Saturday, November 26, 2005

Spring in Indian Politics

The win of Nitish Kumar in Bihar is universally regarded as a positive development in Indian politics. Indeed it is as dramatic as 1977 Janata victory at Center or 1989 victory of VP Sing. Nitish Kumar has been fighting Lalu for long time and this victory culminates positively for him and for the progressive forces.

There have been many columnist and journalist who are perplexed and are at loss to find the reasons behind this change. Clearly this result cannot be simply explained in the orthodox terms of caste. It is so rare that all the punditry of caste based politics is less relevant to this election result. It can be fairly said that at least in some respect the voter did go beyond the caste calculus. May be, just may be, as more media bombards everyone in India bringing news of other states and outside word, Bihar residents starkly realized how much are they missing on the basic civil life and even rudimentary infrastructure. At some point, sheer survival needed the political change since people realized that there cannot be any improvement in Law and Order as long as Lalu was there. Besides, in Nitish Kumar and fairly worked out alliance of JD United and BJP; people could identify a viable alternative.

Can it be that Indian public is finally moving beyond the politics of Ram Mandir, Rath Yatra and Mandal of 80’s and 90s? Can we say that people of all castes, all regions want to vote for development and not to become victims of Communal and Castist politics? If it can be Bihar, the most notorious state of India; do we say India can have a realistic hope of dramatic political change forcing political parties to organize on the basis of performance and delivery? Well, this may be a wishful thinking; a castle in air based on one single election result. Nevertheless Bihar result does point a positive development. Only time will tell if such a positive tide is sustained or it is a short lived spring in Indian politics to be followed by usual harsh summer.

Many attribute Bihar election results to the clean administration of election process by CEC and it’s special advisor Mr. Rao. The transparent and strict election exercise helped to translate people’s will into correct election results without much manipulations - the usual tricks Lalu has been good at. After TN Sheshan and Krishnamurthy, CEC Special Advisor Rao is yet another able hand. One wonders how this succession of capable CEC personnel can be fully institutionalized so that it does not depend on just few good individuals. Along with the Supreme Court and Media; CEC is turning out one of the stronger and rare institutions of far reaching consequences in the contemporary India. In a continental style diverse polity of India with so many election cycles, so many political parties and so many voters; impartial and strong CEC is of paramount importance for India’s success. Bihar election results and many other elections in recent times confirm the graduation of CEC. It is truly one of the wonderful stories of today’s India. Compared to faceless and impotent Federal Election Commission in America; CEC is showing far more spine and doing the bull work of Democracy. Conduct of elections in America continues to be a mess, a black eye on the oldest democracy. No matter how many times President Carter and other experts try to point improvements; it continues to remain a vexed issue. May be the oldest democracy can still learn few tricks from the largest democracy.

Early signs show that winners of this election indeed are for a good start. Case in point is new ministry. By retaining Home portfolio for himself and Revenue to his deputy Modi; Nitish Kumar is setting his best foot forward. One hopes he is able to achieve the goals he is setting for himself - improving law and order in Bihar and putting the financial house in order. Of course in case of finances, as like any other state in Indian Union, Bihar will continue to face the problem of raising enough revenue from state taxes and fees. Most of the states in India depend on the largesse from Center which turns these states into dependent satellite governments with diminished power and abilities. It will be a tall order to expect one single state government to escape this brittle financial setup. As more parties share power in the Center and various states, hopefully most of the Indian political class realizes the core issue of Center-State financial imbalances so that there can be a collective movement towards reforms. Messer’s Modi and Nitish Kumar can contribute their share of this discourse. Here, it is the turn of India to learn from United States of America in regards to true Federal structure and financial self reliance of states.

The losers of this election are Lalu, RJD, Paswan and Left forces in general. It will be crucial to note how much legal damage Nitish Kumar is able to inflict on Lalu without over playing the revenge card. If the cases proceed on strong legal basis and at fair pace, Lalu may not be able to overcome those challenges. He has had 15 years of Bihar rule and his prodigious abilities of mismanagement to accumulate enough legal mess. As Lalu would face legal setbacks, RJD would have bleak future as it’s MPs and MLAs may feel to join other political forces. If JD United and BJP rule in Bihar is indeed able to weaken RJD as a political force; the competing alternatives of SP, BSP, JD (U) and Congress would look promising to elected members of RJD. These parties would get their hands on leftovers. However, it is still early in the inning to count out Lalu and RJD.

Beyond the state politics, it is surely a breather for NDA. The increased stock of JD United leaders like Fernandes and Sharad Yadav is a big plus for NDA. It may give impetus to NDA in adjacent West Bengal in the next year’s state election even though the odds still favor Left. Congress – it is still far away from improving it’s performance in crucial states of Bihar and UP. The only solace is Dr. Singh’s center government could have more stability since both Lalu and Paswan are cut to sizes. But Dr. Singh will face refreshed NDA on a stronger wicket. That may be bad for him, but good for India since she gets an alert opposition to keep the ruling party on toes. All in all that is a good news for Indian people.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA
November 26, 2005.

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