Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

In Goa, rank corruption and grasping family cabals cooked the Congress’s goose. In Manipur, the sweeping Congress victory marks a stern rebuff to insurgent ultras in the face of an ominous poll boycott call by them.

Message of the Polls

A drift in governance, long distance campaigning, and corruption, trounced the Congress, upended Rajiv Gandhi, and lost Goa and UP. It is time for leadership and imagination.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 11 March 2012

Everybody was waiting for the UP election and the five-State polls generally. The electorate has spoken and the writing is on the wall. Some have clearly won while others have equally clearly lost. Among the proudest winners is the Election Commission led by Yakub Quraishi who deserve the nation’s thanks for further tightening up the electoral process against criminalisation, money power, paid news and other ills. The need for institutional electoral and party-political reform has been underlined once again rather than increased dependency on enhanced policing against electoral thuggery.

There was no Anna impact. And there was no raging and tearing campaign by Team Anna when it was revealed by the CEC that in Punjab 201 candidates had pleaded guilty to indulging in “paid news” in response to 339 notices and 523 alleged violations. What is this if not a dastardly effort to steal an entire election, and subvert the very foundation of Indian democracy.Yet, not a squeak from it or, for that matter, anybody else. Not even the Press Council. How standards have fallen.

The so-called anti-incumbency factor had no effect in Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand. In U.P, Mayawati paid a price for arrogance, corruption, monumental waste and abandoning her inclusive Sarvajan plank to hole up in her Bahujan bastion. The Muslim voter was not wooed by Congress lollipops promising enhanced reservation from within the OBC quota. Muslim Indians are by and large modernising and seek equal opportunity and equal citizenship as they battle discrimination, neglect, outworn tradition and dyed-in-the-wool Islamic conservatism. Sturdy “secularists” and conservatives have joined hands to deny them, and more especially Muslim women, the liberating option of a uniform civil code that has been stoutly opposed on the most bogus legal and constitutional grounds.

In Goa, rank corruption and grasping family cabals cooked the Congress’s goose. In Manipur, the sweeping Congress victory marks a stern rebuff to insurgent ultras in the face of an ominous poll boycott call by them. The ballot box triumphed over the gun hands down. It also put paid to the idea that the Thangkuls and other Nagas necessarily seek detachment from Manipur. A non-territorial “Nagalim” is feasible at best. A third factor, starkly revealed, is that not too many are really troubled today by AFSPA, which is operative in only a small part of Manipur. It should certainly be liberally amended, but what Ibobi Singh must do now with his super-majority is to give all Manipuris development and good governance.

The biggest casualty of the polls has been the Congress, both as ruling party and leader of the UPA at the Centre. If anti-incumbency has been evident anywhere, it is against the Congress-Centre with its meek submission to coalition blackmail, non-consultation, drift, mounting incompetence, tolerance of venality, inability to communicate and manifestation of divided power-centres. UPA partners and other regional parties have for some time come together to confront the Centre for undermining “federalism”and in preparing the ground to increase their leverage and power in the run up to and after 2014. There is also talk of a Third Front.

The Congress had hoped that the election outcome, especially in UP, would help stabilise its position at the Centre, especially if the SP needed its support to form a government in Lucknow. It hoped this new balance of forces would enable it to move forward with at least some of the reforms and programmes put on ice since 2010.The SP is in no need of external support in U.P. But might yet extend support to the UPA if it is not gratuitously derided as a “Party of goons” by loud-mouthed Congressmen. The party is hopefully turning over a new leaf with authority and “mandate” in Lucknow clearly moving from Mulayam Singh Yadav to his son. Akhilesh has said he will maintain law and order firmly and fairly, avoid vindictiveness, treat all communities equally and promised good governance and development. He has to deliver, but it would be in the Congress’s and the country’s best interest to promise U.P every assistance and support to turn around.

Rahul Gandhi and the Gandhi parivar have suffered a major reverse. Rahul quite rightly said that the Congress “fundamentals” were weak. Sonia Gandhi in turn quipped that there were perhaps too many leaders in U.P. Both are right. Rahul, no more a “youth”, attempted to and was allowed to run the U.P. campaign from Delhi along with a cabal of Delhi Congress leaders. The U.P. Congress campaign was therefore without a local face. On the other hand, the surfeit of “leadership” was evident in the presence of Rahul, Sonia Gandhi, who was content to play second-fiddle to her son, Priyanka and Robert Vadra, who showed up to help the “family”. The message was that Rahul would rule U.P. from wherever he was. Union Minister Jaiswal went as far as to say that Rahul could if he wished be sworn in as prime minister any time if he so desired.

It is this sort of arrant nonsense and contrived and even irresponsible and negative “angry young man” rhetoric unleashed by Rahul and his henchmen that constituted the Congress campaign. It was a thundering failure in U.P. – even in Bhatta Parsaul, Amethi and Rae Bareli, and will fail if applied on a wider canvas in India. The Congress needs to rethink Rahul and Rahul needs to reinvent himself if he is to be relevant.

The BJP failed in equal measure. Uma Bharati, symbolising the Babri demolition, proved a liability as did a corrupt Kushwaha. Narendra Modi did not dare campaign in U.P. – else the Party could have lost more seats. The crime of 2002 stares him in the face.

What now? The so-called critical Presidential poll is a party-political non-issue. The President’s office is and must remain non-partisan and non-executive. The Rashtrapati should be a person of stature, integrity and wisdom who commands respect. Who nominates the candidate hardly matters. Consultations are indicated.

The important thing now is for the Government to govern. The onus is on Dr Manmohan Singh to take the lead. He is now the true face of the UPA as the elections have brought about a power shift. The President’s Address and Budget should send out a bold message of consolidation and reform. Allies must of course be consulted; but the onus of saying “no” and playing spoiler at a time when the country is in troubled waters should be fairly and squarely placed on them.

Should the Government be stymied, no other Congressor Opposition leader or group is going to be able to form another government, forcing dissolution of the Lok Sabha and a general election this autumn. It is only by showing leadership and imagination that the Congress will survive. If the Government acts decisively it will garner support or, by going down fighting, enable the Congress to live to fight again. If it drifts – it will drift to disaster and take the country down with it.

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