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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Taking a giant stride forward

2009 is a historic election. It ends the idea that our politics will fragment

Written by The Indian Express |
May 17, 2009 1:46:42 am

Some things became evident about the Indian electorate yesterday,and one thing became obvious about this election itself: it is a watershed moment. The milestones will roll in: the Left’s worst performance in decades; the first return of a full-term PM in almost as long; and so on. But one,in particular,should exercise us,that India’s voters have refuted the theory that there is nothing that unites them at Lok Sabha time,that we are moving away from a time of national swings towards a naturally fractured polity. The numbers will be crunched for weeks,but in the Congress-led coalition’s unexpectedly strong showing from Assam to Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu there is clear evidence that a truly national politics is within grasp again. The national parties will not become irrelevant; indeed,they will probably,together,easily cross 300 seats. That is,regardless of political orientation,something of which we should be glad,as Indians. India deserves national perspectives for national problems. India’s voters have shown impatience with narrow viewpoints,with narrow horizons,with naked personal ambition — an impatience that cuts across ideologies and regions. Parties and candidates will have to articulate broader visions than they have,till now,thought they could get by on. Post this watershed,that narrow-thinking model is under threat. The long movement post-1991 away from a unipolar polity might have misled some into believing that ever more atomistic coalitions were going to be inflicted on the Indian citizen and taxpayer. That line of thought shouldn’t survive 2009’s vote. The unipolar system won’t be replaced by chaos.

But the development of the mature stability which should be considered inevitable has run into an unusual hurdle: one of the main beneficiaries standing athwart the route to bipolarity,yelling Stop! This election was the BJP’s to lose,and it lost it. If the Congress managed to emerge as the overarching national party this election,the BJP has squandered the chance to play a comparable conservative counterweight. Bereft of Vajpayee’s benign shadow,the party was clearly wobbly on its feet. Over and over again,putative prime minister L.K. Advani put aside the national interest — and simple good sense — for immediate,and dubious,ends. After the Mumbai terrorist attack,it hugely misread the nation’s mood when it tried to crudely work it to their advantage in the upcoming assembly elections.  It also foundered badly over the Varun Gandhi issue; instead of seizing the moment to articulate a moderate and responsible politics,it dithered,and finally decided to play to the freaks and fanatics among its cadre. But no matter what the party gains by rallying the faithful,it only lengthens the barge pole with which other parties refuse to touch it. As rightwing parties around the world have discovered,ultimately energising the base is never enough. The party has wrung out all the electoral mileage it could from the politics of polarisation and yet failed to extend its pitch and widen its acceptability. The BJP must reposition itself as a centre-right alternative for the sake of the longue durée payoff,because the more it leans on the Narendra Modis and the Varun Gandhis,the “cadre-energisers”,the harder it is for other parties to cluster around a BJP-led coalition,the more difficult its own expansion.

It feels a done deal. All Indians,even the nominally apolitical,should be pleased that a governing coalition in this Lok Sabha will probably not require time and enormous political concessions. The Left’s likely irrelevance to the next government is also a relief; and India’s communist parties will themselves benefit from the soul-searching that must inevitably follow their humiliating fall from grace. But these are issues for the future. For now,revel in this: India’s election has,improbably in the eyes of pre-poll thinking,delivered a post-poll gift: an unambiguous mandate and a clear set of messages to its political class. The Congress deserves credit,as do those constituents of the UPA that chose to run on their national record,and on the coalition’s national agenda. But a credit too needs to go to India’s voters,who have just taken a giant stride forward.

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