The winner takes all in this election game as in a Russian roulette. And the ifs and buts of history are scattered around for the academicians to analyse like the hidden clues in a forensic investigation. But I am not going into the numbers game as all the political astrologers and the private practitioners of the game have eaten the dust.
For the first time in half a century the Marxists have been right in admitting their wrong. Their politburo has said post-election that the Third Front that their leadership floated with such passion was “neither credible, nor viable”. In reality, the joker in the pack was that Third Front of such disparate elements and personal power-seekers as Jayalalithaa and Mayawati, each one with her own bloated importance and assorted others with their limited agenda.
Prakash Karat, who had Dr Manmohan Singh twisted around his thumb in the first four and half years of the UPA rule, set up this Third Front game hoping to field such a combine of contradictory elements that they would all be at his doors every second day for the saving formula as they fight among themselves—reminding us of the days of the Janata Dal-led governments of 1996-1998, which were put together and sustained by Karat’s predecessor.
That the Third Front would be “neither credible nor viable”, even an infant in politics could discern. And the Marxists are not kids, nor Karat a babe in the wood. They wanted this unviable combo to rise to power because that way the Left could still dictate the terms and Karat could be the kingmaker as Surjeet had been for two years in the mid-90s. The Karat dream of enabling communists to dominate the power structure even though they have just three states out of 28 under their influence came tumbling down like Jack and Jill in the nursery rhyme when the electorate—the wise Indian electorate—pulled the rug from under the Third Front. In fact the idea of the country being ruled by the combo of dog-eating-dog so scared the people that they went all the way to ensure that the right to rule would go to a single national party.
The countrywide scare at the Third Front pack was so wide spread and so troubled the people that they went overboard, it seemed. Just like in 1977 when they evicted the Congress from power using the Janata Party and then in 1980 they punished the Janata Party for its bickering with clean sweeps. Even the most knowledgeable among the Congress leaders did not expect anything beyond 160 to 180 for the party by itself and maybe 200 or 215 with its remaining allies. Scared by the prospects of continuous instability of ever-changing governments, the people did not want to leave anything to chance.
Public memory is not so short as to forget that the Deve Gowda-led government lasted one year, the successor Gujral government another 12 months—and before that the VP Singh government just 11 months and the Chandra Shekhar breakaway rule hardly five months. And that Prakash Karat was threatening the Dr Singh-led government with overthrow every second day, the public anxiety at any tottering ruling combine was understandable and their choosing a largely stable one a tribute to their political sagacity.
It may be difficult for the BJP, which has been relegated to the second position, to be satisfied at the over-all scenario. But if it has the national vision of a two-party system in the country that was threatened by a fractured politics, its leader must thank God that it has all worked out this way. Don’t look at your own loss in the finals, look at all the others who have been swept away, leaving the board uncluttered by the Mayawatis, the Jayalalithaas, Chandrasekhar Raos, the little satraps and the big bullies, the tails that seemed to wag the dogs and the dogs that barked but had no teeth to bite. See what has happened to the PMK and MDMK for instance—Vaiko wanted Indian army to march into Sri Lanka, a most unwise act at this juncture and PMK’s Dr. Ambumani while in power had the entire medical community humbled to exasperation, riding to power with a community-based agenda. Little kingdoms like Telengana have been shown to be a personal agenda and big dreams like India being ruled from Lucknow and all the corners chock-a-block with statues of the queen crashed cutting to size bloated egos. It is India that has won, not so much the Congress. We now have a government that has no excuses to offer.
India winning is not a rhetoric. The decisive defeat of the extremist agenda in Kerala—an agenda that the Marxists had supported and paraded—is a huge gain. The Kerala Muslim dominated-areas have rejected the Madhani game specifically in the Ponnani constituency where the Marxists were willing even to rub their other Left allies on the wrong to woo the Islamic extremism. In UP the Amar Singhs and the Mayawatis who competed for the so-called Muslim vote bank were disappointed; and in J&K separatists and the semi-separatists were all eliminated with the moderate NC back in the reckoning.
In the final count the Indian polity has now a chance to work out a largely two-party system between the Congress and the BJP. This is the huge gain from the election. To see this election as an endorsement of one party and defeat of the other is to overlook the larger picture. One of the two national parties has the baton, the other the lynx-eyed vigil. Next time the two could change places. In the over-all picture a few exceptions may be there like Bihar and Orissa where the good image of the local leader has won an encore eclipsing the national trend. But India is not a Nano, even though the Tata product has caught the popular imagination; it is an omnibus. The test is whether the vehicle would be working, whether there is one driver for each vehicle and whether it is over-all efficient for the journey ahead taking its motley crowd along.
For the BJP, which must now sit in the opposition for five years, the challenge is to understand the demographic reality of the country and the dividend it can gain from a wider appeal. The last set of elections since 2006 have established that people by and large have moved from assertion to aspiration. In so many newspaper reports on the election scene there were mentions of villagers wanting education in public schools, English medium, and beauty parlours in slums, big buck jobs, quality goods and better life. The satellite television today reaches out to 80 million homes, a good part of it in rural areas and in poorer localities. It is transforming attitude and values. Except Bangalore, all other metros have voted for the Congress and also the cities and the large towns. The Congress had its first triumph in 20 years in the rural areas of eastern UP.
The BJP can also draw a lesson from the refusal of the electorate to put security before all other issues while its own campaign was all on its claim as the party that can secure India against terrorism. It could have foreseen that the Kandahar event would damage its main thrust in this election as a party that can secure India and settled first its own internal contradiction on who did what in that 10-year-old story.
It seems that the bulk of the Muslim community now wants to distance itself from linkage to terror—defending lawyer of the Mumbai terror accused Kasab was evicted by the Muslim Gymkhana—and aspirational agendas are making a dent among Muslim common people as they see other communities going forward through education, jobs for women and acquiring of modern skills rather than the traditional ones. Ponnani, Nandigram, Kishenganj, Jammu, so far away geographically and culturally, have just one lesson in common: everybody wants a pan-national agenda. Political parties that reinvent themselves like the Labour did in UK return to power. The big lesson of history is that people should not be prisoners of history itself.
(The writer is a senior journalist.)