Vantage point

Sunday, April 25, 2004


- From an economic POV, I don't see any difference between the Congress and the BJP. In general, for a quasi-Libertarian like me, the best party is one which interferes the elest with business. I like parties committed to reform and getting over their socialist past. In that sense, I see no difference between the Congress and the BJP. I see no die-hard socialists in the Congress who will revert back to the License-Permit-Quota raj. In fact Jairam Ramesh, head of the Congress Economics think tank is a pro-reforms guy. If anything, the NDA has more people with such a bent of mind. We have seen the havoc Murli Manohar Joshi has created in what one would have thought was a harmless ministry. He has fingered the only government institutions that are working. I shudder to think what would happen some years later when ABV and LKA have left the scene and MMJ is the senior-most BJP leader! All members of the JDU are socialists, notably Fernandes. Then there is the Shivsena which opposes any reforms in the labour laws.

Yes, India is shining. But it is shining because of the people, and not the government. If reforms are to be credited, then they were started by Rajiv and continued by Rao. In those days, BJP leaders held huge protest marches to protest India's entry into the WTO.

The only contribution to the "shining" of India from the government has been from Arun Shourie who is disinvesting with a vengeance. If his influence within the party grows, I will become an ardent BJP supporter. However, it does not seem like Shourie represents the BJP philosophy. So I don't see how they are very different from the Congress.

In fact I see the Congress' response to the BJP's India Shining campaign as a huge marketing blunder. They should have said "India is shining, but mainly because of us. And we will make it shine even more."

The shine in India is mainly driven by superb growth in a few states. The states that have been shining the most are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. The Chief Ministers in the first three states are of the Congress. The party shouldhave pitched this fact.

Even about Kashmir, they should have pointed out that were it not for their magnanimous gesture of allowing a PDP Chief Minister, despite being the single largest party, the "healing touch" factor that has improved the situation in Kashmir would not have been possible.

And about the way that the BJP is hailing vajpayee for resumption of cricketing ties with Pakistan, theCongress should ask that if the BJP had severed the ties in the first place, how is their resumption an achievement?

Unfortunately, the Congress think tank has bungled up. By the time Sam Pitroda came with the "India shining started because of Rajiv's reforms", ti was too late. We had ridiculous ads like "Congress puraney din waapas laaney waali hai." This gives one an impression of the Congress being more leftist than it is. Stupid suicidal move.

The Congress, after this election, should sit and do some thinking about their party's identity. Even now, they have a better long term future than the BJP. You take away Atal's moderate face, and there is not much that BJP has. Folks like Advani and Joshi leading the party will not get them as many allies. And on its own, the BJP still does not have enough to get more than 200 seats.

The states where BJP can capture seats on its own are Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP, UP, Chattisgarh, Jharkhan, Uttaranchal and Delhi. In other states like Maharashtra, Andhra, Orissa, Bengal, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Tamilnadu etc, they rely mainly on strong regional parties, who are on board the NDA only thanks to Atal's moderate face and statesman image. The supporters of these regional parties will stop supporting them if they are seen supporting someone like Advani or Joshi.

The Congress on the other hand, had 15 Chief Ministers till last year. This means they have a considerable national presence. On its own, the Congress still has a good presence in Punjab, Delhi, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Tamilnadu, Andhra, Karnataka, and Kerala. Plus the Congress has an edge in the North-east and Kashmir.

If it gets its act together, it can be back in power in the next general elections. They basically need to strengthen their presence in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. If they can't get seats on their own, they should at least form strong alliances.

And as much as we hate the fact, politics in India(or anywhere in the world for that matter) is a game of personalities. It is not the BJP's ideology or the Shivsena's ideology which gets it votes. It is Atal and Thackeray. So the Congress needs to get good personalities to have a broadbased lineup. Sonia's children would really do that. The Congress should also groom Sheila Dikshit for a bigger role on the national scene. They should convince Pawar and Mamta to return to the Congress, and give promising leaders like Gehlot more visibility.

Anyway, moving on to other thoughts -

* I have been impressed with Govinda. For a star whose films were full of melodrama, his campaign has been very dignified. He speaks marathi and hindi very well. he is not making any personal atatcks on Ram Naik. He is not making ridiculously lofty promises like "I will make this constituency a Paris!!", as Vinod Khanna had done. He is not using lines from his movies, or putting up an act on stage like the garam dharams. In his interviews, he has shown good knowledge of politics, as opposed to other "stars" who are completely ignorant. Of all the filmstars I have seen entering the electoral battle, Govinda has seems the most acceptable. Of course,this probably has a lot to do with the fact that he is fighting from a completely urban constituency. But nevertheless, Govinda's conduct and his views have been the diagonal opposites of what they seemed in films. He may not be able to defeat Ram Naik, but he certainly is here to stay.

* Why has Sushma Swaraj not been given a ticket? The BJP is completely wasting her. Last year they pitted her against Sonia in Bellary, almost a sureshot defeat. this time they haven't fielded her. I can understand not fielding people like Mahajan and jaitley, whose electoral successis highly suspect, but Swaraj is a winner in most seats in the country. Why keep her out of the fray?

* If Naidu is defeated, as the exit polls indicate, does that mean Hyderabad's bid for the Formula-1 GP loses steam? Will Mumbai-Pune get a walkover? :)

* I saw a few candidates giving interviews on TV even as voting was going on. Does this not amount to violation of the Code of Conduct which says that campaigning should stop 48 hours prior to polling?