Every general election shifts the national paradigm a bit. The Lok Sabha election is at least four months away, but the shifting has already begun with the recently concluded assembly elections in five states. The outcome has thrown up several pointers to the shift; it is up to us to make what we can of them.
First, it marks the
rise of urban politics. The stunning success of the Aam Aadmi Party
(AAP) signals the arrival of the urban discourse into national politics.
This implies the breakdown of identity politics of yore.
example, Mayawati, she of the iron-clad Dalit vote bank, had two seats
and a 14 per cent vote share in 2008 Delhi assembly elections. This time
her BSP drew a blank.
The key to this urban constituency is its burning desire to move up in the world and its refusal to take things lying down.
Whether it is price rise, an incident of rape, police high
handedness, people in cities are quick to take to the street and express
their views. At the same time, they want better education, better
transport, cleaner environment, jobs and reasonable healthcare systems.
They do not have the fortitude, or shall we say, the fatalism, of
their rural cousins who have, till now at least, been fobbed off by
Of course, whether such a polity emerges,
depends on whether the AAP can replicate itself in the other urban
centres of the country. They would be well advised to focus on the urban
areas rather than countryside in the short time available till the
Rahul Gandhi’s ability to replicate the
AAP effect in the Congress is debatable, principally because he seems to
lack a fire in the belly. Without that you cannot really carry out
Second, this marks the end of
indiscriminate welfarism. The real Congress-killer was the sustained
inflation in the country for the past three years, in particular food
inflation, manifested most recently through the volatile prices of
commodities like onion and tomatoes. This, in turn, arose from the
government’s inability to curb fuel and fertilizer subsidies. And,
indeed, pay out huge sums as support prices for wheat and rice, whereas
they should have undertaken policies to encourage agriculture to be more
profitable and sustainable.
Third, and linked to this,
people want real change, not merely a promise of one. The Congress party
had, somewhat disingenuously, gone on a spree of passing legislation
promising anything and everything to everyone. Beginning with the Right
to Information Act, they took up the Right to Education, the Rural
Employment Guarantee Act, and were building up towards the mother of all
acts, a promise of subsidised food to most of this country’s massive
population. Along with this were promises of low-cost housing, free
medicine, and so on.
Many of the schemes did not really work
and the subsidies did not reach the intended recipients. What people
would really prefer are policies that provide them education of a
quality that equips them for real jobs and policies that create them.
The self-esteem that comes with standing on your own feet is something
that the welfarist Congress party has never understood.
one would argue against the need for the state to ensure health,
education, nutrition and gender equality for those who lack them. The
issue is just how this should be done. Some argue that growth must have
primacy, because only then you can have the resources to invest in
subsidies and welfare schemes. Others counter that without a healthy and
educated populace, there will be no growth.
The issue really
is balance, and this is where the Congress has failed, because it did
not use its 10 years in power to seriously promote manufacturing and
investment in the country, the only way in which the huge demand for
employment can be met. Indeed, the UPA undertook policy measures that
scared off investment, and on the other hand, it squandered a huge
amount of resources on welfare schemes that had little yield in terms of
Fourth, it marks yet another step in the
regionalisation of our politics. It is clear now to the Congress party,
that in a country of the size of India, you can only function if you
have strong regional straps.
Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh
Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Narendra Modi are proof of this. In this
context, Narendra Modi’s call for a debate on Article 370 should be
taken seriously and linked to an earlier perspective of the BJP, as
expressed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that such an article should define
the relationship of all the states of the Union with the Centre.
Fifth, the outcome cannot really be seen as a definite statement of the electorate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP got the advantage of the deep anger of the people against the
Congress party, but, while Modi was one channel of this anger, so was
Despite Modi’s efforts, the party’s performance in
Delhi and Chhattisgarh was less than emphatic. As it is, it has done
well, spectacularly so in Rajasthan and MP, in an area where it was
already a major force.
There has clearly been a Modi effect
in the assembly polls, but but whether or not there is a Modi wave in
2014 will depend on just how the BJP uses the momentum it has now
Mid Day December 10, 2013