Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thus Spake EVMs


The Indian parliamentary election result is out at last! The marathon is over and the joy of crossing the finish line is doubled looking at the result. The day before everybody was anticipating a fractured verdict from Indian voters, where regional and other small parties would dominate the political scene. Many people were ready to watch a long political battle on television and horse-trading in the parliament. Some jittery stock market traders had envisaged Black Monday on 18th May, 2009. This was natural considering the prevalent politics and chaotic nature of functioning of the country. But, as many experts on the subject would say, there is a certain method to India’s madness. Faithful says that God runs this country. Once in a year, devotees in Puri roll the Juggernaut of Lord Jagannath. Rest of the time the God runs the juggernaut called India! Completely surprised by the election results, and shocked for a moment (if you are a supporter of BJP’s nationalism sans fundamentalism, you ought to be shocked), I tried to compile a list of takeaways from this election results. Check them out:


·        The winner takes it all, so credit goes to Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. This election may be coming-of-age of Rahul Gandhi. He deserves all the accolades for bringing Congress back in UP. The boy is a man now! The man in the blue turban must be the happiest man. The other day Nandan Nilekani remarked that this is the win of sincerity. As the title song of Singh Is King goes, “Dil Agar Ho Sacha Rab Sab Karde Setting, Singh Is King... ” So Manmohan’s sincerity and integrity have struck chord with the voters. But the real reason I see behind the mandate is that people want a government which is neither right nor left. As a communist leader, Mohit Sen, once pointed, India can not be governed either from the 'right' or the 'left'. India can only be governed from the 'centre'.  Farooq Abdulla also echoed the sentiments of the people when he said: People of India wants a secular India, India for every religion and place. The Congress Party has found its footing in that centre now. Read Re-centering the Congress Party.


·        The biggest satisfaction I have from the result is the defeat of Left parties. They seem to be living in a different time, and the world has changed more than the color of the hair of some of the veteran Marxist leaders. It’s quite an achievement of Mamata Banerjee and Congress party to oust them in their own bastion, West Bengal. The Left has to do some introspection – the people of this country no longer see what these ideologues want them to see.


·        BJP was hoping to come back to power, but they in fact lost more seats than last time. The message is clear for them – They cannot be extreme right and they cannot win by only shouting about the non-existent issues. They should have disowned Varun Gandhi the moment his hate speech was delivered. They have to have some soft centrist leader, like Atal Behari Vajpayee, who sensed the nerve of the people of India and tried to move BJP towards centre. They also need to understand that they cannot oppose the government only because they are in opposition. Supporting the nuclear deal, in national interest, at the time when even Congress allies were opposing it would have given them a more constructive and acceptable image. Also they badly need some young and energetic leader who doesn’t just savor the dream of heading the central government.


·        The most encouraging results have come from the different states. Voters in Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Gujarat have voted for the incumbent governments because of the development work carried out by them. I am particularly happy for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Nitish has gone ahead with pro-industry and pro-poor policies in the state of Bihar and the results are showing up. Naveen, the son of charismatic Biju Patnaik, also has slowly but surely worked on the development front for the poor state of Orissa. Though he may be called opportunist, because he parted his way with BJP just before the election, I consider him the most pragmatic leader in the country. The reclusive and aloof leader, who before joining politics, used to roam in USA writing about art, culture and travel, has not gone out of India for last 10 years. He has stuck to working for his state which has him returned to the power third time in a row. When asked about the reason of his success, he just said that he was lucky. All these state leaders, except Narendra Modi, have shown some common qualities. They work in corridors of their offices without making too much noise. There probably lies the key for the future leaders of India. It’s not only needed to work for the development, but you should be seen as someone who is modest and sincere. Modi can take a leaf out of their book – they all want to keep working for their states without much fanfare.


The state of Tamilnadu has shown that LTTE’s struggle in Sri Lanka was never an issue, though opportunistic politicians in the state tried to make it one. Prabhakaran’s death news also proved the same – nobody cared about it much. People of this country are smart enough to care for their own good, rather than worrying about some murderers in neighbor country.


Mayawati has also got her rightful place in this election. She cannot fool the people every time with her much-hyped social engineering trick. Her ambition to move the elephant to the North Block in Delhi has a major setback in this election. She needs to work for the people of UP first and show some good results in the administration. Otherwise Rahul Gandhi’s fast approaching to win the majority of the hearts in the Hindi heartland. 


·        To term this result as the win of positives will be too simplistic view of a country like India where everything can be explained in paradoxes. Win for Varun Gandhi is a disturbing sign. Congress’ win in UP is just a swing of Muslim votes from Samajwadi Party for now. DMK fared well in Tamilnadu not because of their governance but maybe because actor Vijaykant’s party ate away some of Jaylalita’s votes. Even Andhra Pradesh gave Congress second chance because Chiranjivee’s party shared some of the opposition votes. The Left lost in West Bengal because of negatives of Singur, Nandigram and probably nuclear deal.


·        But what hurts the most at this point is the role, or absence of it, of media in this election. If this election was termed as “non-issue” election, the media had contributed more to it. They were busy showing how the small parties will have bargaining power, they showed shoe-hurling and politicians fighting war of words. But no body showed real issues – the condition of people at grass root level in different states, their aspirations, the hope in their eyes, and their urge for a stable, peaceful government. The media is one of pillars of democracy alongside judiciary, executive, and polity. I see other three pillars getting stronger right now but media has started becoming a weak link. In one of the post-result debates on a news channel, somebody rightly commented that the common man of this country is not going to understand even a word of their discussion. And he was dead right! Sitting in an air-conditioned news room, they will not have pulse of this country. They also need to connect to the people of this country like some of the politicians. Read Menaka Doshi’s blog for more.


·        In hindsight we could have not asked for better outcome. We have a stable government now, which is pro-poor and pro-reforms. I just pray that Congress again doesn’t get bogged down by sycophancy and short-sightedness of tokenism. Also the new government has tough task to deal the extremists in the country – Naxalites and Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Security has become important issue as Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are facing tough challenges within. On the other hand they have to provide higher economic growth - and there lies my biggest fear. The talk for reservation in private sector has already started. That will not go well with India Inc. In last five years, the government has spent a lot of money and contributed to huge fiscal deficit. They need to tighten their purse-string now. They should not indulge themselves in financial profligacy – we have some of the sharpest minds of the country in this government, use them and devise innovative ways to take the country forward.    


We almost forgot that we should congratulate the election commission of the country for conducting such a free and fair election in the largest democracy of the world. They deserve thumbs up – it’s not a mean task, in a diverse country like India where every constituency presents its own problem. Nirvachan Sadan has almost turned itself into a place of worship.


Though, the biggest game-changer in the process was the faceless voter of the country. While we discussed endlessly about possible election outcome, he was working under sun, dreaming about a better tomorrow, for him and the coming generations. He had nothing to offer to the media in lip-service, but he made sure his vote offered this country what it really needed. He made the best choice when we feared the worst. Did I hear Jai Ho!?

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