Monday, May 19, 2014

The Agent Orange of Indian politics – Narendra Modi

The Election Map 2014.
Photo courtesy NDTV.

One has to only see the Map of the Elections 2014, to understand what a 'Saffron Wash' looks like! I have never imagined that a vast and complex country like India would suddenly all fall in line and vote for the future, placing their collective faith in one man, and one party - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but that is how it turned out to be, on that historic day, 16th May 2014.

Caste and Community Politics

For too many years, parties like the Congress, Janata Dal [Secular] (JDS), Janata Dal [United] (JDU), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and many others have been fighting their elections by appealing to voters along Caste, Community and Religious lines and tasting electoral success due to the polarization of the voter base. The first to perhaps use this as a tactic was the Congress where they used the Minority card with spectacular success, and perhaps this emboldened all the other parties to practice the politics of divide and rule, due to which large sections of the populations were kept in status-quo on development parameters so that they are encouraged to vote along caste or communal lines, i.e. primarily be 'predictable' to the Party's Election Managers. 

One believes that this approach has retained the minorities and the backwards firmly in the underdeveloped sections of our society, as their education, financial self-reliance and intellectual independence or individualist thinking were inconvenient to such political parties. It is also a personal impression that one carries, that political parties who practiced divisive politics did so only for the sole aim of capturing power, and once they were in Government, tended to just work for personal benefit and collect funds for future elections. Any genuine development that happened was in spite of the political leadership and not because of them. (Perhaps an extreme view, maybe even too cynical a stand, but one is entitled to ones opinion in a democratic polity, however cynical or dismissive it may be, as one is disappointed at the development rate of the country since independence).

We can play this game too!

The BJP, when it was formed, apparently wanted to fight elections on the laudable plank of Gandhian Economic and Nationalist principles, as they perhaps saw the rot that Indian politics had seeped into in the late ‘70’s. Thus, what was a ‘Back-to-the-Basics’ political approach in 1984 seemed to give them very poor dividend with just two seats in the Parliament, and they perhaps strategized that they could play the game too, but by reaching out to the ignored majority, as all the other parties of the day, spoke exclusively for the minorities, who were kept largely illiterate and willing to be motivated to vote en mass along religious lines as advised by the Political leadership or the Religious leadership that the politicians harvested. 

Thus, it looks like the BJP was perhaps forced to play the same game and represent the voice of the majority. On account of this strategy, the benign and affable persona that both Advani and Vajpayee embodied was studiously replaced by strident Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva, and again, by dividing the population up, they tasted fleeting electoral success. Unfortunately for them, the entire political class could now boldly wear their minority / caste appeasement politics on their sleeves as a prize with which to stop the BJP, and thus was born the 'Secular Card' in Indian politics. In actual fact, it was the Communal and Casteist Card, but as the parties practicing it could use it to beat down the majority population and seen to be speaking for the minority or oppressed voices, it achieved a smokescreen of acceptability. 

Due to the coming together of the so-called ‘Secular Forces’ to vote out the 13-day NDA 1 Government in 1996, the 13-month NDA 2 Government in 1999, and finally replace a full-term NDA 3 Government in 2005, the BJP was perhaps forced to become more stridently ‘majoritarian’ in their politics and speak for their own Vote Bank, as that was after all, the card game that all the big boys were playing. Unfortunately, it was a slippery slope, and despite providing perhaps the best six years of governance India had seen post independence, they lost power, and India was forced to endure the most corrupt and retrograde government for 10 years, virtually pushing us back into the dark ages. (Please read my other post on this subject, at: 

Economic model of the Left Leaning

It may be prudent here to mention that the polarization was not just on account of politics and Vote Banking, but the same was seen in the economic policies of the various governments too. I may disagree very strongly with the economic policies of Nehru and the socialist slant that I believe kept India under developed and impoverished for many years, but I genuinely admire the man, as I think he did what he did, because he honestly and sincerely believed that it was good for the nation. Unfortunately, his daughter, Indira Gandhi chose to wear Nehruvian Socialism on her lapel like a badge, and brought upon this country the most impractical and undemocratic economic policies that kept the nation desperately poor until the Balance of Payments crisis in the 1990’s which forced World Bank mandated economic reforms. It seems like she did so, not because she honestly thought it was beneficial to the nation, but because, by using it, she could foist upon us a Begging Bowl Style Welfare State, where every largess is given by the hand of the Government, and the act of giving of these scraps would keep her party in power forever. Thus, in every election, she was able to flog the ‘Roti-Kapada-Makaan’ slogan, and never had to invent another memorable slogan while she led the Congress. 

Unfortunately, the only bunch of truly honest politicians (political honesty of course, not personal - as I have no knowledge of the same), the Left Parties, perhaps feeling that Indira Gandhi’s economic policies resonated with their own world view, chose to support her, and they ended up even developing close political ties as well, landing plum posts in academia, and our history books and all school textbooks were authored by left-leaning academics perpetuating a uni-polar world view. Thus, when the NDA 2 and 3 Governments sought to redefine some of India’s most ridiculous economic policies, like the rationale of a Public Sector Industry, the rest of the political spectrum stood shoulder to shoulder, shrilly denouncing their reform measures as Anti-People. This begs the question, "One wonders what was really Anti-People, the Income Tax act of the 1970’s which imposed an atrocious tax rate of 97.75%, or the NDA’s decision to have a Disinvestment Ministry"?

