Vantage point

Thursday, May 13, 2004


When Vajpayee called for early polls, I remember saying to Sunil, "The BJP's laders remind me of the Australians in December 2003. They assume that they have to just turn up for the contest and they will win. It is not that easy you know. Sonia Gandhi may just pull a Ganguly with the right candidates and the right alliances." This statement was made more because of the BJP's arrogance than a real expectation that the Congress would or could win.

But yesterday, 13 proved unlucky for the BJP again, as on the 6 year anniversary of the Pokhran 2 Blasts Phase 2, the NDA was blasted out of power as everyone watched shell-shocked.

Even the worst case scenario in the exit polls for the NDA gave it 230 seats, enough to make a "late charge" in horse trading. Arrogant BJP men kept saying "200 for BJP, 300 for NDA". In the end, the NDA fell short of 200 by a good amount. Not only that, the Congress has emerged as the single largest party. This is as surprising as India dominating the series down under.

The parallels with the Australia series don't end just there. The usually bankable Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist let down the Aussies when they were needed to deliver the most. For the NDA, it was Jaylalitha and Naidu who were dismised cheaply. Tamilnadu continued their "Binary Voting" methods. A complete wipe-out for one side, as has often been the case.

Many in the media are saying "this is bharat's win over india" or "the poor man ddint feel india was shining". I don't really agree with it. If it was Rural Bharat vs Urban India, then why have both voted in the same way? Delhi was a cleen sweep for the BJP in 1999. This time Congress has won it 6-1. Mumbai has traditionally been a BJP-SS bastion. However, Congres has won it 5-1 with people like Govinda, Milind Deora and Eknath Gaekwad defeating shoe-ins like Ram Naik, Jaywantiben Mehta and Manohar Joshi. Even "shining" Pune voted in the Congress with a big margin. In other cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, Calcutta etc too, the NDA lost.

So the reason is not that simplistic. I think in India, the Lok sabha elections are a combination of regional elections, in the absence of a National Unifying factor. The unifying factors have been various like the anti-Indira wave in 77, the sympathy wave in 1984 and the "poor Atal mean jaya" factor in the 1999 elections.

This time the Atal Brand just did not prove to be strong enough. Anotherparallel with the Aussie series - In 1999 when the Australians wiped out India 3-0, the Indian team was very weak. Inexperienced players, infighting, and lack of unity. In 1999, tings were similar in the Congress. They ruled barely 5-6 states then, and there was a great deal of confusion within the ranks. In 2004, they rule 16 states, and the leadership has gained a great deal of experience. Sonia Gandhi, Ambika Soni, Pranab Mukherjee, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, et al are wiser and smarter. They got rid of one thing that hurt them in 1999 - "Ego". The alliances with NCP, RJD, Left, DMK and the reconciliation with the SP are good examples of this.

I think it is time the upper middle class of the country get over the "foreign origin" and the "political inexperience" of Sonia Gandhi and look at some positives. Her support of Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot shows she has a good eye for leaders. Her willingness to let the PDP rule in spite of the Congress getting the largest number of seats shows maturity as well. She has taken the Congress from extinction to power. Atleast in terms of handling of the Congress, she has been a Ganguly.

However like the Indian team, despite a couple of series wins is not best in the world, the Congress is still a fair distance away from being the top party in India. A lot of work needs to be done, especially in the big states. In UP, the Congress needs to create a presence. They need to learn the caste game because apparently that is all that works in UP. They need to convince NCP to do a "TMC" and merge with the Congress again. And they should break up the NDA and pull towards themselves some allies who are not outright anti-Congress. Dependence on the support of the Left is an uneasy feeling, and the sooner the Congress rids itself of this, the better.

My biggest worry about the NDA coming back to power was another term for MM Joshi as HRD Minsiter. Not only did the NDA lose power, but MMJ lost the Allahabad seat as well. talk about icing on the cake. :)

Murli Manohar Joshi's plans about education in the country were a reason big enough for anyone to not support Atal. The Free and Compulsory Primary Education Bill 2003 literally fills me with dread. His plans to regulate fees and admissions even in private colleges was another ominous design. In general, the evil wrought by MMJ would have more than negated the good work by Shourie and co.

I am sure people will now be dreading a slowing down of reforms. But I am not concerned about it. No political party went for reforms proactively. even the BJP didnt come to power as a pro-reform party. remember how the economy reacted to Sinha's first ever budget? But gradually they learnt. because liberalisation is an irreversible process. With people like Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh in the Congress' Economic think tank, I haveno doubt that they will carry on where the NDA left off. After all, one of the most liberal Finance Ministries was during the left-supported UF government. Even the SP is samajwadi only in name. In fact the SP's closeness to Reliance may force faster oil reforms.

I know people won't agree with me, because of what Congress has said during the campaign, so we will let only time be the judge of this.

We privileged elite of the country better accept the fact that Atal Behari is history, and bid him a find goodbye. And rather than harp on and on and on about "i am ashamed to live in a country led by that italian woman", accept the reality, and move on. Not just that, considering the personality-centric nature of India's politics, Congress is also the future, with the 2 charismatic Gandhi siblings entering politics. The BJP, minus Atal will find it very tough to not just regain power, there willalso be an internal churning regarding ideology. Do they remain pro-reform or woo the poor? Do they go back to hardline Hindutva and rake up the Mandirs(incidentally BJP lost Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura :)) ? I would not be surprised if there is a repeat of Gujarat 2002, especially since the voters of Gujarat gave many seats to the Congress. I just hope they keep in mind the assembly wins in MP and Rajasthan without resorting to Hindutva.

Oh by the way, I had written a few days back about how I was impressed with Govinda's diginified campaign. Well, so were the voters. His margin over Ram Naik was huge....48,000 votes!!! Another victim of over-confidence methinks. While Govinda covered miles and miles in the huge constituency meeting people, Ram Naik sat back and assumed he could not lose a seat he has been winning since 1978. Well, he was wrong.