The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Competitive populism is the other name of Indian politics. This pernicious tendency cuts across all political parties. But at rare moments electoral considerations have a silver lining. There was a proposal within the Congress for an hour-long stoppage of railways and blockade of roads across the country on September 22. This was aimed at being a protest against the “anti-people policies and the many failures” of the government under the National Democratic Alliance. The protest initially had the blessing of the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi. But other considerations have prevailed and Ms Gandhi has withdrawn the agitation. The reasons for this are rather significant. Some senior members of her party explained to Ms Gandhi that such a protest would inconvenience large sections of the middle class and alienate them from the Congress. The party could not afford this at the moment since the feeling within the party is that the middle class is undergoing disenchantment with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The only beneficiary of such a process can logically be the Congress which should thus not be alienating the middle class through forms of protest that can provoke its ire. Confronted with this almost irrefutable electoral logic, Ms Gandhi had little option save withdrawing the protest, though why she supported it in the first place will remain a mystery.

The reasons given for the withdrawal are not based on any principle but on expediency. If elections were not around the corner and if it was not perceived that the BJP was losing the support of the middle class, the Congress would have had no compunctions about the rail roko and the blocking of roads. Such a form of protest held at any time and for any reason will always and invariably inconvenience people. Yet the Congress thought about such a form of agitation and decided to withdraw it only under electoral considerations. A right decision has been taken for the wrong reasons. This is also a form of populism. Real leadership consists of taking the right decision for the right reason without thinking of votes. Politics in India consists of political parties without the people. The latter, their welfare and their convenience, are suddenly remembered when elections are on the horizon. A rail roko and a road blockade would have inconvenienced all sections of the population, not just the middle class. It would have served no political purpose. Yet the Congress thought of it, as do other political parties when they are not in power.

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