THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
So the State Assembly elections, much-awaited in five states, are over and relatively speaking, Congress has been given a resounding slap on its face. Except in Manipur where the Congress didn’t really have any meaningful opposition, Congress has lost heavily in Goa, predictably in Punjab, barely—just by one seat in Uttarakhand and shockingly in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party won by a thumping majority, bagging 223 seats out of 403, with the Bahujan Samaj Party limping behind with just 81 seats. It was a defeat which Mayavati so richly deserved. She was obviously deserted both by Brahmins and Muslims and it seems clear that the Samajwadi Party in its winning spree rose beyond caste and religious equations. Mulayam Singh Yadav, its ageing leader, is likely to be chosen as the Chief Minister but nobody should be surprised if he decided to hand over the reins of office to his son Akhilesh who has shown himself to be an excellent vote-gatherer.
The anguish in the Congress Party is there for all to see. Digvijay Singh, infamous for his brash political comments sounded like one totally cowed down, which indeed he was. And Rahul Gandhi, to whom the media gave the highest coverage during the entire electioneering period took the blame for his party defeat on himself, nothing that it has been “a very good lesson for him”. That, surely it is, but will he learn from it? It should break his heart to realise that in the Raibareilly and Amethi districts, Congress strongholds in the past, the party barely managed to win two of the ten seats despite the tremendous efforts not only Rahul Gandhi himself but also his sister Priyanka put Digvijay Singh, in charge of party affairs has taken the blame for the party’s poor doing on himself. One would imagine that there is more to the party defeat than just lack of state leadership. Was such leadership lacking in Goa where the party was in power? Home come the Congress could barely win nine seats to BJP’s 24? What is clearly evident is that the people have lost their faith in the Congress beyond all reckoning. One should not be surprised if Dr Manmohan Singh either resigns from the Prime Ministership or is quietly eased out. He has ceased to have any relevance. If these State Assembly elections are any indication of things to come when parliamentary elections take place in 2014, then a wise Dr Singh will seek political nirvana at the earliest. In any event his days as Prime Minister seem to be strictly numbered.
The truth is that the Congress as a party has lost its identity and if it wants to survive it will have to re-invent itself. The growing middle class is no longer enamoured of dynasticism. That should be obvious to all concerned. Not all the efforts of Sonia Gandhi, daughter Priyanka and son Rahul in their very traditional constituencies made any impact on the voter. It is not that Rahul Gandhi did not strive hard to make his presence felt. He has reportedly addressed more meetings than all his opponent put together did. That didn’t help.
The most stunning was the defeat of sitting MLA Amita Singh, wife of Congress MP Sanjay Singh in Amethi seat where she apparently lost by a margin of 8,760 votes. What does it say of Rahul’s popularity? Can he, for instance, compete with Akhilesh Yadav? Digvijay Singh does not like Rahul to be compared with Akhilesh, claiming that Rahul is a “national” leader, which Akhilesh is not. But even a so-called ‘national’ leader needs a sound state basis. The just concluded State elections show that in this department, the Congress heir-apparent has ceased to count much. What is more significant is that dynasticism has lost its charm and its attraction. Sonia Gandhi has become irrelevant. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi have slipped into history and their name and fame cannot any longer be banked upon. If the Congress does not realise it and make the necessary adjustments it is likely to many more heavily in the parliamentary elections that are not too far away. To win them the Congress must altogether present a new face both at the prime ministerial and party level. And it has just a couple of years more to make that adjustment. What needs to be noted is that a powerful new middle class has grown in the course of the last two decades which wants to be heard but not by a party burdened with dynasticism. When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi told a deaf and dumb Congress Party way back in 1946-47 that it must dissolve itself and assume a new life, he was not listened to. Gandhi correctly had surmised that a pre-Independence party had fulfilled the job it had undertaken and a new party must now carry forward the work of reconstruction and development unburdened by tradition. Jawaharlal Nehru would not listen; nor would Indira Gandhi. The old Congress has now attained nirvana and a new Congress is yet to be born. In that Congress neither a Sonia Gandhi nor a Rahul can have a leading place. It would need another Akhilesh. And that is the truth. Would Mayavati come back again? As is evident, not for the next five years. By then would a new Mayavati emerge on the political horizon? Shorn of arrogance and with a cleaner image? That is anybody’s guess. As of now the public has shown that it has had enough of her. Except in Goa, the BJP has not done too well, a fact presently recognised by its leaders. But they too have now to do some honest introspection.
Along with dynasticism, casteism too seems to be on its way out if the Samajwadi Party’s success means anything. With the growth of a new middle class the demise of the Left parties was only to be expected. What has been clearly shown by the state elections is that a new India has come into existence with its contours yet to be defined, but whose presence cannot be questioned. It needs to be carefully watched. The challenge it offers to all parties—and not just the Congress—has to be met with precision and it is a warning as much to the Congress as to the BJP which, let it be admitted, hasn’t done all that too well. The death of the Left was predictable but the Right will do well to restructure itself if it wants to survive. The state elections have sounded the right warning.