As the election process was on, I mentioned to some friends that I would pity the voter if they prove our assessments correct. Rightfully they have proved every known evaluator, surveyor, self-acclaimed analysts and even political parties wrong. They have proved the electorate is supreme and is not guided by any of them.
This is the beauty of Indian electorate. They have done it a number of times. In the recent history they have been doing it in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa and even Andhra Pradesh.
The electorate has definitely better understanding of the political situation that any analyst. It speaks of the maturity of the electorate, who does not even demure to help understand a trend.
This is a severe, though not the first, lesson for the media in particular and so-called psephologists. I am not surprised that it has also proved all astrologers wrong.
There were very few who had given the near-correct picture. One was a journalist friend, KV Lakshman, who gave the figure of 126 for BJP and 152 for the Congress. He had a caveat—BJP might have a few fewer seats and Congress a few more than the assessment. It was almost the opposite of another friend Anil Maheshwari who had given 35 seats to BJP in UP and predicted clean sweep for the NDA. This is just to cite the wide differences that the analysts or political observers had.
The media at least has not seemingly learnt its lessons. Soon after the polls they have gone on proclaiming it as a defeat of the BJP and victory of the Congress. By numbers they are absolutely right.
The Indian political situation is, however, very different to have such simple observations. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN was near correct. He said that it was surge for the Congress from areas, like West Bengal, Kerala, Orissa and North East where the BJP does not exist. Yes, BJP has lost turf in Rajasthan and could not gain much in UP.
It has proved all those, who asked how could a party without enough seats from UP would be able to form government, right. It has also proved once again that the national party who gets support from UP forms the government at the Centre. When one says UP, he needs to include Uttarakhand as well.
This is where the analysis should start. The electorate voted for the strong national party, whichever was available to them in different states. There was yet another aspect. This explains the march to federalism. The electorate chose the best governing party in different places. It did not mind overwhelmingly voting for the same party in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Orissa. They voted the way they had in the Assembly Elections in Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.
In West Bengal they snubbed the ruling Left Front for their widespread failure in governance, perpetuation of a mafia culture and overall regression of the State in every sphere. The message in Kerala was no different. The two states questioned the vision of armchair general secretary Prakash Karat. The West Bengal electorate snubbed him also for his disrespect to the veteran CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee. It was regional pride that was hurt. Karat was biting the arm that was feeding him. It was West Bengal that had kept the CPM tally and pride all these years. It is certain that CPM leadership would have to bear the brunt and a change in leadership is imminent.
The regional parties, often the media analysts proclaim, are seeing its last days as Samajwadi Party (SP), Telengana Ryatha Samithi (TRS), Janata Dal-S, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lokshakti, Akali Dal and many others have received drubbing. They forget that despite not a stunning show Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has increased its tally to 21 from 19 of 2004. The SP still is a force and all others have acumen to come back. It exemplifies that regionalism is not dead. There are always regional issues, which in this vast country has to be addressed – sometimes it gets manifest in caste at others in local pride.
The Congress has partially addressed this to better its tally. But there is a lesson that the media and the country needs to learn. The Muslim voters are still functioning in a block. If the Congress has improved its tally in most parts it is due to the Muslims and Dalits reposing their confidence in the party.
This is a key question that the political players need to answer. Dalits are looking for new pastures but have not yet deserted Mayawati’s BSP. If their trust is betrayed they can once again go back to her fold.
The BJP has not tried to build bridges with the dalits in UP so they had to move to Congress. It is just the opposite in Gujarat, Karnataka, MP and Chhattisgarh. The Dalits and tribals have solidly stood with the BJP.
Mamata’s Trinamol could easily lure the Muslims as they found the Left is no more for their cause. That is how they perceived Nandigram. Mamata emerged there as “matir manush” – grassroot leader. Since Congress was its ally, it also benefitted.
There is lesson for BJP here. It remained a mute spectator during the Singur agitation and did only intellectual meets and analysis away from West Bengal. It had five years to it but it did not try to create a space for itself in West Bengal Nationally too the BJP’s criticism of the government was not sharp. It must play the Opposition and tell the people about the actual functioning and approach of the government.
This is time for introspection. Political space for any party is not absolute. The new government has immense task ahead of it. Next time it would be judged by its own performance and not that of the allies. It has to tread very cautiously and carry all. That is the difficult task. Everyone wishes the national parties well. But they have to perform and expand their base in real terms. Each time they cannot be benefitted by default.
The BJP has to be more wary of the situation. If it does not it is in the danger of losing its bases in the states where it is in surge now. Rajasthan should be a pointer in this. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are the next staring at them. The party’s strength is its deep-rooted ideological approach and an honest leadership. Hindutva has not gone against it, wherever the party has strong political presence at the grassroots.
During past two decades it has been able to consolidate in six states – Karnataka, Chhattishgarh, MP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
It has lost wherever there was internal bickerings be it UP, Uttarakhand or Rajasthan. It lost Andhra, where in 1998 it had 18 per cent votes to coalition politics, aligning with Telugu Desam Party. It has not been able to expand in Maharashtra, Punjab, Orissa and Bihar for adherence to “coalition dharma”. It is not trying to create the base in fertile grounds of North-East or as mentioned in West Bengal.
The country needs an alternative national political party. But that cannot surge ahead on the strength of allies. It has to create the strength within, have the numbers and the rest would just happen.
Has the Congress done that? Partially definitely. It has created euphoria that it could deliver and in all those areas where it did not have challenge from a national party they could snatch votes from the regional or localised parties. The Congress is emulating BJP in creating a cadre. It knows for a longer sustenance at the national level, they need dedicated workers and not euphoric members who hop in and out.
Any national party needs to learn that. Difference in a political party is natural. If it is channelised it yields results. But the difference should not come to its destruction. Elections are won and lost but each victory and defeat should end up further expanding the base. The party which does not, ends up stagnating. The mantra is expansion of the party at national level. The sister organisations’ strength should be synergised. The party needs to talk at all levels. It has space and certainly it can expand.
(The writer is senior journalist and analyst.)