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June - July 2004
Back to the Future? Or is Future Backward
India's general elections as I expressed my fears in our previous issue, have ended in a hung parliament; and consequently the outcome has made it an exercise in futility. A fractured verdict shows the confused mind of the electorate. Although the slight increase in number of seats for the Congress party is being hailed as a great breakthrough; it surely is not the dawn of a new era. At best, it is a victory for unscrupulous political mavericks who know how to mobilise poor and ignorant voters either by physical coercion or bribe. Moreover, It is certainly not a humiliating defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party and its economic policies.
Crucial losses in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are the result of the fact that in these three states the local BJP leadership has been poor, unreliable and fractious. Take the case of Uttar Pradesh. Bharatiya Janata party, despite having substantial number of seats failed to obtain an absolute majority. First it supported Mayavati's BSP government; and then Mulayam Singh's Samajvadi Party government. And now both these parties have gained at the cost of the BJP. When BJP was in power in Uttar Pradesh, it was always faction-ridden.
In the recent election campaign, the single incident that destroyed BJP was 'the sari incident', in which a score of old women were injured or died. At the birthday binge of 70-year-old Lalji Tandon, a local BJP leader, free saris were distributed on the day of election rally of Atal Behari Vajpayee. It must have cost BJP quite a few million votes. The unfortunate accident was seen as a senseless orgy of corruption and dishonour of Indian woman's graceful attire. People began to doubt the efficiency of the BJP members who could not even organise distribution of saris among a few thousands without an accident. Kalyan Singh, pompous as ever, rejoined BJP, thus adding to the already long list of arrogant BJP leaders who had lost touch with the common people.
In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, State machinery was extensively used for propaganda and coercion of the voters. The Election Commission could do little. Even the most sensible decision of Patna High Court was taken to the Supreme Court by the Election Commission. The Supreme Court's decision was another blot on the history of the apex court of India. Thus, aided by the state machinery and hordes of criminals posing as election agents, the communists in West Bengal, Lalloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh managed to increase their majority. This has happened before and now is taken as part of Indian elections. In the last six years of NDA government, the rise in criminalisation of politics has been most notable. The Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani did not introduce a single bill that could control the growing influence of criminals in Indian politics. Mr. Advani may not like it, but the facts are there for all to see. As a Home Minister, he proved too soft and indecisive.
And how does one explain the behaviour pattern of the voters of Delhi and Mumbai? Despite enjoying fruits of urban prosperity brought about by the economic policies of the BJP, they have now turned against the BJP? Here again, poor leadership and in-fighting between the two main factions that of Mr. Sahib Singh Verma and Mr Madan Lal Khurana (now governor of Rajasthan) can be held responsible for the debacle. The defeat in the recent assembly elections in Delhi should have cautioned Delhi BJP; but the illusion of the invincibility of their leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee, blinded them to the writing on the wall and they continued to ignore the needs of the people of Delhi.
In Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, the Shiv Sena supremo, so-called Hindu 'Ayatullah of Mumbai' has been the obstacle in the expansion of BJP's base in Mumbai. His dictatorial and dynastic hold on Shiv Sena cadre has become anathema to new 'high flyer' members of the BJP, the professional educated voters of Mumbai and the large immigrant population of workers from neighbouring states.
Even today, after the debacle of general election, BJP has only nine members less than the Congress. BJP also holds power in large states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. How is BJP going to fare in coming years as the opposition party at the centre? What sort of policies is it going to pursue? The anger felt by the rank and file on Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is, admirably shown by the action of Sushma Swaraj when she and her husband announced their resignations from the Rajya Sabha if Sonia Gandhi is made the prime minister of the country. But such gestures do not project BJP as a strong and constructive opposition ready to form an alternative government if Sonia Gandhi's congress loses its shine and the majority by rebellion of disenchanted groups who are now its partners.
Moreover, BJP is as much at fault as the Congress party in this sorry affair. BJP government took no initiative to introduce legislation for amending the constitution on the issue of foreign origin for the top three posts in the country. It may not have been passed because they lacked two third majority needed for amending the constitution. But it would have kept the issue alive, and a long debate in the country on this issue would have given right signal to the Congress party and the people of India.. It seemed that the BJP leadership had reconciled itself with Sonia Gandhi as an opposition leader. And the reason for doing so was their lack of perception. The BJP leadership believed that the foreign origin and political inexperience of Sonia Gandhi could never be a real threat to the astute, eloquent and experienced Prime Minister of BJP for years to come. This notion led to complacency and arrogance in the BJP government at the Centre.
The myth of Vajpai the Invincible was created with the support of poets, astrologers and faceless advisers surrounding the great man. The ideological base of the Bharatiya Janata Party which initially attracted the voters was thrown out in the name of maintaining NDA unity. It was more a tactic of clinging to power than a genuine partnership of like-minded parties. The dream of a bright future on the horizon of India has been broken by the election results. The country has ground to a halt and slowly would be going into reverse gear. Many leaders of yesteryear who were thought to have gone into political oblivion, are again moving into the corridors of power in Delhi. Jyoti Basu, Harkishen Surjit and VP Singh, the old vultures, are advising the daughter -in-law of Indira Gandhi, who is now in full control of the Congress party, a party which was abhorred by these three veterans.
The day is not far when they will force her to go back to command economy and control the recently liberated business sector with licences, nationalisation and other measures. In foreign relations, appeasement of dictators, especially of Islamic countries will become sine qua non of the policy of Panch Sheel and non-intervention. The economic and foreign policies of sixties and seventies will again be in the forefront of the newly rejuvenated Congress supported by the minions of Jyoti Basu, Harkishen Surjeet and Lalloo Prasad Yadav. In another five years, the Indian polity will rise to the giddy heights (or slide down to the depth ) of West Bengal and Bihar. It may even be earlier if SHE allows Lalloo Prasad Yadav and Harkishen Surjeet to run the government for her.