Sunday, May 17, 2009

Watch out: The country is churning


Two factors have led to the enviable position the Congress is in today – and its popularity is not one of them. The real factors are that (a) the BJP has lost its acceptability in the imagination of the general public and (b) the Left has collapsed as an ideological platform. The prominence the Congress has achieved as a consequence is sure to be a passing phase. India is in the midst of a vast churning process. Uncertainties, shifting alignments and ad hoc patchups are part of such a transition. Two or three more game-changing elections like this and we will have moved from a dynastic system closer to a mature democracy.

That BJP’s sun was setting was clear towards the end of Vajpayee’s term. With hindsight even his critics would now agree that it was Vajpayee who made BJP acceptable to people outside the Hindutva core. He was politically moderate besides being personally popular as writer and poet. By contrast Advani was inextricably identified with hardline Hindutva. He was perhaps the first to recognise this as a liability. Hence his attempt to soften his image with stratagems like the Jinnah-was-secular speech. But it boomeranged.

The spectre raised during this campaign, that Narendra Modi is the one to follow Advani, will have scared more people away from the BJP. The fundamental reality remains that India, which of course is a Hindu-majority country, has not given the BJP blanket victory at any time other than during the Vajpayee interlude. This is because the majority of the people the BJP claims to represent obviously do not subscribe to the Hindutva brand of intolerance. That is the best guarantee of India’s future as a democracy.

For the BJP to regain public confidence, it will have to re-invent itself. This will require visionary leaders of the kind the BJP is not currently blessed with. Those it has are unable to think beyond the likes of Modi. Unfortunately this proclivity prevents the BJP from developing into a balanced right-of-centre party for which a need exists in India.

The need exists for a truly left-of-centre party as well. It is one of the tragedies of India that from the time of the Congress Socialist Party, the leftwing in the country has always lacked coherent, farsighted leadership. With the 1948 Communist Party policy of “armed revolution now”, the Left lost ground across the country. The base it retained in Bengal and Kerala have been steadily eroded. In three decades of unchallenged power, the Left Front Government in Bengal was unable to address basic issues like poverty and infrastructure. When it finally made an effort towards industrial progress, it was so heavy-handed that it only took an eccentrically led formulation like Trinamool Congress to prick its balloon.

The CPM in Kerala for its part turned into an unabashed corporate enterprise with mafia squads to enforce its power over others, including other leftwing groups. The infighting between the party leader and the party’s chief minister had reached obscene proportions. The party’s arrogant and dictatorial ways were causing perceptible disgust among the people. But the Politburo had no eyes to see what all others could see. The result is that Prakash Karat can no longer save India from the clutches of America.

Can Manmohan Singh? The Congress is in danger of getting entrenched in its dynastic ways and the dealmaking for which its managers are famous. This time it will be directly accountable for its commissions and omissions. To that extent it is on the firing line. By giving a fairly clear mandate to one party, the people have won this election. Whether that party will win remains to be seen.