Alternative to “default option”

Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the Congress party and its presumptive prime ministerial candidate should his mummy, Sonia, deem the situation ripe for his elevation (because Manmohan Singh is history — “a good man who turned out to be a good-for-nothing man” in Arun Shourie’s memorable words), called his party the voters’ “default option”. Default, by definition, implies failure of an alternative. In the context of the looming general elections, it means that if the Bharatiya Janata Party does not secure a “critical mass” of at least 185 seats in the Lok Sabha, smaller parties would choose once again to rally to the Congress party’s moth-eaten standard, and help it to continue with its policies that have left the country diminished and derelict.

Congress party’s optimism may not be warranted, however, because Prakash Karat has clarified that under no circumstances would the Left Front, still chafing from Manmohan Singh’s 2008 “betrayal” on the nuclear deal with the United States, side with Sonia Congress. It will stoke Mulayam Singh’s PM ambitions; after all his Yadav family party has all along sustained its samajwadi (socialist) pretensions by rubbing up against the Communist parties for a semblance of ideological respectability. But Mulayam has hurt his bonafides by enabling the Congress party to survive in office for nine long years. He cannot afford to botch up his record further by signalling in any way the likelihood of SP propping up a Sonia Congress-led future dispensation, and still expect the Left Front to help hoist him into 7, Race Course Road. In this competition for support of the Left parties in parliament, Mulayam and Sonia Congress are rivals.

With a reviving BJP in Uttar Pradesh, moreover, the coalition Mayawati had stitched together is falling apart with the Brahmin and Muslim voters she had attracted gravitating towards the BJP and Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party (SP) respectively. The underway “polarisation” of the electorate, precipitated principally by SP’s over-the-top strategy of wooing Muslim voters, is reflected in the SP member of parliament Kamal Farooqui’s astonishing charge that the recent arrest of the Indian Mujahideen founder Yasin Bhatkal was because he was Muslim and not a terrorist mastermind. A polarised electorate has, for the duration of the next general elections season, thus become irreversible. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ayodhya yatra fiasco, in this context, was a minor distraction, successful only in terms of alerting the majority community to the over-tilt in the approaches of the SP and Congress. This leaves Mayawati with her backward caste (BC) support base, part of which may be drawn to Narendra Modi’s BC roots burnished by his proven administrative acumen and political success. For reasons of UP politics, moreover, Mayawati may be pushed, post-elections, towards tying up with BJP.

These political developments have brightened BJP’s prospects, except for the habit of some of the current party leaders to score self goals and to try and trip up the only worthwhile leader with the chance to make good, the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi. Many of them may be experienced in the ways of parliament, but simply do not have the mass pull or reach and, more significantly, the ability and the rhetorical wherewithal to connect with the people in the elemental sort of way that Modi effortlessly does. The Congress party’s stratagem of using Gujarat Police DIG DG Vanzara’s resignation letter to implicate Modi in the “fake encounter” case is shoddier still, considering it has rendered the Intelligence Bureau’s modus operandi suspect and made fighting the terrorist menace hostage to its political objective of derailing Modi, whose candidature it fears.

The fact is BJP without Modi helming it seems bereft of new thoughts and policy ideas. Indeed, the parliamentary debates on the food security and land acquisition bills showed up BJP as Congress lite. If institutionalised access to food for the poor, for instance, was deemed a political imperative then it was incumbent on the parliamentary BJP leaders to have fleshed out the party’s own food security programme based on its Chhattisgarh model, worked out the financial liability aspects at least in skeletal terms, and mounted a sustained public campaign on its behalf in the months leading up to the monsoon session of parliament. It would have highlighted the hollowness of the Congress policy of merely bestowing the “right to food” without explaining just what quantum of financial resources would be necessary, how these would be mustered, and the manner in which the central government would help the states defray the massive expense. By forcing the ruling party to bend to the contours of its more practicable Chhattisgarh model-motivated programme, BJP could have legitimately claimed the laurels for the ensuing legislation, and enabled it to turn this issue into electoral gold, rather than reducing chief minister Raman Singh’s flagship Chhattisgarh scheme to a mere debating point.

