The pseudo-secularists have won. And won stunningly. The small print in the triumph (“victory” is too soft a description) is breathtaking. Savour. For the first time, a Congress prime minister, who is not a member of the Gandhi family, will enjoy two successive terms; and for the first time since 1977, a Congress government will be returned to power. In a TV studio on Saturday, a glum cheerleader for the BJP accused me of being a cheerleader for the Congress. Happily, this is not a time to settle scores or wisecracks! Verdict 2009 is an unambiguous, comprehensive and titanic rejection by the country of extremist politics—of the BJP and the CPI(M).
The people have spurned the divisive, negative, low, petty, self-defeating, erratic, irrelevant politics of God’s Own Party. The BJP, which is very good and very swift at introspection, has much to introspect about. For the sake of the party, I hope the inevitable clamour for returning to Hindutva is resisted. If the BJP, already wounded, goes back to Ram mandir type mobilisation, the return could be fatal.
The proposition that Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them, is in trouble. This time the Opposition lost unilaterally. Already, there is much soul-searching. “What went wrong?” is the chorus heard in the corridors of 24, Ashoka Road. Let me flag a few howlers.
Mr L.K. Advani’s attack on Dr Manmohan Singh was a disastrous gambit. It provoked the prime minister to deliver some home truths. More crucially, the middle class (even those who are anti-Congress) saw it as an undignified and gratuitous assault on a decent man. I am not giving any secrets away when I say that Dr Manmohan Singh’s personal integrity and quiet style are hugely admired across the country. I was surprised that Mr Advani had fired this particular salvo. A couple of years ago, Arun Jaitley told me that his party realised very early that going for Manmohan was counter-productive.
Not being able to identify one or two central themes was another blunder. The BJP seemed to be testing policies which would resonate with the public almost on a daily basis. One day it was Mr Q, then black money in Swiss banks, then good governance, then internal security, then dynasty, then Manmohan running to 10, Janpath…. When I met Mr Advani recently, he confidently affirmed he would fight the election on bijli, pani, sadak. Somewhere along the way, Advani’s sensible agenda was hijacked.
The person who probably did the hijacking was Varun Gandhi. The contortions and acrobatics saffron leaders had to perform to simultaneously “support” and “disassociate” with the vile ideas of Rahul’s cousin would have impressed a yoga guru! They reminded the country that a large section of the BJP leadership still approved of Muslim-bashing, while the moderate section silently endorsed it.
For the Congress leadership, Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi (with contributions from Rajasekhara Reddy, Sheila Dixit and Ashok Gehlot), this is a moment for unflamboyant self-congratulation. Despite some gaffes, they stayed the course and relied on the good sense of the citizen, who recognised that in these perilous times, India needed a steady, sober and experienced response to the multitude of crises facing the country, both internally and externally. With the global economic meltdown, Manmohan and his “dream team” were seen as best suited to overcome the financial turmoil.
India sends an urgent message through this election. The world’s largest democracy, which embraces at once slumdog and real millionaires, remains firmly committed to secular politics. Our neighbours may be flirting with religious and ethnic extremism, but we have manifestly renounced them.
This result is, of course, a thumping victory for the Congress.However, the real victors are the 714 million voters of India. Therefore, not two but three cheers for inspirational Indian democracy and three cheers for the wise Indian voter. Without the latter, you wouldn’t have the former.
Source: Outlook India Magazine
Date: May 25, 2009