The most unambiguous message emanating from the assembly election results in four states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi — is that the people are disgusted with the Congress governments, both at the Centre and in the states. Given the record of relentless inflation and rise in food prices, the deteriorating economic condition, the plethora of mega-scams and rudderless, insensitive governance, this was waiting to happen. The defeat of the Congress in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls has now become quite certain.
The Congress has been done in by a series of colossal blunders, both on the part of the government and of the party. Early concerns over spiralling price rise were brushed aside either through hollow claims on the part of ministers that prices would come down soon, or by blaming the people for consuming too much. While the inflation was clearly of a cost-push nature, the Reserve Bank of India continued with its muddle-headed policy of raising interest rates, which has predictably failed to rein in food prices. The government, meanwhile, continued with its policy of cutting subsidies and deregulating prices of crucial inputs like fuel and fertilizer. Such callousness has decisively turned the poor and middle classes against the government.
When the corruption scandals involving the 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games, KG basin gas, coal-block allocations and so on started unfolding one after the other, the Congress government displayed an immense degree of hauteur, publicly attacking institutions like the Comptroller and Auditor General, overtly manipulating the Central Bureau of Investigation, and scoffing at those who were protesting against corruption. The Supreme Court had to step in repeatedly to censure the government for its misdeeds.
In the wake of the revelations of the multi-crore scandals involving predatory appropriation of natural resources one had expected a rethink over the neoliberal economic strategy on the part of the Congress. Rather, the prime minister and his cohorts concluded that they needed to push even more aggressively with neo-liberal reforms, convinced that more sops for foreign and domestic capital will result in faster growth, which, in turn, will turn the public mood in its favour. Not only has that growth failed to materialize, but the industrial sector has suffered a serious slowdown while the external sector has also become more vulnerable. The so-called “dream team” of economic policy-making, led by the prime minister, has presided over what has turned out to be a chilling nightmare.
Given its political bankruptcy, a section of the Congress started arguing that the problem lies less with the policies of the government and their outcomes than with the personality of the prime minister. Egged on by this section, mainly comprising of sycophants and backroom intriguers, the Congress president shifted her focus from policy interventions — which was her forte during the heydays of the National Advisory Council — to securing the political career of her son.
Rahul Gandhi has several problems, but the one that stands out is his incomprehension of policies, be it related to the economic, social or foreign affairs. When it comes to the nuclear deal and strategic relations with the United States of America, he remembers Kalavati. When it comes to price rise, he talks about the Congress’s benevolence in initiating the NREGA. While reflecting on communalism and terrorism, he talks about the ISI recruiting riot victims of Muzaffarnagar. And when it comes to corruption, he is only trying to take credit in a puerile manner for enacting the lok pal law, which his own government had resisted and prevaricated on for so long, or “tearing and throwing out” the controversial ordinance on convicted MPs, which his own government had shamelessly initiated.
Far from being the youth icon that the Congress projects him to be, Rahul Gandhi seems to be totally out of sync with the aspirations of the youth. When the young women and men hit the streets of Delhi in thousands last year, protesting against the brutal gangrape of a young female student and demanding that the State take decisive steps to stop violence against women, Rahul and his youth brigade were conspicuous by their silence. In contrast, two prominent members of the Congress gang of babalogs, belonging to Haryana, were vocal in defending the feudal khap panchayats and their medieval diktats against relationships of their own choice between young men and women.
The young see these babalogs for who they are — scions of political dynasties that represent the putrid status quo. What they want today is a decisive break from the prevalent political culture ridden with cronyism and vested interests, which the Congress has come to represent more than anybody else.
Despite the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party won in three out of the four states where assembly elections were held, the so-called “Modi wave” seems to have ebbed. That is because the BJP’s victory in these three states was more by default, in the absence of any other credible alternative to the Congress. In Delhi, where a year-old Aam Aadmi Party could provide a credible alternative to the Congress, the BJP has floundered, in spite of extensive campaigning by Narendra Modi. The BJP will have an advantage in straight contests between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance; but such contests are likely to take place in only around 210 Lok Sabha seats. In the rest of the 333 seats, either the BJP will be pitted against the regional parties or it will remain electorally insignificant. This realization has somewhat punctured the bubble that was being built around Modi.
The Modi bubble has several stakeholders. There is of course the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is desperately trying to cash in on the popular mood against the Congress and foist its divisive communal agenda. The rise in incidents of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh over the past two years, culminating in the large-scale riots in Muzaffarnagar in September 2013, point towards a sinister gameplan. Then there are the Ambanis and their rapacious ilk, for whom Modi is the “king among kings”. Having looted the natural resources of the country with the help of the Congress over the last decade — from airwaves and natural gas to coal blocs and iron ore — these captains of crony capitalism have now lined up behind Modi, to provide another regime of uninterrupted loot and plunder. The latest players to throw their weight behind the Modi bandwagon are the foreign brokerages like Goldman Sachs, CLSA and Nomura. These sharks — who feast on speculative bubbles in the capital markets that created so much devastation in the US and other Western economies over the past decade — now want to “Modi-fy” India’s financial regime to their advantage.
For all his shrill anti-Congress rhetoric, the very character of the classes backing his bid to power makes it clear that far from providing any pro-people alternative to the Congress, a Modi regime at the Centre will imply more of the same right-wing economic policies. Moreover, revelations on Modi’s governance record in Gujarat, from the sordid fake encounters to the recent one involving illegal surveillance of a young female architect, show how the State machinery has been subverted from the very top. It is the writ of Amit Shah’s “saheb” and not the Indian Constitution, which runs in Gujarat. This has been clear to many ever since the “action-reaction” theory that was propounded to justify the post-Godhra pogroms against Muslims in 2002.
Thus, Modi replacing the Congress at the Centre would mean the corruption and cronyism of the Congress being replaced by more corruption and cronyism plus unalloyed communalism and subversion of democracy. Such apprehensions have not only kept most of the regional parties away from the BJP, but have made even many of its insiders and erstwhile fellow-travellers visibly uncomfortable.
The impressive debut of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi provides a silver lining. Though the AAP is yet to articulate a comprehensive alternative programme, it has effectively articulated some of the concerns of the people in Delhi, both the middle-classes and the urban poor. The issues foregrounded by the AAP — like institutional reforms to curb corruption, decentralization of decision-making, enhancing transparency and accountability of governance through people’s participation, reducing electricity bills through the proper audit of the power discoms, reversing privatization of water supply, the problems of slums and unauthorized colonies, the expansion of public healthcare and education, opposition to FDI in retail, and so on — are very relevant to the lives of urban citizens.
Some issues, however, have been left unaddressed by the AAP, like the denial of BPL cards to the poor, social security for the burgeoning informal sector workforce, inculcating gender sensitivity within the entire government and police machinery, the specific problems faced by Dalits and Muslim minorities in the urban areas, and so on. Moreover, the majority of Indians still live in its villages. The crisis afflicting the peasantry, the severe deficit of social and physical infrastructure in the rural areas, the continuing discrimination and injustices against the Dalits, adivasis and other weaker sections, the issue of land acquisition and displacement, environmental degradation and other such burning issues also need to be addressed. This requires a comprehensive framework of alternative policies at the national level.
A genuinely progressive and popular alternative to the Congress’s misrule can only be based on such an alternative policy platform. Without any alternative policy content, the slogan of secularism would also sound vacuous. It remains to be seen whether the progressive, democratic and Left forces can come together on the basis of such a platform.