Monday, May 18, 2009

Postscript- thoughts on the verdict...

As the final results of Election 2009 are out and the UPA begins government formation processes once again, it is clear that this election ended much sooner than expected. The fears of a hung parliament with hectic post-poll lobbying and stitching up of coalitions never happened and by the afternoon of 16th May, it was fairly clear who would form the next government. The mood outside 10, Janpath said it all whereas gloom descended over the BJP and Left Party offices at New Delhi. Till the other day, Mayawati and Jayalalithaa were considered the major forces in this election. It was clear that no government, especially a BJP-led government was possible without these two ladies. The media showed how Mayawati readied her houses in Delhi to entertain leaders and an over confident Jayalalithaa declaring that she will come to Delhi only on the 18th and then decide whom she will support. In the end, these women had to eat their words and there was only one clear winner- Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Congress party.
How should one look at the mandate in 2009? Was it a victory for the ‘secular’ parties? Was it a vote for stability? Was it a vote against the BJP or did it mean Rahul Gandhi got an endorsement from the electorate? The Congress party may think otherwise but the man of the match, the top scorer, the leading wicket taker and the best fielder of the elections was Dr. Manmohan Singh. In Dr. Manmohan Singh, we saw a stable, sincere and honest leader who was able to lead a country in its hour of crisis. The urban middle class, which was once the solid vote bank of the BJP drifted away to the Congress precisely due to that reason. In Delhi, a large chunk of Sikhs voted for the Congress despite Jagdish Tytler and Sajan Kumar being stripped of their tickets. In Mumbai, the Congress was successful only due to their creation, Raj Thackeray and it is clear that Maharashtra would have seen a different result without the MNS in the electoral battle. But, most importantly, the pro-poor and pro-people policies such as the NREGA and the farm loan waver helped the UPA all over the country. Even those allies such as Lalu Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan and leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav had to eat their words when the results poured in. Moreover, the efforts of Rahul Gandhi helped the party in Uttar Pradesh where it won twenty one seats. Whether or not this result means the Congress has made inroads into Uttar Pradesh only time shall tell but putting up strong candidates and Rahul Gandhi’s efforts have surely paid off. The Congress swept Rajasthan but the surprise of the elections was the results in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where smart alliances and risk taking took the Congress through. Nobody expected the Trinamool Congress to do so well in these elections and everybody had virtually written off Karunanidhi in these elections. Infact, Sonia Gandhi even cancelled her rallies in Chennai and even they were held, she never said a word against Jayalalithaa.
As for the BJP, almost nothing went right for it. In the beginning, the party put up a brave face saying only the initial trends does not favour them. But, by afternoon the writing was on the wall and it was clear that the NDA had not done so well. Yet, the party itself did not suffer too many loses and the margin of fifteen seats considering a direct reversal in Rajasthan is something that can be covered up for. But, it raises larger questions on the road the party will take from here. For one, the period of ‘Mandal-Kamandal’ seems finally over and the BJP seriously needs to rework its strategy as to where it has to go from here. For one, it has totally alienated its urban middle class vote bank and even when it declared the extension of exemption of taxable income, it ended up looking like a foolish party as they had done nothing in their stint while the UPA has increased the exemption limit.
In this election, the UPA outsmarted the NDA in almost every way. Wherever the Congress was perceived to be weak, it forged alliances which paid of well and in places where allies were being unreasonable and they had chances of revival they went it alone and their seats in Uttar Pradesh and vote share in Bihar are impressive. Today, the BJP is the second largest national party and the principal opposition but it is not an all India party. The party is absent in Kerala and lacks allies in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Also, it is high time it changes its approach to politics in India. The BJP today has no leader of national stature and the in the second rung leadership, the only leader it has who is capable of bringing the party together is haunted by his ability or inability to unite the country and his actions in 2002. The party has a weak President and no leader of national statute to combat Rahul Gandhi, as of now. Also, a change in ideology and moderation would also help. In reaching out to the ‘aam aadmi’ the party has forgotten its middle class base which it needs to consolidate again. Historically, it has always targeted the middle class and the urban upper middle class, whose support it must seek again. Also, the party needs to reach out to the youth of the country who do not support it, even in families who have traditionally voted BJP. With Rahul Gandhi at the helm and the Congress going so strong, the days of the Congress versus the rest have begun and the BJP surely does not want to be in the position the Labour Party was in Britain between 1979 and 1997 when Tories dominated the politics there. Not only do they need a Tony Blair who will reinvent that party, they would need it soon.
The Left has failed miserably and this has been their worst performance since a long time. The cracks have also appeared with Buddhdeb Bhattacharjeee taking a different line and the others too demanding a change of guard. Only time will tell where the Left reaches but for now its time to introspect what went wrong.
But, for now Singh is King and the people have no doubt reposed their an honest and sincere leader and not only a family as the people going to rule the country and their blind supporters want us to believe.

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