Monday, April 20, 2009

Not the Congress or the BJP, India needs an alternative

Not the Congress or the BJP, India needs an alternative
By Susenjit Guha

As the campaigning gets more bare knuckled, there is little likelihood that the Congress or the BJP---the principal national parties---would muster enough votes to form a government on their own.

While the Congress party has morphed from what it was a few decades ago, the BJP is trapped in a demonising ideology from which it does not want to wriggle out.

Instead of being a truly national party that it was earlier cutting across regions, castes, creeds and religion, the Congress ideology does not resonate anymore across the length and breadth of India . And the BJP’s obsession with building a Ram temple at Ayodhya as the defining issue of India and her identity does not have many takers.

Come poll time and the BJP will rake up the issue hoping the majority Hindus will take up the bait. And for the Congress, this election is all about making Manmohan Singh Prime Minister if the party or the UPA can win enough votes to form a government at the centre. His job would be to keep the seat warm for a member of the Gandhi family.

Dynasty and the politics revolving around a family have made the Congress what it is now.

Failing to work up the magic of yore, it has to play second fiddle nowadays to regional parties from different states and bank on their support in the event of emerging as the single largest party to form a government, way short of a two-thirds majority. It has been a slow process of slithering down the popularity charts as the party got increasingly bogged down with the urban middle class electorate. They form just 24% of India ’s population and the recent foreign as well as economic policies do not find favour with the majority of the population outside the ambit of 24%.

Taking for granted that the electorate or the people never mature politically---a common analogy of kings, queens and courtiers---the projection of a member of the Gandhi family as a future Prime Minister, comes naturally. There are venerable as well as far more accomplished Congress leaders who cannot aspire for the Prime Ministerial chair. If the primary aim is to keep the seat warm, then Manmohan Singh may be the last Prime Minister from outside the family every tine the Congress forms a government at the centre on its own or with allies. That is why criticizing ‘him’ is downsizing the nation.

Both the Gandhi siblings being young can outlast most present leaders who are under the sun. A mature electorate knows were the real power lies.

Is the Indian electorate not averse anymore to the medieval ideology of a family based supreme leadership as the majority is young and wouldn’t mind a young member of the Gandhi family taking over as PM in the election after this one? We don’t know yet, but will have to wait for the results of this election.

The TV channels favoring the Congress may show an audience of early 20 something’s with hands up when asked if they favored a young member of a Gandhi family as a future PM, but they all belong to the 24% electorate. And they are the ones synonymous with the shine and glitz of India . Having a large population, India ’s upper 24% is more than the total population of many developed countries and eclipse the reality that lies in the 76%.

Neither the N-deal nor the specter of a strategic relationship with the US can be taken for granted as the new US President is toying with a real time relationship with China . India had lost the initiative it had after the Mumbai attacks and it might be forgotten as the Taliban inches closer to Islamabad .

And if security is the issue, then the Mother India concept of a majority of the people got rattled. It was not that her sari was not long enough to drape her, but she was caught unclothed during the Mumbai attacks. Despite some pinpointed intelligence reports, security could not be ramped up. Kandahar hijack involved hundreds of innocent Indian lives that required saving.

And the fond obsession of the majority of India ’s middle class with the US may wane when job prospects in the IT sector in mainland US evaporate.

Coming back to the BJP, demonizing minorities will continue to be the principal lodestar. The basis of the agenda is about mobilizing Hindu votes. It is about division not inclusion as we heard the estranged member of the Gandhi family speak. And if it is towards inclusion, it has to be on ‘Ram’s’ terms.

Can Indians really stride the 21st century with either of them? Should not a far more egalitarian society emerge after all these years?

Indians require an alternative not concentrated to the 24%, and a little here and a little there. It should be all encompassing and an attractive option for also those on whom the reflected light of urban India does not shine. And its foreign policies should not be intertwinned with a large power's interests.

And neither medieval dynasty politics nor a culture potion reflecting Dark Age instincts can provide that.

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