By B.G. Verghese
Welcome to the New Republic. The landmark 2014 election has ended a fading era and ushered in a new one. The country has moved from nostalgia for a bygone past with bygone heroes and bygone slogans to aspiration, willed by a new under-30 generation which is seeking jobs, equal opportunity, freedom from corruption and rent-seeking and demandsgood governance untrammelled by excessive and largely self-serving ideology. NarendraModi has helped catalysed that change and it would be churlish not to congratulate him on his historic electoral victory.
This does not absolve Modiof allegations of past acts of omission and commission. But this must be left to due process. However, the pursuit of justice cannot be obliterated by blithe statements that the “people’s court” has given him a yet another resounding victory.This is humbug of a high order. Ehud Olmert in Israel and Silvio Berlesconi in Italy are both paying the wages of sin as a result of due process concluded long after they demitted office.
However, this does not and cannot mean that Modi should not be given a fair chance to redeem his election pledges. He waged an indefatigable election campaign and has for the moment ended the 25 year long era of unstable coalition politics that followed Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, with the BJP winning a single party majority of 282 and grand total of 336 seats with its NDA partners. Nevertheless, the BJP and even the NDA will remain in a minority in the RajyaSabha until the next round of bi-annual polling when the party’s huge LokSabhamajority will weigh in. This may entail some compromises in the interim with the AIDMK, Trinamool and BijuJanata Dal, seeking special packages for their states or Jayalalithaa looking for Central benevolence in her disproportionate assets case in a Bangalore court in the kind of cosy swap deal in which the Congress/UPA was so adept.
Modi, like others on all sides, made some regrettable comments that were unduly combative, divisive and provocative. He spoke of summarily repatriating all Bangladesh “infiltrators” in India who were necessarily assumed to be Muslim, while welcoming “persecuted” Hindus from anywhere in the world. He also reportedly warned of “revenge” against persons and for reasons unknown after the polls. Even if these were no more than off the cuff remarks rashly made in the heat of the moment, hedid strike a more conciliatory note in the closing stages of his campaign and avoided triumphalism or arrogant unilateralism in acknowledging his tremendous victory. He pledged to work for all Indians, irrespective of caste, community, party or region, and promised “less government but more governance”, particularly in promoting employment and equal opportunity for those who had risen above poverty and now aspired to join the ranks of the lower middle class.
It is nonetheless sad that Gujarat failed to field even a single Muslim candidate despite the community’s weightage in the state’s population and that in the BJP’s list of elected MPs there is not a single Muslim! Indeed, there are altogether only 22 Muslims in the new LokSabha, the lowest number since Independence. Mulayam Singh betrayed the Muslims by allowing the Muzaffarnagar riots to take placein order to win Jat votes. Yet it is significant that the BSP was totally wiped out and failed to win a single seat in the LokSabha as against 20 seats in UP and one in Madhya Pradesh in the outgoing House. The JD (U) in Bihar likewise suffered humiliation partly because Nitish Kumar ultimately failed to rise above caste by his creating a Mahadalit category and scuttling the recommendations of two high powered commissions he had set up on first becoming chief minister on land reforms and common schooling in education.
Per contra, the BJP won all the 17 reserved SC seats in Uttar Pradesh. Does this suggest that aspiration is trumping caste, which operates as a glass ceiling for them, and that they are struggling not so much as to improve their caste status as to move up the class ladder. It may be too early to say so; but should this represent a trend, it would be a tremendous vindication of Ambedkar and his way of thinking, which is the way forward.
The RSS was most active in canvassing for and counselling Modi, an old Parivar acolyte. Will this translate into a hold on Government? Possibly not, given Modi’s huge margin of victory. The VHP, Bajrang Dal and some RSS-BJP cadres may press the Hindutva agenda, but scould be blocked by moderate elements in the BJP who wish to see the emergence of a strong, right-of-centre platform that will ensure the party a long innings, a rallying point for others and one that will carry the country into the 21st century.
Another, possibly decisive factor, could be Modi’s passionate ambition to win international acclaim after having been treated as something of an outcaste these past many years. Each positive step he takes to woo this constituency will not merely win him plaudits at home as much as abroad, but strengthen his resolve to hew the path of moderation, consensus and political consolidation. The office could also make the man by providing Modithe opportunity and means to walk his (new) talk.
The one “Hindutva” both he and the Parivar have sought to play is moving forward on a uniform civil code. This is truly a most desirable, equal-opportunity, gender reform that the country direly needs that has strangely been packaged by the BJP and Congress as a weapon with which to terrorise Muslims by, in effect, abrogating personal law. This is arrant nonsense, and speaks of total constitutional illiteracy.
The Left has been decimated. Their Leninnist-Maoist-Trotskyiteshibboleths have been increasingly irrelevant. They can only survive as a genuine social-democratic party.
Finally the Congress. It may not be curtains for it. But the absolute rout it has suffered marks the end of the once Grand Old Party, one of the oldest in the world. It suffered a stroke in 1975 but made a partial recovery with a feudal brand of dynastic politics. It gave up inner democracy, hollowed out secularism with vote bank politics, and clung to a brand of socialism that cultivated rather than sought to eradicate poverty. Manmohan Singh did not fail. He was not allowed to succeed by a coterie around Rahul Gandhi, a failed “youth” bereft of any grand vision. He had greatness thrust upon him but refused to accept responsibility or accountability. His last “official” act was to rudely absent himself from the UPA Chairperson and Party President’s farewell dinner to the out-going prime minister, an act of singular political cowardice and ungraciousness.
The country needs the Congress but free from the clutches of the rump Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi should retire gracefully and the AICC be convened to elect a new President and office bearers. The party still has some good and talented leaders and cadres and must rethink its ideology and strategy as a centrist party dedicated to the future in order to win back some credibility.
The 2014 elections mark a point of departure for a new beginning.