Congress Still Cannot Look Beyond the Dynasty, Nor BJP Beyond Sectarian Politics. Beware of the Voter
It may seem too early, but the contours of the next general election are beginning to take shape. It will be the usual politics, played the usual dismal way. Those who saw in Narendra Modi’s victory a turning point in history may have to revise their views. The size of its triumph had surprised the BJP just as the extent of its defeat had shocked the Congress. It was a message for the winner to try and earn the trust of all, and for the loser to introspect and change its ways. In just three months, though, both parties have made their intentions clear: They will learn nothing, change nothing.
The Congress has painted itself into a pathetic corner. Of the many factors that led to its downfall, the most obvious was dynastic dominance. What appeared tolerable in Indira Gandhi’s days became unacceptable a generation later. Sonia Gandhi’s extra-constitutional control of the government, her chosen Prime Minister reducing himself to a nobody, and her son’s handling of leadership as a part-time hobby combined to make voters realise that the joke had gone too far. Their thumbs-down to the Congress was a bid to save the nation’s honour.
If the Gandhis really cared for the party that had looked after them and their interests for so long, they would have paid heed to the message from voters. Some Congress leaders found the courage to criticise Sonia by name. Voices in the Youth Congress rose against Rahul Gandhi. Ignoring it all, the family allowed sycophants to “persuade” them to remain at the helm.
Priyanka is proposed as the new mascot. She does have more mass appeal than her brother. But what else? She has said nothing to date suggesting any understanding of the economic, social or geopolitical issues facing the country and the world. She has often shown an exaggerated view of her family’s sacrifices, indicative of a latent autocratic streak. Above all, she is a Vadra and thereby hangs a long shadow of business “achievements”. Is this the future of India?
It is a factor in the future of the BJP, for sure. Another devoted mother has openly asked that Varun Gandhi be nominated for the chief ministership of UP, no doubt as a stepping stone to prime ministership. What this means is that, BJP or Congress, the leadership of India will remain in the hands of one Gandhi or another. This was not the objective of those who voted for Narendra Modi. Nor did the voters expect Modi to lapse into a phase of perceptible slowdown so soon after the elections. Perhaps the hype he created during the campaign is having a rebound, reminiscent of the hype the Aam Aadmi Party generated and later found impossible to sustain.
But the Prime Minister’s associates are by no means quiet. Hindi partisanship, despite proving divisive, has been enforced on the IAS-IPS system as well. The decision to discount English in UPSC grades is the most short-sighted initiative by the government so far. It holds up UP-Bihar as the standard for the rest of the country. It puts India at a disadvantage in a world where China, for example, is actively promoting the study of English among its people. It gives non-Hindi citizens the feeling that they are less than equal. It will create dissensions and will lead to resentments. All for what?
Meanwhile, the prices of essential commodities have been rising. The Green Tribunal is being neutered so that hills can be levelled, rivers killed through sand mining and forests cleared for the sake of “development”. Attempts are being made to hand agriculture over to foreign seed monopolies in the name of promoting GM food. What does the Prime Minister have to say about these developments? We don’t know. Are some groups operating from behind? We don’t know. We only know what he says in Brazil and Nepal.
Silences, too, have a role in politics. The calculation may be that the Prime Minister should stay above the dust and din of ground-level politicking, that sectarianism is the surest way to win elections. This line succeeded in UP, and Amit Shah, the strategist behind that victory, has since become party president. As an all-India strategy, however, sectarianism may cause more harm than good. Voters are basically in favour of inclusive growth, precisely what Modi offered. If that promise goes astray, the Indian voter is experienced enough to know what to do. The BJP lost three recent byelections in Uttarakhand. Never underestimate the voter.