A Matter Of Economics
The Congress conducted the campaign as a classic royal carnival
By Dr R. Balashankar
It is often said that every election is both a leveller and a lesson. The tragedy, however is we get wiser only after the event. And the wisest are the lot who have never fought an election or participated in strategising one. We hacks dish out reams of advice and suggestions to the political class which they discard with understandable disdain.
So this is not a page on the dos and don’ts for politicians. Only a humble observatory of events and trends as it occurs in development economics. The enthusiasm of the youth, partly propelled the high voter turnout. Remember, all the five states that went to polls boasted of a 7.5 plus economic growth, surpassing the national average. There was strong anti-incumbency as demonstrated in these states in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. Media projections gave an easy win to Congress, even suggesting a reiteration of the 2009 mandate which would strengthen the UPA regime. Which as a consequence would have cemented the Sonia Pariwar.
History tells us, the biggest danger to a seemingly invincible authority is its tendency to take goodwill for granted. Many great regimes and personalities have tripped and fallen prey to this innate tendency of leadership. In a democracy, the people like to be coaxed, cajoled, wooed and made to feel important. They don’t like to be taken for granted. Post globalisation, most Indian politicians think the party an industry and corporatise politics, outsource events and hope to manage election. For instance, Priyanka Vadra’s poll tourism with the entire retinue evoked mirthful media attention. But the unfortunate, melancholic voter likes leaders to be in regular touch, often visiting in the interim period between polls, fighting for them, sharing their agonies and angst, deliver the best possible way and doing it simply, honestly, if possible but making sure the effort was sincere. The days of reigning Queen visiting in pomp and show are over.
The victory of Mulayam Singh Yadav, more correctly Akhilesh Yadav is easier to grasp in this light. SP was the only party on the street in the last five years. One had to really search for the BJP to confirm its existence in UP. The defeat of Mayawati too, the 7.6 per cent growth considered— in fact, Mayawati ushered in the growth era in UP—is better understood in this context. People want to bring politics back to its roots, as a medium of service, a mission of change and a commitment to a promise. Arrogance and hauteur kill the politician. People often fail in their own judgment because, after all, they have to cherry pick from the available basket.
The country is sick and tired of Sonia Pariwar, which has been taking us for granted for too long. The Pariwar may not change. But they got the message. For the first time in the last two decades, first the son, then the mother, though briefly, hesitantly, met the media, through which the nation to admit that they too are accountable. Blaming hangers on won’t work. Take a little blame, at a time the nation is baying for blood. Congress misrule, price rise, corruption, greed and avarice of the Sonia Pariwar have now become the common talk.
That the Congress was rejected in state after state and that it could not even hold on to its family turf of Rae Bareli and Amethi, in UP expose the extent of people’s revulsion. All the family minions, their spouses, sons, daughters, in-laws and friends—more than half the party list was made up of them—have lost. The 22 Lok Sabha seats the Congress won in 2009, produced only seven MLAs.
When the polls were notified in early January, psephologists had predicted that the national mood against corruption and the central government’s non-performance notwithstanding, the elections to five states will prove a vote against the opposition and strengthen the Congress. It was even suggested that the Congress will not only retain power in Goa and Manipur but snatch it from the Akali-BJP in Punjab and BJP in Uttarakhand making it more emphatic with a sterling performance in UP with Rahul donning the cardinal role. The entire media focus in Uttar Pradesh was fixed on the Sonia Pariwar poll itinerary, as if it was a prelude to dynasty’s coronation ceremony. One crony went so ecstatic that he declared Rahul can become Prime Minister overnight. The contempt for democratic finesse became so brazen in the run up to the election that some Union Ministers made tasteless snide remarks about their own Prime Minister . They took up a full- fledged battle with the Election Commission. All in the patronisingly protective shadow of the heir apparent who was out on the road show for a final conquest. The Congress conducted the campaign as a classic royal carnival. Arrogance of power, a desire to project the Sonia Pariwar above the state, the centre, the government and the system was in full play. The media played along, ignoring every other contender—the BJP was written off—not mentioned in passing. Thankfully, may be because of Mulayam Singh’s well known proximity to the corporate and his capacity to cultivate the media the Samajwadi Party and Akhilesh Yadav got a toeing press. In the later stages, Mayawati also opened her purse strings.
Be it Rahul, Priyanka or Sonia or their innumerable courtiers like Digvijay, Beni Prasad, Salman or Rita what was clearly missing was the touch of democratic reticence. They spoke as if, the state Chief Ministers are misusing and squandering away the largesse from the royal treasury. “The money that we sent”, (for NREGS, NRHM, development) used to be the refrain in which the Sonia Pariwar spoke. They forgot, it is the tax payers money. The Congress is promoting nepotism and corruption throwing our hard-earned money down the drain on wasteful fancy schemes to create captive vote-banks. They, hastily utter a few incoherent, cynically polemical propositions, neither making head or tail to the visibly servile media as if it were a great favour. And dutifully, the media gives them saturation coverage. “All the ten” (from the family turf) Priyanka declared condescendingly before the poll. The outcome is a clear rebuff. Congress could not win a single seat in Sonia’s Lok Sabha constituency, which many predict the daughter was eager to contest next time.
Sanjay Singh, Congress leader from Amethi, whose wife Ameeta Singh is one of the defeated candidates from there is correct when he said, the Congress could no longer get votes in the name of the family. Times have changed, he said. A late dawn of realisation for the Congressmen?
The winnability, vote-catching capacity of the Sonia Pariwar was never put to such close scrutiny as now. Congress itself staked everything on this.