Sunday, 17 May 2009

Verdict 2009

Thank God we’ve got a stable government at the Centre. The thought that a rag-tag bunch of either the Third Front or Fourth Front would come to power or even play a decisive role in any government formation was giving me sleepless nights. Through the elections, I had only one thought - that either the BJP or the Congress should come to power on its own or at least in such a decisive position that crucial policies and governance aren't held to ransom by regional or caste- and individual-based parties with no national vision at all. The shenanigans of the Dravidian parties over the Sri Lanka issue only reinforced my misgivings about regional parties playing a decisive role at the Centre.
The people of India have clearly voted for stability. They want a government that lasts for five years and is not pushed into inaction by blackmailing small parties that have no vision for the country. Or an outdated vision, as in the case of the Left parties. Parenthetically, maybe the Left should be given credit for this win. Maybe if they hadn't been so disruptive and pig-headed, such a clear mandate may not have come about!
This is a vote for national parties to form the government at the Centre. The BJP has emerged as the second largest party. So the contest was really between the Congress and the BJP (as BJP's Arun Jaitley had been saying time and again for a long time), and the people preferred the Congress to the BJP.
That said, I don’t think regional and small parties have lost their relevance. In fact, regional parties have a significant role to play in such a vast country like India. Regional parties have arisen in a particular context and have caught the public imagination because of genuine grievances. N T Rama Rao became a huge success in Andhra Pradesh in the 1980s, riding on the Telugu pride wave, because the Congress chief ministers there were seen to be nothing more than dummies of the Centre, who were changed at the will of Indira Gandhi. The DMK and AIADMK were always regional parties, but they have tapped into an emotion which national parties like the Congress (which was once a force in the state) never did. Whether it is the Asom Gana Parishad, the Akali Dal, the National Conference or the People’s Democratic Party, the fact cannot be denied that regional parties articulate and address state-level issues in a way national parties cannot or do not.
The problem begins when these regional parties start playing a major role at the Centre. Then they are not able to replace their regional perspective with a national perspective. They are not interested in reconciling regional issues with national issues, as the Dravidian parties stand on Tamil Eelam shows. Does that mean they should have no presence at all in Parliament? No. They need to articulate regional issues at the national level so that policy making is more balanced. But should they be in such a position (as they have been in the NDA and the UPA governments) where they hold national policies (especially foreign and economic policies) and their implementation to ransom. The answer to that also is No.
But there is an interesting facet to the performance of regional parties in these elections. Not all regional parties have been decimated. TDP and AIADMK were punished because they chose to go along with a Left-led cluster which got identified by completely irresponsible politics. The Asom Gana Parishad, which once fired the imagination of the youth, had gone into a decline for some time now and got only one seat. But parties like the JD(U) in Bihar, BJD in Orissa, National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, who were never identified with blackmailing tactics when they were part of the NDA, not just won but won handsomely.
The outlier is Samajwadi Party’s performance in UP. But that has more to do with voter disillusionment with Mayawati than anything else. Ditto for the Trinamul Congress (Mamata Banerjee can be quite, quite irresponsible). The TMC and the Congress benefited from the huge, huge disillusionment with the Left in Bengal).
So the second crystal clear fact about this election is this – people have voted against irresponsible politics.

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