The events of the last few months promise to culminate into a climax, which for the ‘Right’ oriented shall be a moment of redemption rather than ecstasy. In a country whose intellectual and political discourse has largely been dominated by a variety of leftists, socialists and secularists, it is really the abject failure of years of all of them in making a discernible difference in people’s lives, which has changed the basic narrative. Inequality, caste and religious retribution have taken a backseat and inflation, water, electricity, roads and jobs are the issues of the day. What has fuelled this is that one from the Backward Caste is selling this dream and the buyers though diversely spread across the Indian landscape, are mainly from the Hindi heartland, especially UP and Bihar, who have been victims of years of caste politics in the ‘Samajwadi’ laboratory. Of course there is a sprinkling of religious, civilizational and caste identity, but make no mistake, the substance has changed.
One can’t help but retrace India’s political path over the last four decades especially after the first crop of post-independence idealists had passed on the baton. The excesses of nationalisation, license raj, draconian tax laws and wasteful, unproductive welfare schemes resulted from Indira Gandhi’s taking over the Congress party after it was split. The Congress party though still mightier than the rest, was showing its first signs of vulnerability. She decided to stamp her authority on the party and powerful Congress leaders across the country were cut to size. Sycophants and ‘chamchas’ now began to surface. This was typified when one of them famously stated, ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. The seeds of the future collapse of both the Economy and the Congress party were sown. By 1990 the economy was in shambles and reform remained the only option available. This coincided with Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991 leaving a big vacuum in an already weakened Congress party. These twenty years were the most turbulent in post-independence India. The assassination of two PM’s, the Emergency, the Khalistan and Assam insurgency, the escalation of the Kashmir problem resulting in a mass exodus of Pandits, the Mandal Commission report and finally the Ayodhya movement were all a part of these two decades. This was also the time when the two words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ (as if we were metamorphosing from a Pakistan) were added in the Preamble to the Constitution.
The time was ripe for a Right of Centre party to emerge and the BJP riding on the Ayodhya Mandir wave crossed the 100 seat mark in the 1991 elections. They were now running governments in five states and the possibility of a feasible national alternative to the Congress looked real. In the 1990’s the BJP was a party more in the cultural rather than economic mould. They had a fair share of lunatics in their ranks, who would often punch above their weight, but the energy which a non-status quoist party would have, was evident. It was really the six years of Vajpayee rule which gave the nation its first glimpse of a maturing Right of Centre party. On the other hand, though it was Narsimha Rao who brought about economic reform, the Congress party disowned him as soon as Sonia Gandhi took over in 1998. It just wasn’t in the Congress DNA to celebrate a reformer. It was pretty obvious that as soon as one of the rightful heirs of the fiefdom would be back, socialism would be back in business too. I am pretty certain that had Rajiv lived to be PM in 1991 he wouldn’t have had the courage to carry out reform with the boldness that Narsimha Rao did. The years of Narsimha Rao, Vajpayee and a bit of United Front in between brought the Indian economy back on track and laid the foundation for the period of 9%+ growth which was to follow from 2003-2009, with the push coming from easy global liquidity. This period saw a significant reduction in poverty as well as an expansion of the urban middle class. States like Gujarat, MP and Bihar made full use of this environment and consistently charted 10%+ growth. (MP is no longer a BIMARU state).
The advent of 24×7 television, internet and mobile phones in the last decade created an aspirational electorate. Performing state governments were being voted back repeatedly, mandates became decisive, different voting patterns for State and National elections were witnessed, and the effects of caste and religion (though still important) began to wane. People were now voting for leaders or CM’s who could lead, perform and deliver. All evidence suggested a definite change in the priorities of the Indian voter especially the youth and yet a majority of the political class could not see it. The Congress party thought it won the 2009 elections because of MNREGA, farm loan waiver and policies emanating from the NAC. The credit for that win should entirely have been with Dr. Manmohan Singh who presided over the high growth period. (Many believe it was the result of 13 years of reform preceding him starting 1991) All the incremental seats won by the UPA came from urban India which definitely voted for him. However the Congress party led by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi refused to concede this fact and actually further accelerated social spending, which now in a slowing economy was cutting into capital expenditure and creation of assets and eventually leading to inflation. There was virtually no reform for this period of 10 years and the results of the same are there for us to see today.
Time was now ripe for the BJP to make a comeback of sorts, seize the moment and make an even bigger push at dominating Indian politics by replacing the Congress as the numero uno party. The Congress weighed by unprecedented corruption scams, a failing economy and a rudderless and clueless leadership was a sitting duck. However, internal squabbles in the BJP prevented their top brass from identifying the narrative and the leadership which the electorate would buy. Narendra Modi was not catapulted as PM candidate by senior party leaders of the BJP in Delhi. It was the pressure of BJP voters and party workers who were much more grounded which compelled the RSS to put its foot down. The theatricals at L. K. Advani’s residence over the last 10 months are still fresh enough to testify this fact.
The verdict of this election will to my mind have a huge impact on the way politics is done over the next few years and that is why in my previous write-up had called it a watershed election. We will henceforth see younger politicians with fresher and bolder ideas, and political parties for their own survival will have to concede both space and leadership to them. Those including the Congress party who do not do so will have to bear the consequences. For parties like the AAP there is a huge political vacuum which they can fill in various states but the challenge for all socialists and Marxists will be if they have courage to be unbiased and read the writing on the wall. Socialism to my mind is a tested and failed idea and anyone who doesn’t understand this after all these years is just suffering from intellectual rigidity. It has only ensured that a large number of people keep living in poverty and India remains both politically and economically a weak State. However, as there are too many jostling for the same poverty worshipping space, therein lay the opportunity for the BJP. If under Modi they can run a performing government and at the same time keep the ‘stateless leaders of Delhi’ (as Arun Shourie calls them) at bay, the next decade could be theirs. At the level of the government some harsh decisions may have to be taken, but better to take them now before it is too late. In a country with the extent of poverty that India has there can be no rampaging capitalists. However the intent and direction must be clear as there isn’t a moment to waste on useless tinkering or politicking. At the level of the party there are tremendous opportunities in Maharashtra, Orissa, Bengal, UP, Haryana and TN where the organisation is either weak or non-existent. Precise planning at the grassroot level, identification of leadership at the local as well as state level and the flexibility provided for state units with little Delhi interference will be the key. The moment of reckoning is here and on May 16 as I had shared with all you guys last June, there shall be a party after all. Inshallah.
Predictions for May 2014:
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