LS Elections 2009: Tackling stereotype, giving BJP some light

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 7:12 PM in , , , , , , ,

This election season stands out from the previous elections in many ways. For one, we are seeing a shift from ideology based alliances to convenience based associations. Second, the hype generated by shifting the IPL to South Africa to ensure security is putting the spotlight back on a supposed incident-free exercise of our democracy. Third, blame it on soaring ambitions, the number of contenders for the Prime Minister’s post seem unprecedented in the history of Indian elections. Fourth, political back-stabbing is at its all-time best. Fifth, the tectonic forces changing political equations are so strong that it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the outcome when the results are declared the 16th of May this year. What is even more peculiar is the common knowledge that the jig-saw reshuffle will continue for much longer than the month of May and the new government will still stumble hard and fast to make way for re-elections.

Other less significant reasons that make these elections noticeable include a former UN diplomat Shashi Tharoor (former under-secretary general) contesting for Congress from Thiruvananthapuram, a certain Varun Gandhi making communal speeches in Pilibhit and landing up in jail, the subsequent Gandhi-family feud, the context of Mumbai’s 26/11, NREGS, global recession and economic crisis, post-sixth pay commission era, reservation debates, 123-nuclear agreement, the election of Barack Obama as the new US president (and his Afpak policy that directly impacts India), the upcoming Commonwealth Games in 2010, the showcase of wads of currency on the floor of the Parliament last year, the incessant terror strikes, the Talibanisation of Pakistan (Swat, now maybe Peshawar), soaring-to-sublevel inflation, attack on women in a Mangalore pub called Amnesia, the upsurge of outfits like MNS and Sri Ram Sene, pink-chaddi campaigns, Rahul Gandhi, etc. Public awareness is scaling high and the need of the hour is more accountable leaders. With the junta giving a green chit to a ‘none of the above’ voting option, the leaders are sitting up straight and taking action.

BJP’s dipping graph

Until as early as a few weeks back, another Congress-led coalition seemed to be the fore-runner in the race to the Parliament. After winning the crucial state of Rajasthan and even Delhi in the assembly elections, this belief was only strengthened for most of us. When a crucial ally like the BJD stranded the BJP mid-way, the sentiment was high that it was the end of road for the saffron brigade. Images of iron-man LK Advani pumping muscle by lifting dumbbells were serving no purpose. The right-wing allegiances proved to be the party’s nemesis. Talks of rebuilding the Ram Mandir were being dismissed as airy-fairy nonsense.

Crutch-less Congress
Just when the Congress was gloating at the steady demise of its opposition, the bee of bad luck came and stung the party too. The Left, after being dropped as an ally in the trust vote last year, under the leadership of AB Bardan and Sitaram Yechury formally inaugurated a Third Front. The non-Congress, non-BJP front was projected as a platform to host all parties with disturbed equations with the two biggies. The front found support from many former allies of the two parties. Then more recently a Fourth Front took shape after RJD, LJP and SP (under Lalu Yadav, Ram Vilas Pawan and Mulayam Singh) decided to take charge of the states of UP and Bihar. Mayawati’s BSP decided to go solo too. Congress was left out of the calculations. The biggest blow came in the form of PMK withdrawing its support and joining Jayalalitha’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. (Read more on alliances here).

Present Scenario
We all like to back the winning horse. When fortunes seemed to be turning against the UPA, media ire (for once) shifted towards the party. The otherwise calm Congress felt the jolts and straightened its back. With regained confidence, the BJP had a lot many things to say. It was interesting to watch Congress articulates like Kapil Sibal and Jayanthi Natarajan toning down the smirks and giving straighter answers. Others like Abhishek Manu Singhvi had slipped into rhetoric about the party’s dwindling fortunes. A nastier Manmohan Singh was seen dropping the fa├žade of a subdued minister (on directives flowing from 10 Janpath of course) and lashing out at BJP’s PM-in-waiting Mr. LK Advani. Last I checked, things were as uncertain as ever.

My View
For a party that is trying to learn from past mistakes, the BJP ought to be treated with a little more respect that what we otherwise bestow on it. When the Hindutva plank failed to translate into votes, the party revised its strategy to developmental politics and addressing corruption. With strategists like Arun Jaitley and Sudheendra Kulkarni, the party still has a future reserved for itself. When Varun Gandhi first sprang up to spread communal hatred, the first reaction of the BJP was to distance itself from his beliefs. What subsequently followed was simply crisis management. (As noted earlier, alliances in modern India are a result of convenience and hence the divide that arose within the party over the issue was not unusual).

