The results of the recent elections to the Lok Sabha have come as a great surprise all round, both for the victors who think they have won a lottery and hit the jackpot, as well as others who feel they have been let down. They are all looking for likely reasons why they have won or lost, though real reasons may not be so apparent. Here, in the form of a dialogue, is an attempt to raise and answer some of the questions that have been thrown up in what is touted as a historic exercise in the world’s largest democracy that is India:
Are you surprised at the results of the election?
No, I am not, though it didn’t quite go the way I expected. I expected the smaller parties to be completely wiped out and the field left only for the two major parties viz. BJP and Congress. That is more or less what happened but the Congress got far more seats than I hoped for or expected.
Are you really sure the smaller parties have been wiped out, as you put it?
Not quite, but they are on the way to extinction. Look at the way the Lalus and the Mulayams, not to speak of the communists, are behaving. There is total silence in their quarters as if their big mouths have been shut right and proper. We haven’t got a pip out of Karat, who before the polls, was all over the place, as if he was going to be the next Prime Minister. They are a spent force, just as I had anticipated, without any clout and will certainly be wiped out in the next poll, mark my words.
What makes you think so?
India is moving slowly and surely towards a two-party system. After experimenting with all kinds of coalitions, people have decided they want only two parties, like all major democracies, including United States and Britain. They don’t want jokers like Lalu and Mulayam Singh, nor pretentious phoneys like Karat & Co. You have seen the way the Marxists behaved during the five years that they said they were supporting the government. But you can’t support a government and at the same time oppose it, just for the sake of publicity. And the voters cut them down to size.
The Lalus, the Mulayams, the Mayavatis, and of course, the Pawars in Maharashtra have no role to play in today’s politics. Lalu virtually destroyed Bihar during the ten years that he was in power and he was trying to destroy the country from the centre when he was dislodged from power. Ditto with Mulayam & Co which thinks it is the great protector of Muslims but the Muslims have turned their backs on him, They do not want Mayavati also.
What about Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress?
There was no opposition to the Communists until Mamata came on the scene. The Congress, under softies like Pranab Mukherjee had become a B-Team of the Communists. So the voters went all out and gave a big boost to Trinamool, increasing its strength from just one to 20. I won’t be surprised if in the next assembly poll, Mamata trounces the Marxists and captures the Writers’ Building. Whether at the centre or in the states, people want a strong opposition. That is what democracy is all about.
Let us come back to the centre. Whey do you think the Congress won?
It is not true to say that the Congress won. It got only 206 seats, that is less than 40 per cent of the total. It is true it won more seats than the BJP but that is just a fluke. Next time, the wheel will turn round, the BJP will get 206 seats, may be even 250 seats, and the Congress will be down to 100. But the BJP must play its cards well.
Are you against coalitions?
I am not but the country is. The country just does not believe in the so-called coalition dharma. It wants to give a free hand to a single party, either Congress or BJP, and ask them to get on with it. It has no use for small one-man outfits, which are like paan shops, and serve no purpose. In Maharashtra, many Congressman are saying that they do not want a tie-up with Sharad Pawar’s outfit and are keen to fight the assembly election on their own. I agree with them. Men like Pawar are opportunists and should be shown the door.
All great democracies in the world follow two party systems. Take America. There are only Democrats and Republicans and between them they decide the fate of the country. In England, you have Conservative and Labour. Before the war, there used to be Liberals, who even used to form the government, but they have virtually vanished from the scene. In Germany too, there are Liberals and Socialists. The voters everywhere prefer two parties only and they do not believe in coalitions.
What other factors influenced the poll?
Parties should have distinct identities. The voter should know whom and what they are voting for. If you call yourself Marxist, you should behave like Marxists. If you are a Hindu Nationalist, you should make it clear that is exactly what you are. That decides your character and your identity. If you are a Hindu Nationalist, you should not behave like a pseudo-secularist. We believe we can confuse and deceive the voter, but voters are not fools. They know who and what you are and they vote accordingly.
The voter must not be in two minds when he goes out to vote. You may spend a lot of money on slogans and TV jingles, but if they end up confusing the voter, they are no good. If the party itself is not clear in its mind about its identity, no amount of fancy TV ads will do, for you have already lost the battle, and then the war.
You think this is what happened?
To a certain extent, yes. The Congress is a clever party. It has no identity of its own, except an image created by its long history. But it stands for nothing in particular. It says it stands for development –a favourite word nowadays—but what is development? Are you sure all development helps the common man? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. They like to see roads being built, big buildings and flyovers going up, more cars and buses on the roads and of course, more railway stations and airports, but does everybody benefit in the long run?
We see everyday that the rich have become richer while the country, which means the common man has remained the poorest in the world. Our economic policy should emphasise this, but for some reason, this has not happened. Economic policy does not mean GDP and fiscal deficit and monetary policy; economic policy means how much of the benefits are reaching the poor, and how the gap between the rich and poor is widening. It also means educating the voter, something we were not able to do on a regular basis.
What about religion? Did it play a part?
