Back to the future: India chooses the middle path (Comment)May 23rd, 2009 - 9:20 am ICT by IANS
By Amulya Ganguli
The Congress’ victory in successive elections, and that too with more seats and higher voting percentage on the second occasion, means that the country has returned to the safe and sound middle path.
Both the earlier lurch to the right and the recent dogmatism of the Left have been negated. Instead, the familiar moderation of the Congress with its emphasis on secularism and modernity has received a vote of confidence from a discerning electorate.
This is not the first time that voters have acted wisely. As their rejection of Indira Gandhi in 1977 for her oppressive Emergency, and their disillusionment with the Congress in the mid-nineties showed, they have always been shrewd judges of politicians and parties.
The Congress lost favour in those periods for two reasons - the taints of authoritarianism and corruption and the inept attempts, first, to please Islamic fundamentalists by overturning the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano verdict on alimony for Muslim women and then cozying up to Hindu militants by unlocking the Babri Masjid gates.
These blunders helped in the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its combative pro-Hindu agenda.
But, as the latest electoral outcome shows, it didn’t take long for the fascination with xenophobic politics to wear thin. The ordinary people evidently have no time for the demonisation of the minorities, which is the cornerstone of the BJP’s policies.
Similarly, the Left has suffered a precipitous fall from its 60-odd Lok Sabha seats in 2004 to 24 now. What is more, its strongholds in both Kerala and West Bengal have crumbled. The setback in West Bengal is all the more devastating for the comrades because of their 30 years of dominance in the state. Now, there is a distinct possibility of the communists losing the assembly elections as well.
The reason why both the Left and the Right have been rejected so comprehensively is the common man’s abhorrence of extremism. As a result, neither the BJP’s cynical exploitation of Hindu religious sentiments nor the Left’s blind anti-Americanism, as was evident in its opposition to the nuclear deal, secured the voters’ approval.
On the question of the nuclear deal, the BJP may have shot itself in the foot by perversely opposing it even while clarifying that it was not anti-American. Evidently, the party was against it only because the Congress was for the measure, thereby demonstrating that national interest had little meaning for the BJP despite all its chest-thumping patriotic rhetoric.
The Left’s opposition to the economic reforms showed that its faith in the tax-and-spend, public sector-dominated socialism remains undiminished although the wooing of the private sector by West Bengal’s Marxist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was a sign that at least some of the comrades had woken up to the values of the market forces.
In contrast to these ideologically-driven parties - one hoping to provoke and use Hindu animus against the minorities for its success and the other banking on a dead doctrine - the Congress presented a picture of reasonableness.
Its follies may relate to the misuse of the governor’s office and of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for partisan purposes, but these were minor foibles compared to the officially-patronised anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, for which BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi and several of his ministers are facing an inquiry conducted under the Supreme Court’s supervision.
The Left’s persistent obstructionism on the economic front, which could not but hamper the growth rate, was also apparently a more substantial offence in the eyes of the electorate along with its attempts to scuttle the nuclear deal, which would have pleased India’s two inveterate enemies, Pakistan and China, if the comrades had succeeded.
It is worth noting that the latest rejection of the BJP has come after the voters gave the party a chance to rule at the centre for six years from 1998. But the party failed to make any permanent gains because it had no one other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee to pursue a line of moderation, which included his attempts as prime minister to initiate a peace process with Pakistan by undertaking a bus journey to Lahore.
However, as Vajpayee later ruefully pointed out, it was the Gujarat riots which led to the BJP’s defeat in 2004. Five years later, and after another more substantive defeat, Yashwant Sinha, who was a minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet, regretted that it was the absence of the former prime minister during the BJP’s campaign which was responsible for its setback.
Even if this comment was a dig at the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani’s inadequacies as a propagandist, Sinha’s point is valid - that only a moderate line can succeed in multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual India.
Since the Congress, as a big tent party, favours neither the domination of one community or the pursuit of a doctrinnaire economic line, it has always been the natural party of governance while the Left and the Right belong to the periphery.
The Congress had lost its way in the nineties because of corruption and the absence of an inspirational leader after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. But, now, the leadership vacuum has been filled by the troika of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. They also have a fairly competent team comprising, among others, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram.
The Congress, therefore, is back in business while its opponents are licking their wounds.
(23.05.2009-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Tags: abhorrence, amulya ganguli, assembly elections, bharatiya janata party, disillusionment, distinct possibility, dogmatism, electoral outcome, indira gandhi, islamic fundamentalists, lok sabha seats, mid nineties, middle path, muslim women, precipitous fall, shah bano, strongholds, taints, vote of confidence, west bengal