Surely, it is the main opposition party’s duty to anticipate the agenda of the treasury benches and provide the people with alternative solutions on issues of national import and impact. This, unfortunately, BJP did not do. The irony of the absent right-wing policy alternative to the Congress’s usual unviable nanny-state populist spendthrift ideas is that a manifestly more thoughtful but politically far weaker Swatantra Party led by C R Rajagopalachari provided much richer fare by way of policy choices and political contestation to Nehru in the Fifties as did Piloo Mody to Indira Gandhi in the Sixties.

Narendra Modi’s outlining his “India First” philosophy predicated on economic growth and less government, less corruption but more efficient and effective administration to deliver good governance can be juxtaposed against Rahul Gandhi’s “celebrating” the “victory” offered by the land acquisitions bill to Odisha tribals opposing bauxite and iron ore mining. The contrast between Modi’s and Rahul’s visions, between prosperity spurred by opening up opportunities for economic growth, and meagre returns to a benighted people from a calculated policy of handouts to keep them dependent on mai-baap sarkar cannot be starker. Indians confront the clearest electoral choice since Independence.

[Published in the New Indian Express, Friday, September 6, 2013 at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, South Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Alternative to “default option”

  1. Vijaya Dar says:

    A Possible India in 2014

    The Congress Party that has ruled this country almost uninterrupted for the last 66 years has come to the end of its history; not in the manner Francis Fukuyama would have intended; who in 1989 had argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. Liberal democracy had reached the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution, and the final form of human government. The ideological evolution of the Congress Party, on the contrary, has been a reversal from liberal democracy at the dawn of independence, through later-Nehruvian socialism, Indira Gandhi’s fascism, and the current hereditary monarchy symbolized by Rahul Gandhi. In its search for continued political relevance the Congress Party has been treading exactly the opposite path of most of the world’s democracies. While we may agree that inequity and injustice has not been fully eliminated from the liberal democracies, the evolutionary process is continuing to look for a system that would deliver a society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings.

    Beginning with state capitalism and a license-permit Raj, the Congress, in its socialistic phase, used nationalisation of major industries like oil, coal, banks, airlines, etc., to channel funds to its populist schemes solely aimed at garnering votes at election times. Indira Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency in 1975 was the descent into fascism that her insecurities brought about. Theliberalization promised by Rajiv Gandhi never really materialized because he depended on advice on the same people who had been his mother’s confidantes. The opening of the economy in 1991 was brought about by an economic catastrophe, and a fortuitous chance of a member from outside the dynasty at the head of the government. A reluctant (and probably afraid) Sonia Gandhi had refused to lead the Congress after the brutal assassination of her husband. The return of the dynasty in 2004 was the beginning of the hereditary monarchic phase of the Congress.

    The party has now exhausted all the weapons in its armory. The National Food Security and the Land Acquisition bills were the last two arrows left in its quiver. Rattled, on one hand, by the uncovering of innumerable scams involving almost every member in the government, as also the son-in-law of the party President, and the spectre of Narendra Modi on the other, it found it expedient to shoot these two weapons in unseemly haste. For good measure it has also promised to divide Andhra, and is now toying with the idea of making Hyderabad a Union Territory. The above events are the reason why I am hopeful of believing that the Congress has now come to the end of its history and a new India becomes possible in 2014.

    India at the dawn of independence came to be governed by the Congress who drew its support mainly from the two classes of the big bourgeoisie and the landed gentry. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, writing in his book, “The Indian Big Bourgeoisie: Its Genesis, Growth and Character” says that “much of the capitalist industry that developed in India did so not in the strongest contradiction with the policies of imperialism but mostly on a comprador basis.” According to Ghosh, the big bourgeoisie was “never hostile to foreign capital either before or after the transfer of power. It sought not independent capitalist development but development as a subordinate partner of imperialist monopolies.” The Congress depended on these subordinate partners of the imperialist monopolies and therefore, could not evolve into a liberal democratic party once the successor of Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri died in mysterious circumstances at Tashkent. Shastri, in his brief tenure of about twenty months, had begun to direct the Congress away from the Nehruvian socialistic pattern; and had he survived the Congress would not have regressed into fascism and hereditary monarchy. The installation of Indira Gandhi brought the subordinate classes back into power that gave rise to retarded, misshapen, lopsided economic and social structures.

