Identification, not identity
by Sandhya Jain on 13 Mar 2012 17 Comments

Recent elections in five states showed voters rejecting the undemocratic political culture of the two major national parties, where central leaders with declining ability to harvest votes have promoted a politics of patronage and entitlement, indifferent to the needs and aspirations of voters. Both parties lie battered. The Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as a non-challenger to Congress at the Centre, a party’s whose fear of early general elections was underlined by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj when she hastened to assert that the Budget would be passed and there was no plan to destabilize the Government!


This is in sharp contrast to the attitude of regional parties which are itching to enlarge their Lok Sabha tally at Congress’ expense, via early elections. They may covertly rock the boat, as it is not the opposition’s duty to pass the budget; constitutionally there is provision for, and precedents for, a vote-on-account.


If there was a larger message in these elections, it is that Indian politics, whether national or state level, is about the identification of leaders and parties with the people and their aspirations; not the cynical exploitation of identity. No party ever wins on the basis of its core support base alone; cross-caste and cross-community voting is always necessary. Parties that have airbrushed this reality to foster identity politics have crashed in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh because voters favoured a party whose emerging young leadership identified with their desires and did its political arithmetic with finesse.


It didn’t help when Congress party goons, including a minister, assaulted Samajwadi Party workers who waved black flags at the PM-hopeful; the tearing up of the SP manifesto was puerility unbound. But what cut to the bone was Rahul Gandhi’s description of migrant workers as ‘beggars in Mumbai,’ and his attitude that central allocation to the state was family largesse.


The decision to opt for identification over identity helped the Akali Dal buck anti-incumbency in Punjab. In Goa, Manohar Parrikar identified with the people and battled the corruption-riddled regime. In Manipur, Congress was the only viable party.


In Uttarakhand, Bhagat Singh Koshiari was the architect of the 2007 victory, and the majority of MLAs wanted him as chief minister; he was cheated of his due and angry voters wiped the party out in all Lok Sabha seats from the state in the 2009 general elections. Nepotism got Maj-Gen BC Khanduri the post in 2007; he was removed following unrest among the MLAs. When Ramesh Pokriyal had to be removed amidst the stench of corruption, Khanduri was re-imposed upon a morose state unit. The verdict reflects what voters felt about being treated as indentured supporters of the BJP.


Of course, the biggest loser is Congress. The credibility and political viability of its controlling family is shattered; the pocket-boroughs of Amethi and Rai Bareilly rebuffed Priyanka Vadra and nixed the ambitions of Robert Vadra as there are no safe constituencies anymore. Whenever the next general elections are held, the Gandhis will have to struggle for their own seats!


The era of one-party and one-family dominance is over. Sonia Gandhi will now be resisted when she imposes witless decisions on government, and her unacceptable levels of secrecy and non-accountability will be questioned. Her professed aversion to politics has finally been exposed as the big lie it always was by the pathetic attempt to stir voter interest by displaying minor children on stage!


It bears recalling that after marriage Sonia Gandhi was quite content to live in the official residence of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and protect the interests of friends like Ottavio Quattrocchi. On the death of family heir-apparent Sanjay Gandhi, she did not demur when Rajiv Gandhi was made an MP and Congress general secretary. Suddenly, in 1984, after Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Rajiv Gandhi was set to succeed her, spin doctors peddled tales of her ‘valiant fight’ against this hijack of her family’s destiny!


After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991, when it was clear that Congress would not win a majority despite the jiggling of dates by Election Commissioner TN Seshan, the lady retreated. But she ensured the abiding discomfort of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, ultimately seized physical control of the party, and booted the learned old man into political wilderness.


The story of how Sonia Gandhi staked claim to form the government in 2004 is well known, and should have busted the myth of her non-ambition. But shameless family retainers, including media, addicted to patronage in lieu of loyalty, enacted an elaborate charade of renunciation… She then installed herself as chairperson of the National Advisory Council and began imposing hare-brained schemes upon a hapless regime and helpless people.


Throughout, the prime ministerial ambitions of the rootless metropolitan wonder, Rahul Gandhi, whose academic credentials are India’s best kept secret, were assiduously fanned. A coterie was assigned the task of building him up with juvenile stunts like dodging security to travel in a tram, sleeping in a harijan basti, and belittling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with public hints to make way for Rahul. Congress’ total rout in UP – six seats more than the 22 of 2007 – has decimated Rahul Gandhi’s vaulting ambitions, possibly even his political career.  


Inadvertently, Dr Manmohan Singh is the biggest gainer of the fall of the Gandhis. Hopefully, he will use his new found leverage to push a middle class friendly budget; nix brain-dead schemes like Food Security Bill; make corporate taxes more realistic; and, given the massive inflow of funds to NGOs (unearned income), monitor their activities routinely and bring them under a tax regime.


The Congress president blamed the poor choice of candidates and a weak organisation in UP for the disaster; but she and her family are responsible for this state of affairs. Nor can the party blame abstract forces for the crippling burden of prices and inflation on the common man. Now, her much vaunted managerial skills will be tested in the forthcoming Rajya Sabha and Presidential elections.


Even as Congress and BJP wither on the vine, Mayawati cannot be written off. She has retained the core Jatav base, and emerged as the state’s major opposition party. If and when disillusionment with Mulayam Singh sets in, she will be waiting in the wings. And unlike Akhilesh Yadav, her prime ministerial ambitions are intact…  


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