Religion always plays a part, specially in a country like India. But, when we say we are Hindu Nationalists—and the whole world knows us as Hindu Nationalist—we should explain that this has less to do with the religion, than the fact that, Hindus are a nation, not just a religions denomination. And we have been a nation for thousands of years; otherwise, we would not have survived. This is where Hindutva comes in. Hindutva is not a religious doctrine, it is a political philosophy, like Marxism. If Marxists are secular, we are secular too.
But this has to be explained to the voter, who has been told that we are communal, because we call ourselves Hindus. But this is only a temporary phase. As the country gets richer, the voters, which means the citizens, do not give that much importance to religious issues, or, for that matter, racial issues. That is why a man like Barack Obama managed to get elected president of a country that is predominantly white, and also Christian. Obama says he too is Christian, but his background is so mixed, it is doubtful if the American voters, or at least some of them, really believe he is Christian. But despite that, he managed to defeat a white Christian Candidate like John Mackain, and one with such tremendous nationalist credentials. In another 20 or 30 years, religion will begin to play the same minor role in India that it does in such affluent countries as America and Britain.
It is said that Hindu Nationalists should try and expand their base by appealing to other than Hindus and playing down their own Hindu credentials. Do you agree?
My answer is no, they should not. This idea that you are only playing with number and you should try and expand your base by appealing to other communities sounds very logical on paper, but that is not how things work out in politics, or, for that matter, elsewhere.
One plus one does not always make two in politics. Sometimes, one plus one can be one, or even zero, if you are not careful.
Look at what is happening in England. For years, the Labour Party there has had the working class, which means trade unions, as its core constituency. In fact, the trade unions set up the Labour Party and brought it to where it is now. But as the British started getting rich and acquiring the habits—and incomes—of the middle class, they grew out of their trade unions, with the result that the Labour Party became increasingly the party of the middle class, of the bourgeois, and therefore more or less the same as the Conservative Party.
In fact, the younger members of the Labour Party are now closer to the Tories than to their own leaders, many of whom are trapped in their old socialistic habits. The result is turmoil in the Labour Party and its inevitable defeat in the coming poll. Tony Blair and others, but not George Brown, the current Prime Minister, began stealing the clothes of the Tories in the hope that they would be able to expand their base outside the Labour Party, but that is not what happened. Their own base contracted, and many of their old supporters drifted to Conservative Party.
Politics is not a static system, where things remain fixed in a given pattern, and you can add and subtract, as you do on computers.
This is precisely why poll predictions by the so-called pundits, who rarely stir out of their air-conditioned computer cells almost invariably turn out to be wrong. Not a single air-conditioned pundit, Call him ACP, was able to predict that the Congress would get as many seats as it did, or that the BJP would wind up with only a little less than 120. This is also what happened five years ago in 2004 when also the ACPs cut a sorry figure. If you want to know how things are moving, get out there in the open air and talk to the voters, instead of talking to machines, voters are men and women of flesh and blood, and their views tend to change this way or that by the minute. The pollster with their fancy theories and fancy talk picked up from Western tomes are the last people to guide you in such matters.
So how do you go about expanding your base?
The simple reply is, you don’t. It is not a sales drive in Wal-Mart. You mark down prices and hope the customers will come in. In expanding your base, you must take care of your existing core supporters, those people who have brought you where you are now, and hope more will come in if your policies are right and you are able to reach your potential audience.
The Marxists in Bengal also wanted to expand their base and take on new supporters from the business sector. So they tried to be friendly to businessmen, something they have never been able to manage, because businessmen hate communists, it is as simple as that. To please businessmen like Tatas, they went out of their way to acquire land from farmers, which the farmers resented. And because they could not deliver, Tatas walked out, and the Marxists lost at both ends. Hence their rout.
This is also happening in America. Barack Obama has gone all out to woo the Muslims and says, in so many words, that Islam is not America’s enemy, or America is not Islam’s enemy. In fact, he has said, in order to placate the Muslims, that America is not a Christian country, although it has lots of Christians, probably a big majority of Christians. He says that there are Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus in America, but they are so in their individual capacities. The country itself is not Christian.
Do you agree with his logic?
No, I don’t. You must remember that there cannot be a religion without religious people who subscribe to that religion. There can be no Islam without Muslims, and no Christianity without Christians. There can also be no Hinduism without Hindus, except as a bookish philosophy. Since there can be no religion without religious adherents, the number matter a great deal. And if the numbers form a majority, that determines the religion of that particular community or nation.
In trying to please the Muslims, Obama whose father was a Muslim is talking nonsense.
India is a Hindu country became the majority of Indians are Hindu. Otherwise, some Christians, and you know whom I am referring to, will get up one morning and say that India is not a Hindu country. In fact this is what they imply when they harp, on this secular business. It is a conspiracy. Soon, they will be denying the very existence of Hindus in India. This is the ultimate game and that is why I want a vibrant Hindu Nationalist Party to flourish in India. And only the BJP can do that. It is its mission, for what is involved is not who wins and who loses, but the very destiny of India.