THE Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led by prime minister Narendra Mody, has won a landslide victory in the Uttar Pradesh state of India. It has won over 300 hundred seats out of a total of 403 in state, which is home to some 200 million people. Many in India, and beyond, appear to have been surprised by the election result. But, a deeper look into the politics of India would show that there is hardly anything to be surprised about the electoral success of the BJP in the given political context of the day.
Politics is not a rational enterprise. Electoral politics in India is about how well a political party or an alliance manages the perceptions, identity and interests in a given context. This requires party network on the ground, a committed cadre, managing or dividing caste/religious identity, messaging on the ground in each constituency and lots of money. As of now BJP is the most organised political enterprise that will go to any extent to manage electoral outcome with messaging, money, media and muscles. As an organised party built on the well entrenched cadre of RSS built over 90 years ago, BJP is still managed by RSS with their brahminical agenda.
Congress is a party that lost it grassroots network, courage of convictions, charismatic leadership that fetched votes once up on a time and a high command in its lowest mode of credibility, surrounded by rootless soothsayers. The new generation of voters also will increasingly reject dynastic politics.
BJP win is on the one hand due to their clarity of purposes, and an electoral machine that work well in advance and a real high command with command and control mechanism and its RSS cadre base at the grassroots level. Congress cumulatively lost all these in the last thirty years. Of course if there was a grand alliance such as in Bihar, the results would have been different in UP too. But that too requires political leadership with political imagination and an ability to bridge the gap.
Another important point is that big ticket infrastructure development projects like metro, express highways or airports may impress the middle class media or upper class chattering network; but it hardly matters to the vast majority of rural voters or poor people. But issues of corruption, political middlemen, arrogance, and lack of delivery of basic services affect the voters. This is also the reasons for anti-incumbancy voting pattern, despite all development that excite that class who usually not even bother to vote.
Even where congress won in the last few years, it is often due to work of state level leaders and often the descending high command spoiled the chances by parachuting their candidates and ideas, removed from grassroots reality. As congress is now in its most vulnerable condition, it is important to realise and recognise that a political party simply can’t be rebuilt or revitalised by rootless wonders in Delhi Durbar. The second issue for congress to realise is that opportunistic politics devoid of convictions, ideals, and integrity will eventually lose all its credibility among the people who have supported congress for many decades. The third important point is the leaders of the seventies can’t run or revitalise the party. And unless congress is taken over by a convincing, charismatic, and young leadership, the congress party will further wither away as fast as it disappeared in Hindi heartland and now everywhere. Unless the divide and rule policy through the Delhi engineered factional politics stops, congress party will lose its soul and soil. As long as congress party is seen as a party of the corrupt self serving gangs of selfish leaders, the voters will not support the congress. The problem is not merely about Rahul Gandi. The problem is that he inherited a corrupted and decadent congress network primarily driven by divisive interests of leaders of factional fiefdoms. His major problem was the lack of political imagination of an organic political leader from the ground. And he is surrounded by equally rootless wonders who survive more through political gossips than anything else.
The ascent of BJP is directly proportional to the descending congress party. Despite one totally disagrees with politics of Modi, the fact of the matter is that he has grown as an organic political leader who began his journey on the soil, at the grassroots. He did not begin at the Delhi durbar. He evolved through his experiences in running government for fifteen years. And his aggressive street smart approaches with a way with words make him a relatively effective communicator. And the fact that he projects himself as a subaltern antithetical to dynasty politics help him to be popular with a section of a large number of lower middle class voters. He knows how to make virtue of not having a family as a counter narrative to politics driven by dynasties. And above all he has the killer instinct to win. And as of now there is no substantial competition for him on all these ground.
However the populist authoritarian model of his leadership is injurious to democracy, human rights and sustainable development and the very idea of India. Politics of window dressing, rhetoric and election management will not strengthen the politics of substantive democracy and grassroots politics.
The key challenge for all those who believe in the Constitution of India and liberal social democracy is how do we begin to imagine and build an alternative politics and political alternatives at the national level. In its present decadent and descending form, it will be a bit of miracle for anyone to expect congress to rise like a Phoenix. There is hardly anything left out of the left political parties. They lost their national relevance and became a more of shrinking political party that lost its distinctive quality of ideals and ideology in its political opportunism. The main limitations of ruling dispensation in various states are that they are leader-centric enterprises primarily driven by power for the sake of it and largely based on opportunistic identity politics than any commitment to any ideology. Though AAP wants to sell itself as an alternative, its politics is hardly any alternative as it is another leader-centric minor party in Delhi.
More than the win of BJP, what is worrying in India is the shrinking space for substantive oppositional spaces. The fragmented and dispersed oppositional space is that propel BJP as a relatively well organised party which has the advantage of government power, money of crony capitalist buddies, and a willing corporate media.
It is time to imagine national level political alternatives based on an alternative political culture deriving its strength from organic politics, collective leadership and building from the ground. This can’t be a quickie electoral enterprise like AAP. This requires a minimum of a decade of work beyond the quick gains in electoral politics.
Politics is a marathon that requires a staying power. Instead of agonising, it is time to organise and also time to build synergy among the actors in oppositional spaces. It is time to collectively invest in new civic politics based on courage of convictions in the ideals of freedoms, rights, justice and peace. It is time to imagine a new politics of inclusive democratic governance and integrity of leadership. It is not a time to despair.
It is time to build democratic politics from below. It is not a time to give up or give in. It is time to give our time, energy and passion for the future of an inclusive and plural democratic India. We shall overcome. Indeed, we will. We can. We, the people of India.
John Samuel is the executive director of the Forum-Asia.
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