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.


Anonymous says:

What I see here is a waking-up to political stereotypes here. And, inevitably, the first thing that happens when we defy stereotypes is that we defy the dominant stereotype. Your attack on The Congress, though warranted, is, by no means, exhaustive. Simply because you have not applied the same critical lens to The BJP. Or any of the other players.
I agree, wholeheartedly, with you on the main issues here - first, the absolutely dire need for us to vote on the here and now over the has-been. And, second, the misplaced dismissiveness being meted out to the major Opposition party this time around.
What that means is that this edition of the General Elections promises to be a pot-boiler.
My most urgent question is what way the first-time voters will go?
Great Post!

I think the Bhajpaiyas need to decide what they want to be - a party of the 17th or the 21st century. They have all the makings of a modern right wing conservative political party that India needs to stand against a Left to the centre liberal Congress. But it is difficult to take the BJP's claims of playing development politics seriously when Varun Gandhi grabs more prominence than LK Advani. The party can cry that it is being victimized by the media, but a simple two line statement condemning Varun on Day 1 would have finished the matter and shown them in a more progressive light.

But obviously, they want to ride the development politics hare and hunt with the hate politics hound. They are extremely reluctant to let go of their original moorings of hard hindutva and feels it is climbdown to criticize hindu communal speech. I am not excusing the blind eye the Congress and their 'secular' allies turn towards hate speech of the minority fundamentalists, but it is a little difficult to take all that talk of developmental politics seriously when the BJP turns hyper aggressive whenever confronted about its vision of a non-inclusive India.

As for Mr.Advani, I agree with Manmohan Singh about his zilch contribution to the nation. However, I do acknowledge his contribution to his party. Rightly or wrongly, he used a prevailing sentiment in the nation in the late 80s and astutely turned it into his party's electoral advantage. As a partyman, he deserves his nomination as 'Prime Minister to be'- but there is a limit to hate politics. You cannot call Jinnah secular (blatant pseudo secularism from a man who once made it his vote plank) and then condone language such as 'haath kaat denge'. The Congress and its Prime Minister have atleast officially and in Parliament apologised to the nation over the 1984 riots. The day Mr.Advani and Mr.Modi (more importantly) are ready to say the same about Gujarat, I will readily vote for them.
Though i agree with the fundamental point of your blog, debate should be about issues and voting ultimately should be driven by a balanced assessment of those issues and not by prejudice.

@rajjat and affy: the whole point of writing this post was to get constructive feeds from people of different avenues. i seem to be getting there. whats more, affy on your suggestion, i volunteered to help with the campaign on LKA's website (contribute in terms of writing). waiting for a response on that. now before you start getting ideas, i did it merely to get an insight into how the party works. about what rajjat said about this not being an exhaustive post, i still have a while to go before i start doling that variety out. although for now, this should suffice as a satisfactory start. you both atleast seem to be agreeing that stereotypes need to be done away with... and that is sufficient to keep me going.

Interesting post. Though I keep myself away from politics of all kind, it is heartrending to see ppl wake up to "jaago re" campaign. though to me indian politics still seems like a complete circus, i just wish for one thing to be possible, if ever: Separation of politics from religion. somehow i think it is unethical to link the two. that is why i somehow cannot bring myself to look at all the promise being made by someone like advani or modi... to me they are just pro-hindu anti-everyone-else people who want a HINDUstan, instead of HINDustan. I am an atheist, and I dont care about religion, but most indians live every second of their lives dictated by their religion. i think politicians with religious agendas are fuckin snakes, who actually dont give 2 hoots abt religion or god.
anyway im sorta one of those horrible people who have not voted in a long time, but given a chane i know where ill cast my vote: to NO One.

Hey...nice informative post..made me feel guilty of not keeping in touch with wats happening wid the scene:P:(

and yea..the initiative by nedia to make ppl vote this time round..."i swear by"...the "vote or vaat" thingy...is gr8 too !

@aditi: you seem pretty pissed with the system. may the 'none of the above' voting option come into play soon :) for you, n maybe for me.

@rohan: short n sweet. just the way i thought your comment would be :)

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The Future Mantra

Well, I couldn't avoid noticing the BJP tilt - but then each to his own. May the best/worst party win and may we not face a re-election!
The hope should be that whichever party gets to occupy the center atleast delivers what it promises - that would be more than sufficient.

Btw, future mantra is such a cheapskate :P

@arunabh: hehe. thx for the comment :) id like to hear abt ur political inclinations some day :)

hey Yashika,
well wut i can observe that you hav a slant towards BJP.But I dnt like any of the parties as of now as what all has been their history.Moreover,they keep talkin about contributions to the country...Do u think they have done enuf?

This is my first time to vote and I dont thnk I ll b casting my vote as I feel that wont create much a difference if either of the parties is selected.

Also I feel that the politics of our country sux big time.Every other day u can see politicians changing their parties and collaborations.Do these people deserve to be voted?

Elections are so much fun!I love reading newspapers during elections...full of dramatic mud-slinging speeches...The SP manifesto was the icing on the cake!

yeah obviously.its so much fun the way the politicians keep changing their stance
But when u look the other way round u ll see huge sums of money being wasted other all this nuisance..This money cud long be uesd to feed some hundreds of ppl.

@Mahi:The opposite is true. Not only has it provided livelihood to scores of people like bannerwalas, stage-mike-loudspeakerwalas,bike/jeep renters etc but also alleviated the woes of impoverished by plain cash distribution for votes!It is definitely the biggest stimulus package in the midst of economic turbulence. :)

well might be and I have nerver thought from that point of view.what i had thought and heard was that during elections politicians thru huge amount of money to criminal gangs and large amount of arms and ammunition is bought to pursue their political motives which obviously is a bad sign for a country.

@mahi: pretty, thanks for commenting. cast your first-time vote for the right party :)

@aneesha: i liked ur stimulus package comment. very pertinent :D


the pleasure is all mine...i m getting in touch wid diff ppl's ideologies and moreovr had a very interesting discussion

if possible I will cast my Do Not Deserve Vote ;P

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