Then if one were to talk about the NCP, the track record isn’t exactly flawless. The biggest mistake that will hurt the Congress dearly in the elections is the inability of its ruled states to provide security for the next season of IPL matches. It is clear that Lalit Modi’s known intimacy to Vasundhara Raje cost him his presidency at RCA. It also sadly led to the repudiation of his brainchild, the Indian Premier League. Uncannily all Congress ruled states namely Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi communicated their inability to provide security for the event. A party that doesn’t think twice before mixing almost-sanctified sports with complicated politics at least needs a rethink.

The Commonwealth Games are another issue that needs to be analyzed. The third-term Congress in Delhi is finding it difficult to get ready in time to host the event in 2010. If our worst fears were to come true, the games would be transferred to another country due to the UPA’s inept disability, widespread corruption and disrespect for deadlines.

Next, the incidents of terror that this 5-year term of the government saw are aberrant. Never before had it taken so many jihadi attacks to make the government realize that its security measures were inadequate and its citizens unsafe. Border infiltration is peaking and it took a 26/11 for the Congress to dismiss its wardrobe-friendly home minister Shivraj Patil and reinstall P Chidambaram to take care of home affairs.

Criminals like Shibu Soren were offered Chief Ministership in return for trust votes. Morals were up for sale. As was proved by a CD unearthed after the shameful wads-of-money-in-parliament incident, money was offered in return for votes. Others accused in 1984 anti-Sikh riots like Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath have been made nominees for different LS seats in the coming elections. And these are just the cases that have been bought to book. The number of skeletons hidden away in the closet is anybody’s guess.

When Mangalore happened, Congress CM Gehlot from Rajasthan came forward and revolted against the ‘mall-culture’ (whatever that means). He brandished his intolerance towards two people holding hands in public and even increased the duties on liquor in the state to ‘discourage the culture of pubs and bars’. That aside, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit (instead of admitting a lapse in security and stepping up measures) labeled all working women who came home late from work as ‘adventurous’ after the infamous Soumya Vishwanathan murder case. Now she has pitched her son Sandeep Dikshit to contest from East Delhi in the LS polls.

UPA, the same party that blames the NDA of being communal and polarizing the voter base, is guilty of recommending and implementing the infamous OBC quotas in institutes of higher education under Arjun Singh. The uproar and dissent that the move generated is still fresh in the minds. It is because of this inducement that the Gujjars in Rajasthan came forward and demanded a status change for themselves as well (read about how the author faced the wrath here and here). The incompetent handling of the issue cost the incumbent BJP heavily in the assembly polls. Meanwhile, the Congress was busy proposing (and in some cases implementing) quotas for Muslims in education and jobs too. So much for blaming the NDA of ‘dividing the society’.

Rationale for this post
I pen all of this down because I get slightly perturbed when I observe how people are completely writing off the BJP this season. Sure the party has had its share of gaffes and wrong alliances during the process. But who doesn’t? And sure it projects itself the wrong the way when it endlessly elaborates on the Congress’s mistakes instead of telling the people what it can do for them. But we need to accord the party some patience in terms of hearing and understanding what they mean to tell us. Advani’s challenge to Manmohan Singh for a presidential-style debate needs to be heeded too. Only a party that is sure of its agenda can come forward and dare to debate in public. I see people ridiculing the ‘Advani for PM’ ads on the internet as being rampant. Say I ask them if is it bad to be tech-savvy in the 21st century? At least he’s getting us to notice that he’s contesting through the most frequently used medium. Our attention captured is mission accomplished. Now assuming that it would irk some people was, admit it, unforeseeable for the old chap. My only appeal to the readers of this blog is to patiently hear the BJP out and not base their opinions on the old stereotypes. The changing face of the BJP, and more importantly the Congress, needs to be looked at carefully before we make up our minds.

Post script
Don’t get the author wrong, she’s not a blatant supporter of the BJP. She only believes that casting our votes on the biased images that we might have of our leaders would be unfair to people trying to usher in change. The Congress has been the mai-baap of Indian politics for a long time… but we need to be aware and educated about other party options that we might have. I know the Left wing and other independents would agree with my view. Although if you don’t, feel free to vandalize my comment section with your opinions. Bouquets and brickbats invited alike.

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