Elections are like a game of chess. One wins, one loses. Sometimes it ends up in a drawn stalemate. The game is broadly divided into three parts- the opening, middle game and endgame. With elections around 2 months away, we have entered the endgame. It is a crucial time, especially for the Congress seeing as it is not at it’s peak or anywhere near it. The only person who can salvage the party is Rahul Gandhi.
At this juncture, all political pundits and commentators have virtually written off India’s GOP (Grand Old Party), Congress. May be rightly so. The growing evidence of disenchantment with the ruling party has been manifest in the Assembly elections results in December last. This is further reinforced by a series of opinion polls thereafter suggesting a further sharp decline of Congress, expected to record its lowest ever tally in post-independent India in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. It is a separate debate that quite a few of such opinion polls are prepaid for manipulation as shown in latest sting operations.
For Congress, the writings are clearly on the wall; the most recent one from the Global Think Tank Pew Research Survey released yesterday. It portrays ominous signs of the Congress debacle ahead. Against the predictions of Congress losing heavily across all sections, geographies, income groups etc vis a vis BJP, how should Rahul act? In fact, can he act? For academicians and intellectuals, Congress is dead. However, long live the Congress.
In India we have a first- past- the-post system. The vote share and seats won is significantly influenced by a factor called Index of Opposition Unity (IOU) – a terminology now relegated to heritage status- no political commentator speaks of it now. But for a serious analyst this could play the joker in the pack with five broad combinations of alignments in the poll race now.
- UPA and its allies
- NDA and its allies
- Third Front- 11 parties including Left parties
- Federal Front- Anti-Left Mamata Brigade with Anna Hazare’s support
It will be a multi-corned contest in most of the seats, and the results might be different from what pollsters have been projecting all along, with a preponderance of analytic concentration as a straight contest between Congress and BJP- like a presidential election.
What Rahul Can Do
What Rahul can do in next few weeks is to focus on electoral dynamics and have a clear agenda before the electorate; particularly on key issues, a few of which are given below. Previously too, periodically, he has exhibited requisite mettle to catch the bull by the horn like tearing the ordinance negating Supreme Court directive debarring convicted persons from Office as MP/MLA and making the Government yield to reason. His role in passing the much anticipated Lok Pal bill is well documented. Today too, the Union cabinet is likely to take up the issue of promulgating ordinances on other related bills like:
– Right of citizens for time bound delivery of Goods and Services and redressal of their grievances
– Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill
To be fair, he has been a champion of empowerment and entitlements. But that must be put in place in a proper perspective. First and foremost, he needs to have a vision. He should stand up and say where he proposes to lead India, say in next 5 years: Vision 2020. And what are the series of short term and long term policy measures he wants to undertake to lead to his vision 2020. Rahul Gandhi so far has been an enigma. It is time to reveal his cards on all aspects of polity, economy, foreign relations, internal security etc. and key issues relating thereto.
A few components thereof could incorporate:
- 40 million people are unemployed as per recent final census data. Unemployment rate is 9.4%. Can there be an unemployment allowance (before rushing to dub it as fiscal indiscipline – please note that most liberal economy like US too have it) to help them in the transition phase till they secure a full time employment
- Measures to encourage productive job creation both in public and private sector. It is estimated that India will add 9 million people each year to this rank and hence this becomes Mission critical
- Measures to improve the unorganized sector for pay protection, health benefits, insurance etc
- Only 63% of age groups 6-24 are studying. Whopping 170 million left in the lurch. They can make or break a nation.
- With a young India, its education and Training in particular needs much more focus to reap demographic dividends for the nation. Outlay for education has been barely 4% of GDP.
Health Care / Sanitation
- The vast majority do not have access to quality health services/ sanitation. Can there be a healthcare for all (well again sounds populist, but major part of Obama’s second term has been focused on Obamacare i.e. a comprehensive healthcare for all). Sick people deprived of quality Medicare/ Sanitation can never build a robust, healthy nation
Rule of Law – Safety and Security
- There has been spate of incidents involving apparently vulnerable sections like women which necessitate safety first. For any nation to be forward looking there has to be the rule of law and each individual has either the respect for the law or the fear of its consequences on its violation. Functional autonomy of police force and better law enforcement should be visible. Emergency helpline like 911 in US must work here too with zero tolerance
- Central Bank everywhere have broadly twin mandates- promoting growth and inflation targeting. In India so far in RBI we do not have a mandate for inflation targeting which needs to be in place given the runaway inflation witnessed in the past. Supply constraints including hoarding, black-marketing needs to be tackled with iron hands.
And Finally Growth…
- That is the primary driver- distribution can only come next. There is no substitute to creation of a conducive environment which promotes growth and attracts investment. If China can deliver two digit growth for two decades, cannot India catch up with a young labour force willing to lead the transformation?
All this of course depends on a leadership that cares. Can Rahul stand up and be counted on? Congress, as he said, is a thought – that gives voice to the marginalized- the rural, tribal, farmer, and the laborer. He has been speaking about grass root democracy and women empowerment. But the proof of eating lies in its pudding. For much of its long history, Congress has represented those value systems which sound hollow now given series of graft charges and misgovernance. After loss of assembly elections in December last, he publicly announced lessons to be learnt from Aam Aadmi Party in terms of connecting with the people and issues. Can he walk the talk?
- No truck with any tainted leader/ party led by convicted persons
- No Ticket to anybody in party facing criminal charges
- No opportunistic alliance
- A functioning inner party democracy
- Restoring process of dialogue with all segments of society
- Transparency and accountability in public life
Quite often, Congress’s worst enemy has been the Congress itself. It is a house divided where left does not know what the right is doing. What needs to be done by Congress, united in letter and spirit, is to reach out to all 788 million eligible voters which include 150 million who will be voting for the first time. The empowerments and entitlements during the UPA regime is no mean achievement and need to reach the grassroots. With a demoralized party cadre staring at a possible historic defeat, can Rahul make it rise like a Phoenix?
By Hari Hara Mishra