Monday, May 16, 2011

The big winner? Not Mamata or Jaya. The losers? Not Buddha or Karuna

Election Commissions and voting machines can only tell us a superficial kind of truth. The substantive, eternal truth is that those who win are not always the winners and those who lose are not necessarily the real losers. Never was this eternal truth more dramatically brought out than in the latest 5-state elections. Look behind the headlines to know who are the real winners and losers.

The biggest winners are not Mamata Banerji and Jayalalitha. The size of their victory margins is as sensational as the comprehensiveness of their adversaries' defeat. This does give their triumph a historic dimension. But take another look and we can see that they won primarily because their opponents had to be defeated.

Bengalis had been longing for a change, considering the cell rule enforced by communist rulers in the countryside, the steady increase in poverty levels and the misery of everyday existence. But they did not know where to turn. The Congress had committed harakiri in Bengal as in several other states and the BJP was always an alien idea. Mamata's steps were tentative in the early phases, but after she joined forces with popular emotions in the Nandigram movement, people found their saviour. Every other vote she won was a vote cast against the ruling government.

Very similar was the case in Tamil Nadu too. When the Karunanidhi Government turned into a dynastic ogre, utterly self-centred and utterly arrogant and utterly corrupt, the voters looked for an escape route. The only available route was Jayalalitha. They had tried her out in the past and found her wanting. But they turned to her anyway because it was the only way to get the DMK gang out of the way. Jayalalitha won because Karunanidhi lost.

Seen in that light, the biggest winner in this round of elections is V.S.Achuthanandan. By every known precedent of Kerala politics, he should have lost ignominiously because he was not only the incumbent, but his own party was against him. Instead, his personal popularity pulled the party through to an unprecedented performance. Technically the Congress-led coalition will form the government and Achuthanandan's Communist-led party will be in the opposition. But the difference between the tow groups is so minimal that victory is as bad as defeat and defeat as good as victory.

Who are the biggest losers? No, not Buddhadev Bhattacharji and not M. Karunanidhi though their defeat has a humiliating ring about it. The really big losers in this election are two men who did not even contest – Prakash Karat and Rahul Gandhi. Their action was as disastrous as their inaction.

Prakash Karat knew at first hand what was going wrong in Bengal and Kerala. Yet he did not lift a finger to correct the course in Bengal or to rein in the party's capitalist-minded syndicate in Kerala. In fact, he sided with the syndicate. If he had advised the party to stand united under the mascot of Achuthanandan, his party would have returned to power comfortably in this election and probably the next one as well. Karat simply does not have the leadership quality his position requires.

In Rahul Gandhi's case, what is in his favour is that no one expects anything constructive from him. But that did not mean that people expected destructive moves from him – like his making fun of Achuthanandan's age, for which he received the most memorable verbal lashing of recent political memory, the “Amul Baby” tag. That one faux pas by Rahul must have got a chunk of votes for Achuthanandan. The Congress princeling made a couple of visits to Tamil Nadu, taking care not to meet his ally Karunanidhi. Nor did he do anything to put life into the dead horse that is the Congress party in Tamil Nadu.

The big political story from this election is that the Congress is losing ground across India. But don't expect it to learn any lessons from the decline. That is the beauty of democracy, you don't have to learn anything.