BY and large the results of the elections to the respective state legislatures of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala had been expected and there was hardly any surprise. In West Bengal the demise of the Leftists was inevitable. In the first place they had been in power for too long. In the second place Mamata Banerjee proved to be an excellent street fighter who could meet Leftists on their own grounds, in the third place communism as an ideology had long lost its lustre and the time had come for it to die a natural death.
Lastly, arrogance and failure to meet peasant poverty had done it in. Didi was only an instrument of time, stern huntsman. But she would, however, do well to remember that even in defeat the Leftist forces had won 41 per cent of the votes – a fact that cannot be ignored. Not only has Mamata a job of assuring good government, she has an additional duty to wean these 41 per cent left-leaning voters from their fading legacy and thereby cleanse West Bengal of an alien ideology. She can also do equally well to realise that it was not she that won, but the Leftists who defeated themselves.
It was much the same in Tamil Nadu. It was not Jayalalithaa that won. It was the DMK that went all the way to commit suicide by its arrogance, deep rooted corruption and venality, and culture of dynastic patronage stifling the state’s public institutions. As in West Bengal, so in Tamil Nadu, the tired voter had only one option: the Trinamul in West Bengal, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. One additional thing in favour of both the ladies who won is that they are single. After them it’s the party they lead that would count, not a son or daughter to assume automatic leadership. But there is something disturbing about the elections. National parties like the Congress and the BJP are not making any showing, in the states which are becoming highly region or state-centric. Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul mattered, except in Assam where the voice of the Congress continues to prevail.
Rahul had hand-picked and fielded 41 Youth Congress candidates across five states and campaigned for them in a total of 15 rallies. But with poor results. Only 15 of them won, Assam topping the list with seven. Is the rise of regional parties at the cost of national parties good for the country? It may be argued that India is a democracy and the rise of regionalism is only to be expected. But what if regionalism leads to separatism? The very concept of DMK that somehow Dravidians are a separate people calls for deep introspection. When Shiv Sena leaders insist that Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians, one must wake up. Such concepts are damaging to the ultimate unity of the country and must be treated as such. The Tamilians will not only do themselves proud but will do the country itself a great favour if they bid goodbye to ethnicism. The narrow concept of cultural separatism has to be shunned in toto. Linguistic chauvinism can be even worse. It must be fought tooth and nail. Presently, the tribe of national leaders is slowly dying. LK Advani is probably the last of the lot. The point must be noted. For years Jawaharlal Nehru filled the slot. He was followed by Indira Gandhi and later, in an acceptable sense by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But fancy what happened in the turbulent post-Rajiv Gandhi years when non-entities like Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and VP Singh stepped into the Prime Ministerial throne to make a laughing stock of themselves? We need national leaders to give us a strength of oneness. Today all that we have are Jayalalithaas, Mamatas and their likes elsewhere. Who would come to listen to Jayalalithaa in Punjab or Jharkhand? For that matter would she draw an audience even in Tamil Nadu’s neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala?
Tarun Gogoi, the Ahomia-for-all-seasons is hardly known beyond Assam’s borders, even when he has set a record of sorts by winning three state elections in sequence. Think of others like Yeddyurappa, Prithviraj Chavan, Nitish Kumar or Narendra Modi. Of them all, only Modi has a national face, but for all the wrong reasons. Nitish Kumar did not even want him to step into Bihar to address election audiences. Can Jagmohan Reddy become a national leader? After all, he has created a record of sorts in a by-election in Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency, by winning by a huge margon. One often hears the optimistic note that the times will find the right leaders.
After all, it is asked, how many had heard of Barack Obama in the United States until he staked a claim for the nation’s presidentship? Or, for that matter, even in India how many were familiar with the name of Pratibhadevi Patil until she won the country’s presidentship? Fair enough, but do we have to wait for emergencies to get a leader of national standing? In pre-independence days there were any number of national leaders; even Lal Bahadur Shastri, for long an unknown face became a national figure following India’s victory in a war with Pakistan. But even then he was living under the shadow of Nehru. The presence of national leaders provide the ordinary people with a sense of assurance and security that somebody is there to look up to. The British people solved that problem a long time ago: they have a monarchy. India does not need a monarchy, but it is time all political parties give this issue some attention. National leaders don’t grow on trees, to be plucked in times of need or distress. They have always to be there, up front, to provide the right kind of leadership and be a source of strength. How one wishes people like Narayanamurthy or Ratan Tata make themselves available to lead the nation! If there is one lesson that the recent assembly elections have given to the country, it is that we need national – in contrast to regional – leaders more than ever. It is a call to all political parties but more especially to two of the leading parties, the Congress and the BJP. The message is: Create national leaders, as much for their own good as for the good of the country.