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Triumph of the moderate

The voter’s verdict: sober governance helps,shrillness does not. Moderation is a virtue

Written by Arun Jaitley |
May 27, 2009 12:54:47 am

The BJP’s tally in the Lok Sabha elections is below expectations. We had entered the 14th Lok Sabha with 138 MPs and we hoped to win 160 seats this time — an increase of 22 seats. Ironically,our tally was exactly 22 down to 116 seats. A thorough analysis of the 2009 verdict will take time but some messages the electorate wanted to deliver are absolutely clear.

The BJP contested the elections on predominantly three themes: the inability of the UPA government to take concrete and decisive steps in the management of the economy; the need to strengthen national security; and the importance of a strong and decisive leadership. All the three themes were directly linked to governance.

The results have demonstrated that there was a surge in favour of the Congress across the country. Even Congress supporters would have conceded that its past five years were wasted in indecision. The government didn’t live up to popular expectation in announcing decisive measures to fight the economic slowdown nor did it adopt measures to strengthen India’s security. Despite these glaring failures the Congress secured more votes and seats.

There was a larger central issue in the elections. Not only did we in the BJP fail to read it,even the Congress did not foresee it. This was the desire of the Indian voter to ensure politically stable government free from obstructions and roadblocks. The experience of the past five years had strengthened the resolve of the Indian voter to elect a government which is more decisive and is not prevented from acting merely because supporting allies are a hurdle in the decision-making process.

In the past five years,the Left obstructed economic decision-making. The leaders of the government not only appeased the Left but were paralysed into inaction. After withdrawing its support from the UPA,the Left was replaced by the Samajwadi Party. The Samajwadi Party’s agenda was more than merely political. Its quid pro quo for support involved the receipt of generosity from the CBI for the party’s leader.

The Left now attempted a new experiment. It led a combination of parties ranging from the BSP,TDP and AIADMK whose aim was to win over 100 seats and on that basis pressure the Congress into supporting a Third Front from within or outside. With the country being pushed into this nightmare,the UPA and the NDA attempted to increase their seats. But the voter wanted to favour one side decisively to ward off the Third Front threat.

The architects of obstruction were badly punished and routed. The BSP got less than half the seats it expected. The Left was routed in the states of West Bengal and Kerala to its lowest tally in recent memory. The TDP and AIADMK were expected to fare much better but got only a small fraction of what they expected. The major gains of the UPA came from the states where the Third Front was hoping to do well. But the ripples of the anti-Third Front mood were also felt in the NDA-dominated states. We lost some seats in a number of states. The first message of the electorate was thus clear: they wanted a stable government free from any form of political obstruction.

Which were the states where the non-Congress parties were able to resist this surge of the Congress? These were essentially those states where the governance record of the non-Congress parties had been good. The non-Congress parties won an overwhelming majority of seats in Orissa,Bihar,Chhattisgarh,Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. In the face of this Congress surge,they still managed to win a majority of the seats in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The second message of the electorate was thus equally clear: it wanted good governance. Even in the face of the Congress surge,it spared the opposition in states in which the chief ministers had governed well.

Additionally,there are a large number of regional/ local factors which may have influenced the electorate in several states. The in-fighting within the Left in Kerala,the sympathy for the Sri Lanka Tamil cause in Tamil Nadu,the division of non-Congress votes in Andhra Pradesh,the MNS effect which helped the Congress in Maharashtra and the inability of the BJP to field more young candidates could be several other factors.

Why did the benefits of political stability accrue to the Congress and not the BJP? A possible reasoning could be that the Congress had a larger pan-India presence. The Congress was a victim of obstructions caused by the Left,the Samajwadi Party. The prime minister’s own image created a sense of sympathy,that a man who wanted to deliver was being obstructed from proceeding further.

But there are other important lessons the political class can gleam from the results. Sober governance helps,shrillness does not. Moderation and understatement are virtues.

India is changing,the profile of the Indian voter is changing. Both the Indian politician and the political parties must also change. The fact that most criminal candidates lost is itself an indication that the electorate is looking for cleaner politicians. Politics directs the life of a nation. It influences decision-making. The individuals who man it must have a tall and mature stature. The ethical criterion cannot be disregarded any more. While aligning with any coalition,political parties will have to watch that the baggage of the

alliance partners does not get transferred to them. I am sure the TDP and AIADMK would introspect whether being a part of an over-ambitious but a disruptionist alliance cost them seats in Parliament.

I also have a few other preliminary thoughts. Are we moving towards a greater bipolar politics? The Third and the Fourth Fronts have temporarily evaporated after May 16. Secondly,the opposition space belongs predominantly to the BJP/ NDA.

India is passing through a serious crisis; the economic concern is one of them. There is no improvement in the internal security scenario. There is trouble ensuing in several of our neighbouring countries which concerns us. The emergence of the Taliban in Pakistan is an area of concern. Our primary objective as a responsible nationalist party is to strengthen India. We will support the government where national interests are at stake. We in the BJP will oppose the government when we find it wanting. We have also seen the emergence of political arrogance in the party in power. The manner in which the allies have been snubbed is not merely a reaction to the erstwhile allies who irritated the government; even friendly allies are being cut to size. Arrogance in politics is always the first but a sure indicator of a future decline.

Finally,many feel that Verdict 2009 gives legitimacy to India as a dynastic democracy. A cursory look at a cross-section of our young MPs suggests that most of them are inheritors of a legacy,and not those whose merit has impressed the voters. The real strength of Indian democracy will only be realised when merit prevails over family names. India must grow as a democracy and not as a state with feudal moorings.

The writer is a BJP MP and general secretary express@expressindia.com

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