Watershed Politics

The results of the most fiercely fought general elections will be known by the day’s end. If, as expected, the Bharatiya Janata Party on the back of Narendra Modi’s tireless campaigning makes it anywhere near the magic figure of 272 seats in the Lok Sabha, it’ll be assured a smooth run in office, whichever other parties the National Democratic Alliance may choose to partner.

If NDA falls short—in the 210-230 seat range, the more amenable regional majors—especially Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and Navin Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, will put the Modi-led coalition across the victory threshold, rather than trust to the vagaries of the Third Front (TF) with such confidence and morale-sapping leadership aspirants as Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, and Mamata Banerjee. Moreover, because a TF government stitched together as an expedient will have a predictably short life, Messrs Jayalalithaa & Patnaik will be conscious of taint by association and how this could weaken them in their home ground.

To avoid this denouement is why the regional parties will take their chances with the NDA. It is better, they’ll reckon, to have a central government in hock to them in small and big ways, and which could be squeezed for financial subventions and other special treatment than to be left out in the cold for next five years. Indeed, given Modi’s track record of performance in government they may also fear a much stronger BJP, more entrenched in power at the Centre by 2019 and consolidated in their states and, hence, a tougher customer to deal with. Prudence, in the event, would dictate that they seek and sustain an early entente with Modi.

In fact, no matter what kind of coalition surfaces with BJP in the mix, Modi will lead it, and have the freedom to realise his agenda because this election has, in a sense, been a referendum as much on Modi as his agenda of small government, good governance, development, and of “India First” foreign policy. Indeed, Indian politics has reached a watershed. Henceforth, clean government and development will be the metric ruling parties whether at the Centre and in the states will be judged by. It also marks the beginning of the end of dynastic politics at all levels.

If the BJP is on the upside of the curve, the Congress party is sliding. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi in their attempts to shore up the family firm harked back to the freedom movement. Except this is Congress party (Indira) not the Congress party of yore and its history begins only in the mid-1960s after Indira Gandhi cleaved the original party. Worse, its time in government has been characterised by corruption and misrule and populist, deficit-rocketing, schemes. The latter day variant of Indira’s “Garibi Hatao” (Remove Poverty) slogan is the conferment of rights on the people Rahul Gandhi boasts of. The paradox is a welfare state can only be afforded by a country with strong economy. In Sonia Gandhi’s dispensation, however, the private sector—the engine of growth capable of generating jobs and resources—was throttled.

Why do the Nehru-Gandhis have antipathy towards the private sector? Because they have not experienced normal life having been maintained in style all along by the socialist state. For them, perceiving reality as other than Lutyens’ Delhi is difficult. And the world the Nehru-Gandhis inhabit is one where the conferment of rights by law automatically converts into goodies people can tap.

Indira Gandhi relied on her “kitchen cabinet” of Left-leaners to assist her. Predictably, just when India had built up a semblance of an industrial base and infrastructure in the Fifties, and she could have done a Deng Xiaoping by releasing the pent-up energies of the free market and the entrepreneurial genius of the people, Indira turned sharply Left in 1966 because the US denied New Delhi a promised financial grant. Her fashionable Bloomsbury ideology inherited from her father hardened into Soviet-style socialist attitude culminating inevitably in a stab at authoritarianism with the imposition of the Emergency in the mid-Seventies.

The point is that Rahul, Priyanka and Sonia Gandhi are products of that Sovietised mindset, where few prospered except the nomenklatura—the ruling family and people close to it, who lived high and well behind protective barricades. This unreal world was reflected in Rahul’s exasperatingly hollow and naive speeches during the election campaign and in Priyanka’s emergence as a thin-skinned politician even as old family retainers like M L Fotedar honed their sycophantic skills with hyberbole, labelling the 21st Century as “Priyanka’s Century”. Not so fast, Pedro!

The Congress faces a dim future because while a worshipful media spared her third degree interrogation about what Modi cleverly called the “RSVP—Rahul, Sonia, Vadra, Priyanka” model of economic growth, she’ll have to address the Robert Vadra issue—and how a lakh of rupees was transformed inside a few years into Rs 300 crore and ownership of a large land bank, which if monetised could rake in thousands of more crores of rupees for the Family. She cannot refute the root-charge that Vadra secured the generous deals because he is Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law and, as in Indira’s days, proximity to power was translated by the canny Saharanpur native into commercial profit even as Family members were indulgent. With Priyanka possibly stepping in to save the party as demanded by Congressmen clutching at straws, Vadra’s deals will take centre stage, too. And who knows what other secrets will tumble out under media glare?

Priyanka’s dilemma is this: If she owns up to Vadra’s deals, she’ll become a political liability for her party, and the dynasty will have to fold. She has the option of discarding her husband, as her grandmother did Feroze Gandhi. Touted as the new avatar of Indira Gandhi such ruthless action could burnish Priyanka’s reputation. She may survive even if she’ll never be free of the stigma of corruption. Where would his sister’s ascent, with the Vadra impediment removed, leave Rahul? Well, he never had the makings of a politician.

[Published in the New Indian Express on May 16, 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/Watershed-Politics/2014/05/16/article2226919.ece

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 Asian geopolitics, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Watershed Politics

  1. Guru says:

    Absolutely, Sir. History has an uncanny of repeating itself!

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