Agenda Changers

Thus, observing India and its politicians from independence to the 1990’s, one is left with the impression that all the political parties tried hard to locate and create a series of buttons on the people of India, that they could press when they needed and control the actions of the compartments of caste, religion and community that they had devolved the population into. This was a nice and cozy arrangement that was protected by a conspiracy of silence so that power could be won; corruption indulged in, crony capitalism practiced and generally to perpetuate the practice, that we jokingly back in school, called “Downliftment of the Uptrodden”! A pun on the Congress mantra of Upliftment of the Downtrodden. Making everyone equally poor and keeping them that way was the order of the day.

A few enlightened political practitioners, perhaps the most patriotic folk from a much sullied clan, began to see through this Divide and Rule policy that was keeping India in the dark ages, and began several movements to challenge the established order. Perhaps the most articulate and visionary person of those that wished to break the nexus is Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, who founded the Loksatta Party, to fight elections on the basis of an Anti-Corruption plank and genuine Local Development issues. Dr. JP, who is a gentle and somewhat self effacing intellectual has unfortunately not been able to inspire a mass movement, but remains the darling of a small group of patriotic Indians. 

The national stage for a shrill and noisy Anti-Corruption plank was however taken over first by India Against Corruption (IAC), and later by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). While one is not very clear about their views on the issues of polarization and communalization of politics, they effectively showcased the 'Good Governance', 'Probity in Public Life' and 'Corruption-Free Politics' approaches, that seemed to deeply resonate with the mood of the people. 

I believe that even as recently as the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections, the BJP fought their campaign on traditional hindutva policies, and were perhaps shocked to see AAP picking up the second largest block of seats and preventing them from forming the Government. I wonder if this single experience was a turning point in the life of the BJP? Did it make them sit up and think? Did it perhaps give them the courage to jettison the shallow hindutva agenda, and perhaps focus on 'Good Governance', 'Overall Development for All', 'Economic Advancement' and the other enlightened policies that it now espouses? If yes, then the AAP has perhaps willingly or unwittingly bestowed upon India the best gift in politics.

Politics in a New India

After the BJP has recorded such a historic win, in which one believes would not have been possible if millions of its traditional non-followers have not positively contributed, giving them a chance to form a stable BJP Majority Government or an NDA Tsunami Government of 336 seats in Parliament (the Election Commission is yet to officially declare the results while this is being written), I believe it will be very difficult (if not virtually impossible) for any party to unseat them using a communal or divisive agenda. To get them voted out, NDA would have to perform miserably poorly on their poll promises, be more corrupt than the UPA, or the incumbent will have to promise and deliver even greater development and social advancement assurance. 

One finds it difficult to envisage a stage in future when a Deve Gowda or an I.K. Gujral can form a Government simply because they wanted to “keep communal forces at bay”! I genuinely hope that the influence wielded by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav and other caste or communal satraps will fade away and all the people of India join together in future in demanding the highest economic and social development indices from their Government, for all of India, and stop clamoring to be declared ‘backward’ so that they can pick up the few scraps thrown into their enclosure by a welfare state.

Sadly, even as I write this, I hear on the news that there is talk among the decimated parties like the Congress, the JD(U), the RJD and others who are speaking about all 'Secular Forces' uniting to counter the 'Communal BJP'. It looks like some people will never learn, as they are Pathetic, Myopic, Political Pygmies and their small minds can think of no other counter to the development agenda that India has mandated. Please grow up! India does not care. The Youth of India does not care. The vast thinking minority population does not care. Even your own electorate will probably not care if you intend to keep them starving while the rest of the nation looks forward to the fruits of development. 

Unfortunate collateral damage of Agent Orange

While one is glad that India has spoken and spoken very clearly in favor of the Parivartan & Vikas i.e. Change & Development Agenda of Modi and rejected the divisive politics of the UPA, one has to take stock of the collateral damage too. Just like Agent Orange, the blind and ruthless instrument of the Vietnam War that destroyed all types of green cover, regardless of whether they were useful, inconsequential, or environmentally threatened, or whatever, similarly, several excellent politicians have been swept aside by the Modi Tusnami, and India and the Parliament will be poorer in their absence. Some of the people that India will no doubt miss in the Lok Sabha for their suave and articulate presence are Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, Arun Jaitley, Jaswant Singh, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Yogendra Yadav. Gentlemen, all.

Personally speaking, I will not miss the presence of Mani Shankar Aiyar, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Chidambaram. I believe these people were the button pushers perpetuating the old order under the dispensation of the Congress First Family. I hope they will see the folly of their ways, reform themselves and aim to serve the nation instead of a family. Each of them being brilliant in their own right, could put their vast intellect to better use.

The Election results 2014
Photo courtesy NDTV.

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