Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 assembly elections and the Indian polity at crossroads

by Ratnakar Tripathy

I will begin by underlining a particular anxiety, a grievously misplaced one according to me that some of my liberal and left-leaning intellectual friends have been lately voicing. With every new brave utterance from Rahul Gandhi, supposedly the future of the Congress party, their hopes are jacked up temporarily till reports on the next folly from him promptly turn up in the day’s news. Nothing in brief seems to work for the Congress these days, except small and scrappy victories like its successful ride over the backs of the CPM in the West Bengal elections.  Most of these friends have a hearty contempt for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi but are driven to positions where the only relief from the BJP comes in the shape of a revival of the Congress. This is a very ugly and constricted political space to be in. But for reasons explained here, there is no logic driving anyone to find shelter in this as the only possible refuge. The anxiety is most dramatically expressed in the question – what if the Congress gets decimated? And if that transpires, the BJP will very obviously and without doubt occupy the space vacated by the Congress. That BJP will without fail occupy the empty spaces is an assumption more suited to physics rather than politics. Let me explain why.

But before I try to mitigate the anxiety of the liberal-left intelligentsia, I would like to add to it another big dose of anxiety by asking my own question, a question that may seem startling but is by no means a crazy one, having surfaced in the media many a time in recent days. The question is – what if neither the Congress nor the BJP manage to occupy the vast political landscapes reserved thus far for the two giants sitting at the centre? What if both these parties get reduced to their pale shadows in the months and years to come, as we move from one state election to the other all the way to 2019, when the next general elections will be due? I am aware that even asking this question implies that I foresee, await or advocate the formation of the good old third front, a chimera that I hold no brief for.  At this point, the third front seems a remote possibility requiring a complicated series of moves between now and 2019, rather than a single large push from the likes of Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati to mention a few. Further the third front story is complicated by the parallel and this point the more dominant narrative of the anti-BJP and anti-Congress fronts. The anti-BJP front inclusive of the Congress already has track record in Bihar and Bengal and the anti-Congress front has acquired a new meaning in the context of the forthcoming elections in the north-eastern states like Manipur where the BJP is using the anti-Congress slogan to make headways. So it seems there are at least three fronts about to consolidate at this point. If this is not complicated enough, the Aam Admi Party [AAP] is interested neither in anti-Congress not anti-BJP front as it is determined to take on both the national parties in arenas of its choice. It will not be wise nevertheless to dismiss this lonesome warrior capable mustering mass support at critical moments. 

As a result of all this, what we have in front of us right now looks like a big but a happy mess – the Indian federal system awaits one more round of rehaul and recuperation as both the Congress and the BJP are forced to find alliances with the regional forces. Delegation of electoral work to the local unit in Assam reaped rich dividends for the party even though we do not know if this trend will continue to prevail in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab next year. There is sufficient evidence from Delhi, Bihar and several other states like Kerala, Tamilnadu, and Uttarakhand that the zealous BJP supporting voter of 2014 is now a wary and chastened individual.      

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