Monday, May 23, 2016

Problem: Losers never acknowledge their mistakes, winners think they'll be winners for ever

It's amazing how politicians interpret every election in their favour -- irrespective of whether they win or lose. In this five-state election (a mini general election), the primary loser is the Congress. But what do its leaders say? The gist is: "We will review the situation and come back with renewed vigour". Not a word about its inability to present a new face in Assam in place of the tired old face of Tarun Gogoi, or the irrelevance it has achieved in Bengal, or its virtual non-existence in Tamil Nadu, or the way the entrenched Congress coalition in Kerala destroyed itself through corruption and the make-believe politics of Oommen Chandy.

The other parties, even as they taste bits and pieces of victory, are no different. The BJP can justifiably claim to have taken a step or two forward, but not enough to justify bravado (the Party President boasted that it was close to achieving its ultimate objective of a Congress-mukt Bharat), or to ignore harsh realities. While the victory in Assam is decisive, the twin factors that made it possible need to be kept in mind: the Congress's dismal state and the BJP's tactics of divisive politics. Is the first going to be permanent? How safe will be the second in the long run?

The party needs to remember, too, that it scored zero in Tamil Nadu, zero in Pondicherry, an inconsequential three in Bengal and one in Kerala. That solitary win in Kerala is a breakthrough, but locals will say that it was acceptance, finally, of the well-liked gentlemanly O.Rajagopal rather than of the BJP; the party's past and present presidents were again defeated. The party will also note, no doubt, that it drove significant sections of the minorities, including Muslims, into the Left camp -- a factor that is politically important in a state where the minorities constitute nearly half the population.

The Left, for its part, faces a crisis not different from what confronts the Congress: Inability to change with the times. History showed up Stalin's blunders and how they led to the dehumanisation of Soviet communism and its subsequent collapse. But eminent leaders like Prakash Karat still think that India's best course is to follow Stalinism. This school will now be stronger and louder with the more pragmatic Sitaram Yechuri line having suffered a setback in Bengal; the communists in that lost bastion got less votes than the Congress got. Besides, Kerala has installed a Communist Chief Minister who identifies himself with and sustains the hardline Karat school.

Will this lead to the Left missing the bus again in Kerala? Its impressive victory was not entirely due to its intrinsic popularity. More important were (a) the widespread desire to prevent communal forces from disrupting the relative political harmony in the state, and (b) disgust with Oommen Chandy and his singleminded backing of corrupt ministers. (The most notorious of them all, Excise Minister K.Babu, was defeated in his stronghold by the Left's M.Swaraj who was not only a newcomer to electoral politics but an "outsider" from a distant part of the state).

If the Left is to take advantage of the opportunity it has got, it will have to be less ideology-bound and more attuned to people and their everyday problems. Big-ticket "development" plans have become a smokescreen for governments to hide their non-performance in areas that affect common people's existential problems. Why should the state that receives the maximum rainfall in the country be starved for drinking water? Why should it have the maximum number of road deaths in relation to population in the country? Addressing issues like these must become the concerns of governments.

Mamata Bannerjee is a prime example of not addressing such issues. She made do by blaming the past communist rule for rapes, for infant deaths in hospitals and for job scarcities. She ignored the scandals that developed around her and had the gumption to say, in the wake of her present victory: "I am proud to say that there is no corruption in Bengal". This kind of attitude makes her a phenomenon that can only be a flash in the pan in historical perspective. A stubborn refusal to face facts is no virtue.

It's the gift of politicians not to face facts when victory and power make them blind. But victory is followed by defeat, and power passes. Eventually this type of politicians will lose meaning and the people will come into their own. But how long to wait, ye gods, how long!