All that is political and shall be : Reflections of 2010.
By all standards, 2010 was a very active year as far as Indian politics was concerned. This came as unexpected, considering there was no major election for the larger part of the year and a recently concluded Lok Sabha election, whose coattails rolled into the Maharashtra and Haryana where the same parties retained power. In December 2009, Jharkhand went to the polls but there too, the verdict was hung and it was only after much political dealing that BJP was able to form a government with JMM. This was also in the backdrop of an impressive BJP performance in the Lok Sabha polls and it being the favourite to capture power in the state.
In general, the Opposition seemed absent, even demonstrating very high nuisance value, both inside and outside the legislature. Yet, as the year ended most of these assumptions have changed. Suddenly, the UPA coalition seems vulnerable and the Opposition seems to be making sense in their attack on the government. After all, is the cost of disrupting Parliament anywhere close to all the scams put together or even a quarter of it? Sadly, no. In November 2010, the Bihar election results came out which delivered a historic mandate to the NDA under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. Lalu Prasad Yadav was wiped out and worst affected was the Congress, which lost its deposit in as many as 220 out of the 243 despite hectic campaigning by the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. For the first time in ages, development seemed to have won over archaic forms of caste and communal arithmetic.
But, whether this means any tangible electoral success for the Opposition, on the Left and the Right is the major question that will be on the minds of the top political leadership across party lines. It is true that this has become the worst period for the UPA in its six years in power. Nothing seems to have gone right for the UPA and even governance has been relatively weaker and restrained if one considers the exclusive mandate it received in 2009. The absence of the Left and 206 seats for the Congress may have meant much more space for the Congress but this has not been the case as can be seen. Instead, it has fallen prey to different coalition pressures as Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Karunanidhi continue to create havoc in the states and at the centre. The fact that each of these three allies has different interests from becoming CM to managing world cricket does not make things easier for the Congress. It is also for the first time in two decades corruption has come back to centre stage- be it Adarsh, CWG 2010, 2G or even the fact that a 38 year Jaganmohan Reddy can become one of the country’s highest advance tax payers, the Congress surely has lots to answer for.
Ironically, the Opposition can claim no better. Few can deny the messy situation in Karnataka where the Chief Minister refuses to leave office, protects elements who have continuously refused to play the game correctly and a governor who has taken over the Karnataka Congress. Few can deny the rampant corruption and strong arm tactics of the Reddy Brothers in the state. The vote of confidence brought haunted memories of Uttar Pradesh in 1997, where everything but a stable parliamentary democracy was at play. The 2G scam has also taken the sheen off the NDA’s campaign when it has emerged that it was during Pramod Mahajan’s tenure that this flawed policy was first executed. Moreover, its own track record in the telecom saga has little to boast and the favours for a particular telecom company are very well known. The Left, too has its own share of problems, most notable being the absence of a pragmatic political leadership, which it had when Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu were in active politics.
Therefore, the fundamental question is where does this chaos (equally affecting all fronts) take us politically? 2011 will witness state elections in four crucial states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam apart from Puducherry but none of which may drastically alter political relations across India if the results are on expected lines. The picture for the Congress too seems pleasant in Kerala and Assam and an alliance with Mamata Banerjee may prove successful at the hustings. In Tamil Nadu, even if the AIADMK is able to come to power, the Congress always has the option to take within the UPA fold leaving the DMK out in the cold. The good news may also continue in early 2012 when the first election is for the Bhrihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and Raj Thackeray may virtually hand the Corporation to the Democratic Front. Lok Sabha trends in Punjab and Uttarakhand also suggest a Congress comeback, making things very easy for the party till the UP elections in April 2012. This picture is hypothetical and may be wrong but it surely indicates a big gap between macro-level unpopularity and state level picture. It also gives the Congress a lot of time to recover lost credibility.
The current political scenario has made the NDA a virtual political untouchable. It is ironical that during the days when it was more open about Hindutva, it had many more allies. All those parties who refuse to share stage with NDA today were part of it in the 1990s and during Gujarat 2002- Mayawati even campaigned for Narendra Modi in 2002 and it took six more years for Naveen Patnaik to sever ties with the BJP. The recent NDA rally had only three parties sharing the dias with BJP leaders and if the NDA wishes to be a serious alternative to the UPA, it will need a makeover and a more open agenda with a credible leadership.
All these factors suddenly make the prospects of a Third Front government sky high. Today, the Third Front, if properly chanelized and led could be a very serious contender for power in 2014. It has many more parties that can join and leave it. What would be interesting to see is which of the two major parties will play ball with it- current scenario makes shows more chances it would be the BJP. This also means the real political arena is in states where BJP and Congress are not in direct contest. In 2004 and 2009, states where a direct BJP-Congress contest was seen favoured BJP in 2004 and was a close race in 2009. It is the other states, most of which have negligible BJP presence is where the politics is unfolding. It is no coincidence therefore, that Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal decided governments in 2004 and 2009 in favour of the UPA. Meanwhile, we must attempt to rebuild our moral universe, which has shrunk long long ago.
[This article was put on the CSDS-Lokniti January 2011 monthly Newsletter]