Serial Bus

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Congress Landslilde: India’s Lucky Break

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Indians in the western hemisphere woke up this Saturday morning to the dreadful prospect of Mayawati being sworn in as the next prime minister of India. That calamity has been averted. Most pundits had forecast another hung parliament in the general elections; so hung that the regional parties would play haughty kingmakers and a Congress or a BJP would struggle in cobbling together their patchy umbrellas called UPA and NDA. Such worries have proven to be unfounded, thanks to another exit polls debacle. In practice, I don’t see much difference between Congress and BJP today – though BJP sprang upon the national scene due to its pursuit of right-wing Hindutva and Congress traditionally espoused sclerotic socialism, both the parties have followed a centrist agenda in the last two decades in the matters of economy, national security and foreign policy. Most significantly, Congress introduced market reforms in 1991 and BJP kept them on course in 1999. So, at this crucial time in India’s coming-of-age when a global recession is gnawing everywhere, Congress’ decisive victory provides India what it needs most i.e. stability without melodrama – and for that reason alone, I celebrate this outcome.

This is after a long time that a single political party has come so close to forming a government at the center on its own. In 1991, partly precipitated by Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, I recall Congress had won somewhat convincingly however since then, come election time, coalitions have been the mantra. The emergence of a slew of regional parties with parochial and often divergent agenda led to several unholy alliances. These parties, having lent their crucial support to either BJP (1999) or Congress (2004), would commandeer the resources of the country for pursuing their own designs, often woven around the personal interests of the party supremos. At best, the regional parties held the development of the country to ransom and at worst, they attempted to topple the government by withdrawing support whimsically (most notably the Communists).

Congress’ victory is also a resounding show of hands in favor of Dr Manmohan Singh’s leadership. They are saying this is the first time since 1962 (Nehru and Congress) that a party has been returned to power under the same leadership after completing a full term in office. In 1962, India had a multi-party system only in theory – Congress still loomed large on the political scene. In today’s context, this record holds a heightened significance – for instance, if you look at the final tally, there are 35 parties that have won one seat or more; many more had put their candidates on the ballot. Despite being spoilt for choice, if electorate has chosen the incumbent and set aside strictly regional aspirations, there should be no doubt as to what the vox populi is: people want stability, leadership and no-nonsense development.

That said, while they say it was due to an undercurrent in its favor that Congress performed much better than anticipated, I think the party benefited equally by how several regional alliances (with or without Congress) unwittingly stacked in its favor. Some of the biggest surprise victories for Congress-led UPA have been states like Uttar Pradesh (+12), West Bengal (+18), Kerala (+15) and Rajasthan (+15) while Andhra Pradesh (30), Maharashtra (25) and the North-East (14) have performed consistently for the party. It also clinched all five seats from my home state of Uttaranchal and all seven from Nidhi’s home state of Delhi. In contrast, the only state where BJP-led NDA punched above its weight was Bihar, thanks to an alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JDU. Somehow, the stars lined up very well for Congress. In the states it took the stab at the elections alone (UP and Maharashtra), other regional parties undercut each other’s voting blocs to ensure spoils for Congress. In UP, SP and BSP split the lower castes amongst themselves and BJP’s Varun Gandhi-style campaign ensured polarization of Muslim vote firmly in the favor of Congress. In Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray’s MNS split the Marathi vote with Shiv Sena and in the process, awarded several seats to the Congress contestants. The party’s tie-ups with TC in West Bengal, with IUML and KCM in Kerala and with DMK in Tamil Nadu paid rich dividends as CPM, LDF and AIADMK were respectively routed in their own citadels.

Now that the fat lady has sung, speculation is still rife as to which regional satrap will have the privilege of helping Congress complete the last dozen-seats lap across the 272-seats line of absolute majority. There are several contenders – SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav could re-vitalize his UPA link with his cache of 23 seats while BJD’s Naveen Patnaik is sitting smug on his 14-seats bonanza. While Congress has the high ground, it will still need to choose its partner(s) carefully. At the same time, there are some heavyweights within UPA who will seek their own pound of flesh i.e. DMK’s Karunanidhi with his 18 seats, TC’s Mamata-di with her 19 seats and NCP’s Sharad Pawar’s with his 9 seats. Clearly, in exchange for continued loyalty, these parties will aim for plum posts within the cabinet and more. Such quid pro quo is tolerable as long as they it does not subvert the national interest and does not derail the reformist agenda of Dr. Singh’s government.

Fortunately, in jettisoning its coziness with several regional parties in one fell swoop, India’s caught a lucky break when it needed one most. There is every chance that Congress will have a smooth sail for the next 5 years with Dr Singh at the helm. Easily one of the most venerated Indians today, Dr Singh is at once, a brilliant economist, a fine statesman, an honest politician and a soft-spoken citizen. His service to the nation is already highly distinguished but the next five years give him an opportunity to deliver solidly on the mandate given to him by the electorate. So solidly that by 2014, India is put in a position to move ahead irrevocably on its path of inclusive growth, all-round development and global leadership. Like a juggernaut.


Written by serialbus

May 17, 2009 at 12:56 am

One Response

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    May 17, 2009 at 7:32 am

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