Bewajeh

May 16, 2009

Bring out the Champagne with a dash of Sedative

Filed under: Governance,Politics — Bottom's Up @ 12:05 pm
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In an election where the choice was one of going for the least of all evils, the people of India has chosen magnificently. As someone who had become more and more cynical with the direction the people (and hence leaders) of India were taking her, this writer is truly delighted.

There are some trends here which are truly causes for hope. Of course the assertion that this is a mandate for a stable Government indeed has elements of truth to it. The communists , the Mayawatis¬† and the regional parties which were seen as either not up to the task of providing a stable Government or simply too disruptive and untenable for a stable Government have lost heavily. When it comes to the communists, it probably has been the major reason after their repeated rants of anti-Americanism and rigid stands on issues such as the nuclear deal. Similarly, Reddy’s huge win in the Lok Sabha elections in Andhra but few gains in the assembly elections point to the same trend. Maharashtra may fall in this bucket too. All of this, particularly the strong contrasts in Andhra, definitely speaks highly of the astuteness of the Indian voters.

A second trend is a vote for Governance. A careful look shows that despite its loss, the BJP did not really lose as much in terms of seats overall as the third front.It did do badly in places such as Rajasthan where its Governance was bad, but in other places where its Government did a good job such as Gujarat, it maintained and even expanded its lead. The Governance reward trend is true across parties and regions. Nitish Kumar has made a clean sweep in Bihar. HIs strength is that he is not only able to tap into identity polictics (a necessary evil in Indian politics) but he has not forgotten to follow it up with Governance. His was definitely not a big party though it had allied with the BJP. Similarly, in the former BJP stronghold of Delhi, again a performing Government of Sheila Dixit has been rewarded. On the other hand, the extremely poor levels of Governance in UP by Mayawati have been punished. This and stability allowed the Congress to make huge gains in UP. This focus of the voters on performance is probably one of the nest news of this elections and hopefully will serve to incentivize more state Governments to do their job.

A third trend that is being pointed out is one of this being a vote against extremist. I do not believe that as a first order effect this was important. For example. Gujarat is a prime example where extremism did not play in the equations and it was all about Governance. Nor did Modi’s presence in Maharastra for campaigning either help or hurt. Similarly, in many places where the BJP had won in the past, it continued to maintain its hold. However, there are two second order effects. In an era of coalition politics – something which is expected to be around – most regional parties were unwilling to touch the BJP with a nine feet pole. Their extremist tendencies cost them heavily in terms to getting allies at a time when they really needed allies. Though it may be partly opportunism on the part of Nitish, this may also play a part in his parting ways with the BJP. Another effect of its extremism was its inability to expand its base. To that extent, in the current political climate, Hindutva just did not fly beyond the established base. Again Maharashtra is a prime example where the Congress had a Government which is terrible but still won. It does mean that the BJP, if it needs to continue to be a national party and gain allies, needs to shed its extreme image and become a true center right party. Of course, when it comes to communal issues, things can quickly change.

All said and done, blunders and lack of a strategy by the third front and the BJP definitely played their part in the win of the BJP. However, it was as much a mandate for a party that was reatively (and I use ‘relatively’ strongly) better at providing Governance and stablity. Kudos to the Indian voter. However, with good news always come some bad. We are definitely looking at a stable Government and also promising trends in the attitude of the Indian voters. However, the BJP continues to look just as confused as it always was. This could mean that they decide to go further to the hard right, choose new leaders more alignemed with the new sangh and end up becoming even more marginalized. If this happens, the Congress would become the only dominant party in the country and after the era of the Indira Gandhi debacles, we know where that could lead.¬† Thus, this writer hopes that the BJP takes the right lessons and comes back as a stronger, more moderate opposition to the Congress. A second cause of worry is what this means for inner party democracy. The lack of inner party culture has grown over the years and the rise of Rahul Gandhi – the Congress is already attributing the entire UP success o him, a questionable claim – would do nothing to change that. The return of Mamata Banerjee, the win of the Congress in some places such as Maharastra despite non Governance are also unhealthy outcomes. Hopefully some of these fears will be assuaged with the rise of better oppositions.

For now though, given the cirstances and the options in front of the Indian voter, this is the best possible outcome. If this is not cause enough to bring out the champage, then nothing is.

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