Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

Hands down

There are winners and there are losers in any election. But this is one election India can feel particularly good about....

There are winners and there are losers in any election. But this is one election India can feel particularly good about. Not only because it’s been one of our smoothest ever — for which the Election Commission deserves the nation’s gratitude — but also because it confirms the positive trends that some of us,incorrigible optimists,have been flagging for a while. This newspaper has argued that the politics of grievance,rooted in our complex past,is giving way to the politics of aspiration. Or,as Thomas Friedman puts it,the weight of dreams is turning out heavier than that of memories. This election,powered by 60 crore voters,shows our democracy is firmly on that virtuous curve.

For,anybody who built a campaign on negativism,prejudice,victimhood and vengeance has been demolished. The voter has,in fact,been even less forgiving with victims of hubris,with those who loftily announce themselves as “next” Prime Ministers without being sure of even 40 seats; those who build their own statues; and those who with a fraction of seats in Parliament aspire to control the nation’s foreign and economic policies without,of course,being accountable for anything. The Indian voter has always rejected arrogance and pomposity but has sometimes been forgiving to those with whom she might have found affinity of caste,religion or ethnicity. By jettisoning even that,the voter has shown new maturity. This didn’t happen overnight. Over the past five years,we saw the voter increasingly reject the spoilers,the rent-seekers. This election reaffirms that trend — and vindicates the faith in those who deliver.

There are other shifts,some stunning,some subtle. This will be India’s first post-1991 secular government elected without any help from the Left and in spite of its bitter opposition. So the voter has also junked the idea that Indian secularism needs certificates of legitimacy from the Left. Or that,somehow,you had to be godless to be secular.

Such a ringing endorsement of incumbency also busts the myth that an angry voter throws out everybody. A mature,aspirational one thinks coolly and rewards good performance. You see that across states: the Congress scripts a brilliant revival in Uttar Pradesh but has its poorest score for any state in next-door Bihar where Nitish Kumar runs its first decent government in three decades. Similarly,nobody is swayed so easily by abuse and innuendo,particularly when directed at a leader seen as decent,honest,modest and well-meaning. The BJP erred grievously in making a man like Dr Manmohan Singh the main target of its attack,for being “weak and ineffectual,” because it was contra-factual — and the voter had the equanimity to judge that. On the contrary,in this environment of insecurity,with terror attacks and job losses,India has shown that it finds greater comfort with a leader,mature and understated.

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His party now stands by him and its leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been wise extending to him the respect and trust he so richly deserves. Having risked his head on his instinct twice,on economic reforms in 1991 and the nuclear deal in 2008,Dr Singh will now feel the burden of high expectations. This mandate is such it leaves you no excuses.

A final word about L K Advani,one of the last of the great long marchers of our politics,who once again finds himself on the wrong side of history. He has shown admirable grace in defeat and can have the satisfaction that he played a key role in bringing to Indian politics something it needed so badly — a centre of gravity which,as this newspaper has argued,can only be found if the Congress and the BJP together have at least 325-350 seats so that rent-seekers can’t hold governance to ransom. That this figure has mostly been achieved,that the Centre will now hold,is another reason why Verdict 2009 deserves applause.

First published on: 17-05-2009 at 02:49 IST
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