    The Anna Hazare movement marks the beginning of that phase in the development of a liberal democratic system in which the working class seeks unity with the peasantry in order to overthrow the ruling classes at the centre. The reaction of the Congress and the other entrenched political parties, predictably, has not seen the movement as an electoral threat, and hence has felt no pressure to jettison the structure of electoral democracy. The Congress is confident that it can manipulate the electoral system to its advantage as it has done in the past. If the Anna Hazare movement had been perceived as a real electoral challenge to the ruling dispensation, the Congress would have declared another emergency and discarded the system of electoral democracy. Since the movement was not perceived as a conscious coming together of the working classes and the peasantry, the Congress has been able to crush it by unleashing its repressive forces – legal as well as illegal, while retaining the facade of a democratic structure.

    However, the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party with a liberal democratic structure that is not dependent on the big bourgeoisie or the landed gentry is the first significant challenge to the hegemony of the Congress and the other parties that are in essence no different from it. The Left, of course, has made itself completely irrelevant by aligning with the same “retarded, misshapen and, lopsided economic and social structures” that were the legacy of Indira Gandhi. The Congress has rightly seen Narendra Modi as its biggest opponent in the 2014 elections and has emptied its arsenal by firing the NFSB and the Land Acquisition Bill with a view to bribe the working and peasant classes to vote for it. The attempt at breaking the new-found unity of the two has received the unanimous support of the current members of Parliament and the bills have been passed without any meaningful discussion. The Congress believes that with these two weapons it will be able to negate the challenge of Modi and come back to power at the head of a coalition when it will anoint the crown prince as the hereditary dynastic monarch. The BJP, on the other hand, has found it expedient to endorse the two bills, as it too is complicit in the breaking of the unity of the working and peasant classes. Modi, if nominated to lead the BJP as its Prime Ministerial candidate, may be able to cobble together a coalition at the centre riding on the total disillusionment of the electorate with the blatant corruption and the misuse of power by the UPA. But, for Modi to survive, he will have to not only distance himself from the overtly religious agenda of the RSS and its offshoots, but to begin the process of dismantling the bureaucratic structure that the British left as a legacy and that was wholeheartedly adopted by Nehru on the advice of Patel. In this task he should find an ally in the Aam Aadmi Party, whose liberal democratic agenda is a natural progression of politicalevolution.

    The psephological reports that are emerging predict a creditable performance by the Aam Aadmi Party, and if it wins Delhi, it will be the beginning of a new phase of electoral democracy in India. The mandir, masjid conflicts have been created and kept festering by the deliberate policy of keeping the common people divided to the benefit of the ruling classes. The end of the Congress at the centre will diminish its patronage of the divisive forces represented by almost the entire political spectrum from the North to the South and from the West to the East. If Modi does not get the support of his party and is confined to Gujarat, the chances of UPA-3 become most likely. In that case, the Aam Aadmi Party will be the only beacon of liberal democracy, and its ranks will continue to swell and it will eventually supplant the reactionary coalitions across the country. In any case, the Congress, having completed its turnaround from liberal democracy to hereditary monarchy, will have no more weapons in its arsenal and will inevitably enter the phase of terminal decline from which it will not be able to recover. That, in short, is the possible India I foresee in 2014.

    Vijaya Dar

    PS: If India is a computer, then the Congress Party is a “virus”

  2. Garg says:

    I worry if dynastic rule in India is a trick to bankrupt this country. India needs better vision and capable leaders. Socialist policies (without empowerment leading to better productivity) will only lead to fiscal doom (and probably military doom).

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