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Why stability won over change

May 16 has reinforced my two inter-related beliefs about the behaviour of the Indian voter.

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
May 24, 2009 12:43:39 am

May 16 has reinforced my two inter-related beliefs about the behaviour of the Indian voter. First,there is nothing fortuitous about the outcome of an election in a democracy where elections are held in a free and fair manner. And Indian democracy,with all its obvious drawbacks,has a proud tradition of conducting elections in a largely free and fair manner. In other words,no party or alliance has ever won by a stroke of luck. There has always been a compelling inner logic to its victory,and this is also true about the Congress party’s victory in the polls to the 15th Lok Sabha.

My second belief is that there is something,which can most appropriately be called the ‘National Mind’,at work through which the nationally unifying logic operates. The concept of a group mind or a collective mind is one of the most complex subjects of study in mass psychology and organisational behaviour. Nation being a natural organising framework of human collectivities,the more so in a continuously living civilisational entity like India,this living being has a mind of its own which knows what is good for it under a given circumstance. It surveys the internal political situation,assesses the external scenario,weighs different considerations and arrives at a sound and rational judgment. Thus,transcending all the caste,communal and regional considerations that were being discussed threadbare in the run-up to the elections,the National Mind summoned a unifying rationale and made it assert itself in the final verdict of the electorate.

According to me,the National Mind was weighing between two options in the just-concluded elections: change and stability. Change was the need of the hour since there was nothing exceptional about the performance of the Congress-led UPA government between 2004 and 2009. Barring a few welcome initiatives like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,the UPA government’s track record was average on some counts and dismal on most others. Judged solely on the basis of its performance,the government deserved to go. However,the voters rarely oust a government on the criterion of performance alone. They also look for a viable and stable alternative.

In some of the campaign-time television debates that I participated in,I had said that more than political parties and commentators,it is the people of India who have the highest stake in political stability at the Centre. They know instinctively,guided by historical memory,that political instability in New Delhi is hurtful to the nation and to themselves in their daily lives. In their eyes,the need for a stable government had become greater on account of the economic crisis,created partly by external factors,and the turmoil in India’s neighbourhood,especially in Pakistan. An unstable coalition government,whose attention would get diverted to managing its own internal squabbles and whose energies would be wasted in ensuring its own survival,would not,in the estimation of the electorate,meet the challenges before the nation.

The National Mind would have been the happiest if there was a strong possibility for a positive change with reliable stability. This is where the BJP and the alliance it led failed to meet the people’s expectations. In four big states—Andhra Pradesh,Tamil Nadu,Kerala and West Bengal,which together account for 143 Lok Sabha seats-the BJP’s own strength was near-zero. Moreover,it had no allies in these states in 2009,and such allies as it had in the six-year NDA rule (1998-2004) had deserted it for fear of losing Muslim votes. It did nothing in the past five years to allay this fear. Furthermore,when the Biju Janata Dal parted ways with the BJP in March this year,the latter’s ability to lead a stable coalition at the Centre got seriously dented. It thus became obvious to the people that any future BJP-led coalition in New Delhi would be a hotchpotch arrangement,critically dependent for its survival on undependable non-Congress non-Left parties.

The BJP could have still performed much better on its own and won enough seats to reflect the people’s desire for change of government. But the internal fissures in this once disciplined and united party were so glaring,both at the central and state levels,that far from attracting new supporters,it disillusioned a significant section of its own committed voters. In contrast,even those who abhor the dynastic rule and the culture of sycophancy in the Congress could see that the party scored over the BJP in terms of unity of command. With the media highlighting the lack of cohesion within the BJP,the many positive aspects of its governance and development agenda took the backseat. Hence,the BJP failed to capture the imagination of the people either as an agent of change or as a guarantor of stability. The BJP’s failure was the Congress’s gain. Since the desired change seemed impossible,the National Mind rooted for stability. It chose the Congress as a default option,giving it enough parliamentary strength to ensure a stable government.

Difficult days are ahead for the BJP. It faces problems that are multi-dimensional. Its second consecutive defeat in parliamentary elections calls for honest and mercilessly self-critical introspection on issues relating to ideology,organisational health of the party,leadership at various levels,management of alliances,and much more. It must seek a fresh endorsement from the National Mind,which is possible if the BJP,instead of trying to take short-cuts to revival,reforms itself thoroughly as a party with an inspiring and inclusive transformational agenda. The BJP has come out successfully from many an agni-pareeksha in the past. It will certainly do so again.

sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com

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