Hearing the endless debates on various news channels since the results for the 2009 Indian general elections were announced, I can’t help but feel that the “experts” sitting in the TV channels’ studios are taking a very simplistic, black-and-white view of the reasons behind this stunning election outcome.
For example, everybody’s busy discussing how Dr. Manmohan Singh has proved to be the “king” yet again, showing the other potential kings and kingmakers their real place. Again, there are debates galore on how Rahul Gandhi, after resuscitating the Congress party in UP, is now well and truly the PM-in-waiting.
Hearing these debates, one would feel that one election result has made everything perfect for the Congress party, and that all of a sudden it is a party that understands the pulse of the nation, connects with the youth and is pro-development, pro-rural, secular and so on. While all of this is true to some extent, it is not the complete truth at all.
Here’s my take on why the voters chose a UPA regime over the NDA:
1. The Congress emerged on top just because it was the best of the current options, plain and simple! Not because it’s sorted out all its internal problems and is perfect. The only other option that guaranteed stability was the BJP. But stability at what cost? The nasty side of the BJP-Sangh Parivar keeps rearing its head from time to time, be it in the form of attacks on Christians in Orissa, attacks on Churches in Karnataka, attacks on pub goers in Mangalore and finally Varun Gandhi’s incendiary speeches in Pilibhit, UP during the course of campaigning. Surely we don’t want stability at the cost of individual freedom and security of minority groups in India!
People are therefore very suspicious of the BJP’s real (and hidden) agenda, and their dealings with the RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal combine. Getting rid of this impression will, in my view, be the greatest challenge facing the next generation of BJP leaders. And that impression will not change easily or quickly. And until it does, the BJP will never be able to get the kind of absolute majority that it dreams of, although it may again form a Govt. in future with allies.
So in short, the voters not only want stability, but they also want peace and security, which is a must for any kind of economic activity to thrive.
2. The points that the BJP raised about the UPA Govt.’s non-performance were very valid (see BJP manifesto). Terrorism, weak internal security, black money stashed in Swiss banks, economic downturn and job losses, etc. are all valid issues, but the important question is: would things have been different had the NDA been in power the last five years? I seriously doubt it. In fact, I dare say things would have been worse.
Firstly, the BJP is quick to point out the Govt.’s dismal record on internal security, but things weren’t great under the NDA either! For instance, the attack on the Indian Parliament, the hijacking of IC-814 and so on. Even the much touted Kargil victory overshadowed a greater failure on our part to guard our borders properly.
And as for terrorism, does the BJP think terrorism can be countered by marginalising the minority communities? The BJP, through the Babri Masjid demolition and then through the Gujarat riots, is singularly responsible for polarising Indian society and thereby pushing the vulnerable minorities into the hands of terrorist recruiters.
As for the impact of the global recession in India, I don’t think the BJP has the kind of people equipped to handle the recession better than the Congress (I am reminded of the BJP’s finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who earned the tag of “roll-back minister”!). The Congress trio of Dr. Singh, P. Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia is best equipped to manage the economy.
Finally, coming to the issue of black money in Swiss banks, who’s to say the BJP would have seriously pursued this agenda after coming to power? They could easily have dropped the idea citing technical and political difficulties. After all, they are not known to be a corruption-free unit either! I vividly remember the Tehelka defence deal scandal, and how the BJP Govt. victimised Tehelka after that by lodging hundreds of cases against them! That was abuse of power of a scale that’s unprecedented in recent times.
3. It is certainly true that the Congress currently has a better combination of youth and experience. It has a great young generation of politicians. That includes Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Shashi Tharoor has also been a fantastic addition. I just wish they had somehow persuaded Mrs. Meera Sanyal to join them.
Contrast this with the BJP. They hardly have any younger politicians that the youth can connect with. Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, etc. are all overconfident and dismissive of their opponents. There is such a thing as modesty, but it appears as if power has clouded their vision. I personally didn’t like the way Rajnath Singh dismissed media questions on revoking Varun Gandhi’s candidature after the Pilibhit controversy by saying “Varun is our candidate, and that’s final, no matter what anyone says!”
Another equally important aspect is the media face of your party. One identifies a with party via its public faces. Most people identify with moderate, modest sounding people. Unfortunately, the BJP’s media spokespersons Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Balbir Punj, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and BP Singhal all give the impression of being rather arrogant and almost seem to mock their opponents while participating in debates. Mr. BP Singhal also comes across as rather rigid and orthodox in his views, which doesn’t go well with the youth. Yes, Arun Jaitley is intelligent and articulate, but one senses arrogance in his tone too.
In contrast, the Congress has a good, intellectual and suave media unit consisting of Manish Tiwari, Abhishek Singhvi, Kapil Sibal and Jayanthi Natrajan. All of these are sensible, articulate people with a moderate voice and a national outlook.
This, I believe, has also been a significant difference between the Congress and BJP in the current election.
4. Finally, coming to the BJP’s campaign pitch of “Nidar neta, nirnayak sarkar” (fearless leader, decisive Government), the reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Just because L K Advani is a powerful speaker doesn’t mean he’ll prove to be a fearless and decisive leader. Similarly, decisive action that doesn’t yield results is useless as well. The BJP deployed forces on the India-Pakistan border after the Indian Parliament attack, but failed to get any concrete results. By contrast, after the Mumbai attacks, the Congress didn’t resort to misguided military measures simply to satisfy public anger, but followed a tough diplomatic strategy of isolating Pakistan and getting it to act.
As for the personality war between the two PM candidates, Dr. Singh in his own quiet and determined way has proved who is the ultimate king!
These are some points I could think of currently. Will add more if I can think of them later.
P.S. On a related note, it looks like the movie Singh Is Kinng came at the right time, coinciding with the Indian cricket team’s super performance in Australia and then the 2007 Twenty-20 Cricket World Cup and later the signing of the India-US Nuclear Deal in 2008. In the first instance, the title song “Singh is Kinng” was applied to Harbhajan Singh for his heroics, and in the second instance, to Dr. Singh for his firm determination in seeing the Nuclear Deal through.