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Sunday, January 05, 2014

The next polls and beyond

Milligazette, 1-15 January 2014

Having lost in four states, the Congress is readying to pack its bags for vacating 7, Race Course Road, by May next. Its stalwarts, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Chidambaram, have both indicated that the divisions in polity are such that there is little chance of the next government sticking through the next five years at the helm. Aiyar therefore opines that the Congress could throw in the towel next year in order to ‘refit’ itself in a ‘break from governance’ for a subsequent meaningful try at the polls. Chidambaram, likewise, has suggested that the next elections will not throw up a solid majority. Maintaining that the current government is being hampered by pushback from the legislature and judiciary, he reveals that Indian democracy is undergoing a ‘churning’ at its ‘weakest point’ in its history.   
The open breast beating by the Congress in wake of their dismal showing is to be expected. It helps keep morale alive in that the Congressman is assured that even if the next polls are given a bye, the Congress can yet reposition itself – to quote Aiyar - as the ‘natural party of governance for the 21st century’. While the Congress needs such self-consolation, the nation cannot be so sanguine. If history is any guide, the last time the Congress expected to return to power after vacating it in mid nineties, it was unable to do so for close to a decade. While the last time round, there was the sober and mature Vajpayee at the helm to keep the sangh parivar on leash, this time round, if and when the BJP gets to power, they are unlikely to restrain themselves.
Using government leverage they will position themselves for the long haul in order to reconfigure India in their image. It is for this reason that the complacency of the Congress cannot be allowed to seep into the nation and the forthcoming electoral fight by secular-liberal forces and minority interest groups must be taken for what it is and quite like the BJP and its affiliates are taking it, with a greater gumption than the ‘grand old party’, the Congress, has shown or is at all capable of showing.  
It bears recall that the Narasimha Rao government was beset with the same problems and lethargy at its term end as is the Manmohan government today. Quite the same fate administered it by the electorate then as seems to await the Manmohan dispensation. At the time, Shankar Dayal Sharma, had called upon Vajpayee to step in as leader of the single largest party. Vajpayee, seizing the chance, tried to cobble up a coalition.
Even as he did so he proceeded to order nuclear weapons detonation preparations to get underway in order to build a nationalist wave behind him. However, his initial stint lasted only thirteen days. It was in his second attempt that he used the nationalist gimmick of bombing his way into the nuclear club, alongside fighting a popular war in Kargil as a caretaker government, to insinuate the BJP into power that lasted a full term after the second elections.
The period in power was used to extend saffronisation of institutions and inveigle Hindutva into the national imagination. While Murli Manohar Joshi proceeded to rework education; other up front projects included a national commission to review the working of the constitution and the Vision 2020 document of the Planning Commission. Questions persist over the parliament attack that hanging Afzal Guru have done little to resolve. In the security field, India gave itself offensive military doctrines and a nuclear doctrine that even a change in government has not been able to dilute. The country barely managed to avoid being entangled in US’ Iraq quagmire by sending troops.

All this happened, despite Vajpayee generally having his heart in the right place. He reached out twice to Pakistan, at Lahore and at Agra. While the military there rudely overruled his interlocutor, Nawaz Sharif, by mounting a Kargil on unsuspecting Vajpayee, at Agra, a careful study by AG Noorani, informs that Advani exercised a veto. Advani also dispelled Vajpayee’s intent to take Modi to task over his lapse in ‘rajdharma’ in Gujarat.
The foregoing suggests that conservative politics is susceptible to capture by the ideological fringe. Two notable times this has occurred are in an outrageous way have been the Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat carnage. In both cases the conservatives got away, claiming loss of control, rather admit to the conspiracy behind both. In both cases, the minority was target. If a Vajpayee in their midst could not remedy matters, it does not take much imagination to envisage the rightist turn with Modi at the helm.
The Congress perspective is that political ‘untouchability’ will keep Modi from gaining any support, even if as psephologists predict and the Congress fears, the BJP does turn out the single largest party. Complacency on this score can prove fatal to India as we know it. The gimmick of the atom bomb is precedence on the way a national rallying call can be used to cement the incumbent in power. Modi has already sounded the battle cry in his Sawai Madhopur rally in which he suggested a reopening of the Article 370 question. With the long dreaded Year 2014 round the corner, a deteriorating national security can serve as a convenient nationalist rallying cry. The middle classes that are behind NaMo can be expected to chip in to foster a greater acceptability of Modi across party lines. He will get off to a running start since he has the way chalked out by right wing think tanks and diaspora support that have contributed to making his campaign such as to survive even a Snoopgate.

This implies that far graver possibilities exist in the post elections future than self-exculpatory political commentary from senior Congress sources suggests. Modi can be expected to play to the gallery, even as he lets loose saffronites into the state and nation. Once assured of sustaining, he will create the ground for another round. This will see the sangh pariwar celebrate its centenary while in power at the center.  Clearly, Congress faintheartedness cannot be allowed to get infectious. 

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