Exactly three months ago, in my article “A Possible India in 2014” published in this blog, I had opined that the Congress party, having completed its turnaround from liberal democracy to hereditary monarchy, would have no more weapons in its arsenal and would inevitably enter the phase of terminal decline from which it would not be able to recover. The election results announced on 8th December appear to be validating my prognosis, notwithstanding brave efforts by a paid media, to still find relevance for this decrepit and discredited political party.
Where does the country go from here? In a matter of five to six months, elections to the Lok Sabha will be held. The performance of the Aam Aadmi Party with its ragtag bunch of candidates and volunteers has, predictably (at least for me) caught the imagination of the people of Delhi, who expectedly (again for me), have given them a tantalizing mandate. The BJP, with its last-minute change of Captain, (to use a cricket analogy) has been left inches short of the crease and the third umpire will soon rule them run out. The Congress, despite its army of moneybags and a craven media, has been caught flatfooted and transfixed in the searching glare of performance and probity. There is no room for them in the selection process of Team Delhi, not even as possible members of a second or a third eleven. In Rajasthan, the BJP has achieved an unprecedented 80% of the seats while in Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan has won an unprecedented third term for the BJP, with an increased number of seats, despite being the incumbent government for two terms. Chhattisgarh’s electorate, emulating the neighboring Madhya Pradesh, too has given Dr. Raman Singh of the BJP a third term in office, albeit with no increment in the seats. In all these states, the indefatigable Narendra Modi, campaigning with remarkable energy, reached almost every constituency, addressing hundreds of rallies across the country. It was a remarkable display of organizational ability and management of human resources that was put together by Team Modi.
The Congress, of course, has stopped thinking from the time Indira Gandhi split the grand old party in 1969, and in the long interregnum has become a family business, whose sole proprietorship is held by the Gandhis. A business of this kind does not allow for any competition to the owners, and there is room only for minions and office boys. If one looks at the Congress party from the time it split, one is unable to name even one individual who the Gandhis permitted to sit at the high table with them. They continued to beguile the people with the myth of the Nehru-Gandhis, in whose name they appropriated some kind of Divine right to rule the nation. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, and his widow refused to lead the party, the Congress was truly stumped as it had no credible leadership left within its ranks. Rajiv Gandhi’s death had generated a sympathy wave that gave the Congress a truncated mandate to rule at the centre. The retired Narasimha Rao was literally prized out of the woodwork. His one master stroke was to appoint the bureaucrat Manmohan Singh as the Finance Minister, believing that the Sardar’s reputation as an economist would lend some sheen to his cabinet. It is perhaps a challenge today to recall the name of any other minister of Narasimha Rao’s cabinet. However, Rao’s term in office saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai followed by the “Black Friday” bombings, the escalation of the insurgency in Kashmir, and, besides other political shenanigans, the blatant bribing of the JMM MP’s to save the government.
In 2004 when the Congress was returned to power under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, she too found it expedient to turn to Manmohan Singh and project him as the credible face of the party. At the same time, she was hoping that her son would show an aptitude for leadership, and would be ready to take on the onerous responsibility of ruling this nation. There was no need to look for leaders outside the family and the culture of running a Durbar from 10 Janpath continued to prevail. The minions and underlings who inhabited the servant’s quarters of the Dowager Queen formed the bulk of the party’s hierarchy, happy with the crumbs that she was throwing their way. If, perchance, an individual underling showed some administrative or political ability, he was promptly relegated to a place from where he couldn’t become a threat to the Prince. In the true style of the later Mughal court, the palace was full of spies and informers keeping a check on all the retainers and ensuring that not one of them would be able to create an independent political constituency. The media, both electronic and print, was co-opted to perpetuate the myth of this Divine right to rule, at once demonizing the BJP and its leadership, while casting disdain on the other political parties.
The surpluses left behind by the NDA in 2004 saw the first UPA government through its term and when the electorate, (foolishly, I believe), returned the UPA for a second term, Sonia Gandhi continued to project Manmohan Singh as the face of the party, thinking that the economist in him would somehow keep the good times rolling. But by now, the allies who had propped up this sham majority, having waited for too long, started demanding their pound of flesh. The descent of UPA-II into a government of a-scam-a-day has been exhaustively written about elsewhere and it is not my intention to repeat it here. Manmohan Singh’s reputation has been torn to shreds and today he stands totally exposed as the weakest Prime Minister the country has ever had. For the Congress party to go to the polls in 2014 with him as its face would be an unmitigated disaster. At the same time, Rahul Gandhi has displayed remarkable ineptitude and it would be very difficult to convince the electorate that he represents an improvement over Manmohan Singh.
