This is a week when I wish I wrote about cinema or fashion instead of politics. This is a topical column so I cannot ignore last week’s vote of no-confidence, and yet analysis eludes me because I found Rahul Gandhi’s speech and behaviour too baffling to examine. How is it possible to analyse why, after accusing the Prime Minister of being a liar and a cheat, the Congress president then leapt across to the treasury benches and gave Narendra Modi a hug? Was this part of the script or a spontaneous expression of love for the man he believes has destroyed India? Frankly, neither the speech nor the hug will make the slightest difference to India’s real problems. So I choose instead to discuss what seems to be a worrying return to the vote banks that have long been the bane of Indian politics.
The most powerful vote bank has always been the Muslims and this does not belong to the BJP, so in the past four years they have been punished. In states run by BJP governments, Muslims have been lynched, their businesses targeted and senior ministers have been heard telling Muslims who did not support Modi to go to Pakistan. And yet, the Modi government has tried to win the support of Muslim women by ending the truly evil practice of ‘triple talaq’. It is truly evil and should be ended, but is the BJP sincere or just attempting to make a chink in a Congress vote bank that was broken by smaller parties but could be reconstituting?
The Congress perfected long ago the art of duplicitously turning Muslims into a reliable vote bank and yet doing nothing for them. Congress leaders never tire of expressing their love for Muslims. But the vast majority of India’s Muslims remain mired in abysmal poverty. Only the ugliest, most jihadist religious leaders have benefited from Congress-type secularism. It is because of them that Muslim women were deprived of rights other Indian women have.
If the BJP had seemed more sincere about its concern for Muslim women, there may well have been a chink in this Congress vote bank. I was among those who trusted Narendra Modi when he promised that the motto ‘Sab ka saath, Sab ka vikas’ would be his fundamental principle of governance. Had he kept this promise he would be undefeatable by now. He did not. So we now face the same kind of general election that we have had ever since we became a democratic nation.
So in 2019, vote banks will decide and divide. Some political parties will claim votes in the name of Dalits. Other political parties will seek votes in the name of backward castes. And there will be those who speak for Adivasis. With our two ‘national’ parties now embroiled in playing the same game, next year’s general election could be bereft of real issues. As long as political parties believe that they can rely on vote banks to win elections, they will not move towards doing the things that would enable India to become a prosperous, modern country able to deal with 21st-century problems instead of those that evoke the 19th century.
What we need today, more than ever, is a political party that says it wants the votes of Indians. There are real Indians still around and even the poorest if asked to choose between a higher standard of living and caste loyalties would choose the former. But, we appear not to have political parties which offer them this choice. While listening to the debate in the Lok Sabha last week, what startled me was that the issues raised sounded so similar to the vote of confidence that Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost nearly 20 years ago.
This is because our political parties have remained stuck in a peculiar time warp and the only difference is that today voters can see their flaws clearly. The mighty Congress party is no more than a private limited company with a board of directors whose only reason to be in public life is that their Mummy or Daddy handed their constituencies to them. We have the BJP that is increasingly showing itself to be a party that represents the interests only of upper-caste Hindus. And, then we have our regional parties that are nearly all private limited companies or casteist conglomerates that do not even aspire to give us a grander vision for India.
So does a vote of confidence against the government in Parliament matter at all? The one last week had more than usual melodrama because of the Congress president’s new style of mixing vituperative accusations with sudden hugs, but Indian politics does not need melodrama. What we need are political parties with a serious interest in India’s real problems. At the moment, there is not one in sight.