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Friday, October 21, 2011

Protests fails, politics win

By Swapan Dasgupta

The only talking point the Congress had after its ignominious performance in the by-election to the Hissar parliamentary by-election was that the last minute campaign by Anna Hazare’s followers contributed little to the final outcome. For all its national impact during Hazare’s fast last August, the India against Corruption’s ability to influence electoral politics still remains untested—the movement curiously desisted from directly intervening in the by-election to the Kharakvasla Assembly constituency in Maharashtra. Consequently, the only definite conclusion that can be drawn from the Congress’ spate of by-election debacles is that anti-incumbency has benefited the principal anti-Congress parties.

The ferocity of anti-Congress feelings is something that should hearten the national opposition, particularly the BJP which sees itself as leading a future non-Congress dispensation. However, far from being encouraged by the trends, the BJP has given the impression of being exultant. So gung-ho is the mood in a section of the BJP that it is acting on the belief that the next general election has already been won and that the remaining fight is over who should occupy the Prime Minister’s post.

This strikes me as a classic case of irrational exuberance. If the political timetable remains unaltered, the next general election is due in May 2014, some 30 months away. In other words, there is still ample time for either the BJP to score self-goals and neutralise its present advantage or for the Congress to recover lost ground by providing the country with purposeful governance. Using analogy borrowed from the United States, what we are witnessing at present is just a run-up to the primaries, not even the primaries themselves.

Of course, the timetable could well be redrawn in the event of an abrupt collapse of the UPA Government. L.K. Advani has been making noises to that effect and, last week, even Mayawati joined in the public speculation over the longevity of a government that is lurching directionless from crisis to crisis.

Unfortunately for the Opposition, the scenario of abrupt collapse appears to be a case of wishful thinking. First, if the odds are heavily stacked against the ruling coalition, it is extremely unlikely that its MPs will be tempted to do anything rash. Secondly, and despite Sharad Pawar’s public criticism of the Government’s handling of the 2-G scandal, there is no evidence that either the DMK or Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (the two largest coalition partners) want to travel an alternative route. The DMK would prefer to keep its toehold at the Centre after the drubbing in Tamil Nadu; and Mamata, while fiercely independent in all matters concerning West Bengal, wouldn’t like to lose the considerable patronage powers the Indian Railways offer. Finally, and this is true for all entities going through a bad patch, the Congress is permanently hopeful that tomorrow. “Just wait for the Uttarakhand and Punjab polls” is a line frequently heard in Congress circles.

Barring an accident, a mid-term parliamentary election in 2012 looks extremely unlikely—and this is regardless of the outcome in next year’s state elections. By stressing the likelihood of an abrupt collapse some BJP leaders are ending up looking desperate. The hunger for power is regarded as a positive attribute for politicians in the so-called advanced democracies. In India, however, thanks to the distorting effects of Gandhian thought, the craving to be in government is perceived as something perverse and immoral. The anti-politician mood generated by Anna Hazare’s movement, particularly in the youth, has only served to heighten the revulsion for ‘power-hungry’ netas.

Advani failed to read this particular graffiti on the wall before embarking on his Jan Chetna yatra—a reason why the venture lacked punch. However, more important, by putting his prime ministerial ambition on public view, he made the one mistake an opposition party must avoid: shifting the gaze from the government to itself. Unless there is a profound ideological point that is being made—as happened during Advani’s Ram rath yatra in 1990—it is prudent for any ‘centrist’ opposition to keep the spotlight firmly on the government.

This may seem heretical to those in the saffron ranks intent on creating a Hindu version of the Tea Party movement by courting the outrageous. However, the sheer complexities of India and the uneven presence of the national parties throughout India negate the virtues of a conviction politician. Coalition politics is not necessarily a fig leaf for venality—as has happened in the UPA—but it is a trigger for the politics of aggregation. The major shifts in policy orientation by governments have rarely happened as a result on a resounding electoral endorsement. The people have been inclined to elect a government and then leave them alone to exercise the wisest policy option. Electoral politics, as opposed to the process of governance, has rarely been ideological.

