concern for welfare of the people. Vested interests of the leaders for power politics have become primary, while governance, development, progress, public service seem to have become secondary. This feature makes the party system more polarised when competition for power has become more plural enhancing the multi-party feature of the Indian party system. The political novices emerging now and then will surely help in splintering the votes leading to significant reconfigurations and realignments in the Indian party system.

Footnote

  • It is being claimed that the Gujarat model of develop-ment pursued by Chief Minister Narendra Modi is lop-sided and is obsessed with industrialisation at the cost of local economies and destruction of natural habitat and coastal regions, diversion of forest, irrational land grab etc. His expansion of ‘only industries’ have affected the livelihood of the people depending on agriculture, fishery, farming, small and medium-sized industries. His policies just favour big industrial projects without proper rehabilitation leading to lack of employment, immigration issues, illiteracy, rise in social crimes like dowry, theft, malnourishment, poverty, loss of livelihood etc. SeeHimanghshu Upadhaya, “Building Euphoria“, Frontline, May 17, 2013. and Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, ”The Great Land Grab”, Frontline, May 17, 2013.
  • The author is pursuing her Ph.D in the Department of Political Science, University of North Bengal.