The changeover year

At first,the Congress pooh-poohed the idea of a prime ministerial candidate.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: January 9, 2014 9:58:30 pm

When he became the 13th President of India,Pranab Mukhejee said that 13 was not an unlucky number for Indians. Yet there may be some who will be happy to see the end of 2013. It has been a phenomenal year in political terms. Who can recall that in January,Rahul Gandhi dramatically accepted the poisoned chalice from his mother and took on his inheritance. Then the challenge was to the BJP to find an icon which the youth of India could look up to and rival Rahul.

Here we are at the other end of the year and it looks different. At first,the Congress pooh-poohed the idea of a prime ministerial candidate. They had their own unique way of choosing the PM as and when the need arose. Let the BJP do whatever they needed. The results have shown that this was a serious miscalculation on part of the Congress,a misjudgment of how modern day politics works. The battering the Congress got on December 8 crowned an annus horribilis as far as the Congress is concerned.

Politics has now changed irretrievably. Not only has Narendra Modi defied all expectations of the sage commentators and become a hot favourite of the masses,but as a final coup de grace we have Arvind Kejriwal,who has pioneered the strange idea of actually listening to voters. Mandal politics is past its sale-by date as voters prefer performance to identity politics. A combination of Kejriwal and post-Mandal politics spells a warning for the regional parties which are still dreaming of forming a third front.

Two big questions will be answered during 2014. Can the Congress recover enough at least to lose respectably and secure seats in three digits or will it spin down to catastrophe with fewer than 80 seats? The other question is: Is AAP here to stay and grow as a significant third party at the national level and replace not just the Left,but displace the Congress as the second party in national politics?

The Congress is fighting back,but ironically the more it fights,the more it becomes clear for how late it has left the comeback. Two years ago Rahul Gandhi went to Niyamgiri and offered to fight for the tribals. Congress ministers got the signal that all mining and infrastructure investments must be held up in defence of the tribals and the environment. Now poor Jayanthi Natarajan has had to pay for taking Rahul seriously. Now all projects will go through. In a rare speech in the Lok Sabha two years ago,he proposed that the Lokpal Bill should be a Constitutional amendment. That was hailed as a game changer. It did change the game; the Congress lost it. Now Rahul is passionate about what he frustrated last time. Thus two years have been lost in his discovery of reality.

We are told that the Congress will announce Rahul as its PM candidate. What a surprise! There is still time for the Congress to realise that they have only one electoral asset — Sonia Gandhi. Rahul should support his mother to do as much campaigning as she can. Maybe he should go on a Bharat Darshan yatra,but stay quiet. That is the only possible way the Congress can scramble a three-digit score.

It is AAP which may very well replace the Congress as the national alternative to the BJP. It is modern,young and secular. Its economics is populist to a fault and we have yet to see it survive its contact with political realities. But it has generated a momentum precisely because it has broken the mould of old politics. Being an old party is no guarantee for the survival of the Congress,especially if it ends up with less than 80 seats. In British politics,the Liberal Party won by a landslide in 1905 but never returned to power ever after and the Labour Party bcame the principal opposition party for the rest of 20th century,having started in 1900.

India is a young nation and it needs a new politics — less deferential,more demanding,rewarding performance rather than pedigree,in tune with the aspirations and abilities of its millions of young men and women. Let 2014 bring that change.

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