At one time it seemed that the shortcoming of the BJP (and NDA) could lie in not projecting a leader to counter Rahul Gandhi. Today, as the heir apparent too struggles to overcome the anti-incumbency against the Congress, the inability or unwillingness to make the next election a presidential contest well turn out to be a significant advantage. The lesson from Hissar is that the traditional mould of Indian politics is broadly intact, despite Anna Hazare and a shrill electronic media. For the opposition, the real challenge is to keep its nerve for the next 30 months. 


sunil said...

Dear SWAPAN, However much we seem to turn our head the best man for the job is the compromise man for the PMs post .In such an event of a snap election (what ADVANIJI is counting on)who best could sit on the GADDI ? The fact is too much is at stake for the nation this time ,really a freedom struggle of a different kind from a VIRUS.This virus promises to make us ALL GARIB.For the sake of the nation & BJP we need a change with BJP at the centre of it all .

Manoj Agarwal said...

Do I spot some contradiction in the article? IAC's ability to influence electoral outcome is doubted but at the same time youth is firmly in a mood championed by its leaders!!
2nd, I'm not sure if Advani would have categorically declared that he is no longer in PM's race , you'd have written the same about his yatra. No per-requisite of ideological trappings be needed then, I guess. I agree at the same time that Advani's yatra is nowhere close to its purported claim to generate a debate on electoral, judicial etc.-2 reforms. It is of course important for opposition to reach to masses when basic governance model is the agenda of the debate (well, you end up talking about trivialities after generating a hype is something to be set right however). I don't find anything fundamentally wrong with his yatra if it is indeed for a higher purpose.

Kamal Upadhyay said...

There are strong chances that UPA will fail to complete 5years.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Swapandasgupta,
I am appalled to note that you sound more like Shekar Gupta & other paid lapdogs of the Congress & your writings of the past few weeks seems to suggest that you have also jumped into the gravy train of the Manio led Congress.You are running a tirade against the bjp & Mr Advani in particular.I am not saying that all is hunky dory in the bjp but you seem to be missing the trees for the woods.LKA maybe in his 80's but looking at his energy levels & clarity on issues he seems far ahead than any leader of consequence in this counter NaMo being an ezception but he is known for his administrative marvels than political sagacity.My advise to you is as you have enough friends in the bjp you & like minded jounos put sense into them rather than publicly criticizing them.We are fed up with the rhetoric doled out to us by the mainstream media which is why we tend to read your balanced articles which alas is not the case now.Pl do not lose the respect you have garnered right from your India Today days by falling into the trap of the CONg like Mr Shekar Gupta & his ilk have done.


Grammar mistakes said...

Swapan da .........this article really falls flat by your standards which you show on Television debates....I guess you are not influenced by the two "Vinods" of out and ht...

Anonymous said...

Swapan Anna,
I agree with you that the nature of Indian Politics still intact. With the state, region, caste and minority arithmetic congress is always at an advantage. Hope BJP would understand this and come up with a winning strategy this time. But one thing is for sure, the urban voters who voted overwhelmingly in favor of MMS may turn their backs on congress this time.

Anonymous said...

DearSwapanda.It is not true as Mr.Anonymous said in his post,but the article lacks the usual Swapanda we areBJP FOLLOWERS it is natural that we always think BJP will win automatically.We and BJP are still complacent since 2004.the problem with BJP is, they see the bird but not the eye.there is a saying goes like this-An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity,A pessimist sees calamity in every opportunity,BJP suffering with these hangover.If they are not able to read the present public mood and not making any winnig strategy, then only God can save them.

A.K.Chakraborty said...

Dear Swapanda,comments on this article(no7)I wrote last night,but why you did not post my name?instead you given it as anonymous,I am very sad. A.K.Chakraborty.

Jitendra Desai said...

You are right.This is no time for BJP to shift the focus away from Congress/UPA II or their wrong doings.
Best way for LKA was to undertake tours of all state capitals, address select audiences and local media on the failures of Congress and its corrupt ways and the NEED for change in Delhi.
Instead the Yatra has started the undue debate on who should or should not be the PM from NDA/BJP.Debate should be on when the UPA II needs to be sent packing for its acts of omissions and commissions.