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From tu-tu-main-main to tu and main

This election saw me perform a new task for my party’s campaign.

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
May 10, 2009 12:41:20 am

This election saw me perform a new task for my party’s campaign. In addition to running L.K. Advani’s communication office,I started representing the BJP in television debates. I quickly realised how unprepared I am for this medium of communication,which makes two demands,especially during election time,which I find hard to fulfill. Firstly,unlike the written word,television gives little scope for reflection,reference,detailed analysis and amplification. Secondly,even before I could learn the ropes of TV debate,I was confronted with another demand,this one coming from my own party supporters. “You are not aggressive on television,” many of them said. “You are not attacking the opponents strongly enough.” Aggressiveness in speech or action is alien to my nature,I was quite at sea trying to satisfy my party supporters.

But I have often wondered,with an unrelenting sense of unease,if political debate is all about attack and counter-attack. The sound and fury of political opponents often puts off the general TV-viewing public,which does not like too much of tu-tu-main-main. The people expect debates to illuminate issues,clarify facts,offer diverse perspectives,and present them with clearly articulated arguments and counter-arguments,so that they are better informed and can make independent judgements. They also want to see if representatives of various political parties agree on any issue and are willing to explore common ground in the interest of the nation. After all,the basic principle of democracy,in a nation of immense diversities such as India,is cooperation despite differences,and not non-cooperation because of differences.

People desire to see cooperative politics goes beyond the realm of TV debates. Indeed,it will soon begin to impact the messy task of government formation. It is almost certain that news about the election results,when they are known on May 16,will read: “Hung Parliament again.” No single party or pre-poll alliance will get a majority on its own. There is nothing new about this news,since the last time a party secured a majority on its own was way back in 1984. Barring the Congress regime of P.V. Narasimha Rao,which was a minority government,every single government since 1989 has been a coalition. By definition,a coalition is a cooperative platform of political parties that agree to work together on a common agenda of governance. But what kind of a coalition government will the 15th Lok Sabha produce? And on what basis will political parties agree or disagree to work with one another? The verdict of the electorate will definitely be fragmented,although some party or pre-poll alliance will naturally have a larger tally than others. However,post-May 16,what the people want to see is less tu-tu-main-main and more of tu and main—namely,less of confrontation and more of cooperation among political parties in the interest of forming a stable coalition government.

It is my firm belief that the people of India will exhibit their democratic maturity in an amazing way in whatever mandate they give next Saturday. They will vote for change,that is for sure. Anti-incumbency,the bane of any non-performing government,will predictably ensure the defeat of the Congress-led UPA. But the people will also teach a lesson or two to every political party to shed its rigidities and learn to cooperate with others for the sake of giving India political stability,which is a crucial need both for our country’s development and security. This means that the BJP and the NDA,which are most likely to lead the tally,will have to construct an inclusive framework for attracting new allies to reach the halfway mark of 272. The legitimate concerns of Muslims and other minorities will have to be addressed in the agenda of the next BJP-led government. At the same time,the new allies in the NDA will have to discard the bogus terminology of “secular politics”,which is nothing but a byword for the Congress-Left combine’s blind and opportunistic anti-BJPism.

For far too long,the vigour and transformative energies of India’s democracy have been sapped by the phony ideological divide between “secular” and “communal” parties. On the one hand,this divide has been used by the Congress and communist parties to preserve their Muslim votebank without in any serious way trying to improve the lot of ordinary Muslims. On the other hand,the Congress-Left combine has time and again tried to use this divide to keep a large number of parties away from the BJP. This is what they did in 1996,when,in spite of the BJP winning the largest number of seats (162) in the Lok Sabha,they prevented Atal Bihari Vajpayee from forming a government. This patently anti-democratic effort,though temporarily successful,met its doom in 1998 and 1999,when the formation of the two BJP-led NDA governments created a big breach in the citadel of “secular politics”. The voters will want a similar fissure created again in 2009. In other words,the Congress-Left combine,which has built an entire ideology justifying political untouchability towards the BJP,could be in for a shock.

In NDTV’s Big Fight debate last week,I said,quoting L.K. Advani’s oft-repeated affirmation,that “if untouchability in the social sphere is wrong,it is equally wrong in the political sphere”. The anchor,visibly taken aback by my statement,asked: “Do you then mean that the Congress is not untouchable for the BJP?” I said,“No.” “Will the BJP ever agree to work together with the Congress?” he shot back. My answer: “Since we do not consider the Congress to be untouchable,the BJP will have no objection to working together with the Congress if national interests demand at some time in the future.” There was a big applause from the audience,a sure confirmation that the people of India want political parties to shun the tu-tu-main-main mentality and internalise the “tu and main” culture.

sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com

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