So, to repeat the question, where do we go from here? How do I foresee the political landscape at the time of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? Undoubtedly, Narendra Modi has emerged as the tallest national leader who has unambiguously been anointed as the Prime Ministerial candidate by his party. But, at the same time, the party has credible alternatives like Shivraj Chauhan, Raman Singh, and Vasundhara Raje, should Modi’s enemies somehow succeed in physically eliminating him. The BJP has successfully managed its transition from the Vajpayee-Advani era to the next generation who understand that the India of the 21st century is not the same that existed in the 1990s. The politics of Mandir-Masjid, majority versus minority, populism instead of development for economic policy, and similar short-term fixes will no longer find a resonance among the masses. The success of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi has demonstrated this paradigm shift inexorably. The only beacon of liberal democracy, the Aam Aadmi Party has rung the death knell of totalitarianism and hereditary monarchism so exemplified by the Congress after the split in 1969. However, its success is currently limited to Delhi and it will not be possible for it to create an organization that can take on the entrenched political formations across the nation. Time is not on its side. It will have to move cautiously from city to city, state to state, building the structure of a national party, looking for and finding incorruptible leaders and workers. That is much easier said than done. The temptations will be many, and it is possible that some may fall by the wayside. But now that Arvind Kejriwal has established his credentials he cannot afford to falter. His decision to stay away from a coalition with the BJP is the only decision he can take, even if it means another election within 6 months. It is very likely that in the re-election the AAP may end up with a lesser number of seats, as the people who voted for it expected it to win a majority and form the government. Since that did not happen, those who support both AAP and Modi are likely to switch to the BJP in the hope that Delhi will get a stable government. However, AAP’s presence in the legislature will be a formidable check that will keep the government on the straight and narrow. In my opinion it is not a setback for AAP to sit in the opposition, as it will give its leaders the space to work on developing the party on a national scale and become a credible alternative in 2019. The party should sit out the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, even if it can win all the seven seats in Delhi. With just seven MPs it cannot become an opposition that would be taken seriously.
The various utterances emerging from the Congress leaders and their apologists confirm that no lessons have been learnt from the debacle. In their hermetically sealed ivory towers no cries of discontent are heard. The success of the BJP is being attributed only to state leadership and Modi’s contribution is explained away as minimal. Words like introspection are used as palliatives, and are not meant to be taken seriously. The sycophants are working overtime convincing the High Command of its infallibility and attributing the debacle to second rung state leaders. For them a Gandhi name still spells infinite power and, on their part, the Gandhis too have convinced themselves of this myth. Now that Manmohan Singh is surely not going to win them a third term, it is likely that the Congress will choose the defeated Delhi CM as its face in 2014. It could also choose the Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chauhan, but somehow, I do not think he will make the cut. He is too clean for the liking of the powerbrokers and their backers. Rahul Gandhi will certainly not be projected as it is a given that the Congress will not be coming back. Its present partners in the UPA-II have made so much hay during the sunshine period that they would be happy to retire to their animal farms for the rest of their lives. Even the blatantly communal parties of Andhra and Kerala will find it difficult to keep their voting blocs intact. The young Indian is no longer moved by fear. The social media is a wonderfully educative tool and its message spreads wide and far. It is no longer possible to control the minds of young men and women by creating specters and phantoms where none exist. People have learnt to think for themselves and are making informed decisions, no longer prepared to be led by the nose.
In the run-up to the 2014 elections the BJP automatically finds itself in pole position. The regional parties like AIADMK, TMC, TDP, all will join the NDA. However, the colossal mess that it will inherit from the UPA will take more than one term in office to clean. Young India is impatient and may not give it the same rope that the previous generation was prepared to give. The new government will have to constantly remind itself of this and therefore not project unrealistic hopes and dreams. Remember what happened with the “Shining India” campaign!
Read More By Vijaya Dar