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Empty or Full?

Empty or Full?

Functional democracy is where multiple views and choices of contrasting or even contradicting nature coexist without coercion. Saturday’s results have highlighted existence of such views of people stretching from northeast to southwest India.

But political pundits on the noise screen have already given their twisted views on the polls. One would get to read many more in the coming days. The only problem with such analyses is that the same people never sounded so wise even a few days before the results. The new-found idea is what is called ‘hindsight wisdom’. It is tailored to suit the nature of the results, even while making sure nothing will ruffle the feathers of the ‘presiding deities’ in New Delhi.

So was demonetisation a good idea? Is that a question that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on the poll verdict? The effects of demonetisation were there for everyone to see: From people condemned to a queued existence to dying in queues; from dipping growth figures and projections to surfacing of fresh counterfeits; from all the black money in the system returning to the banks to difficulty in obtaining enough cash even four months after the move.

Not Referendum

To claim that the election results have shown that demonetisation was correct is, hence, wrong. One can, however, claim that demonetisation was not an overwhelming factor in the polls or that majority of the people agreed that demonetisation was correct. Even such an inference may not be right as this was not a referendum on the currency recall.

2004 Story

Depending on whether one is on the losing or winning side, people always try to interpret election results to suit their needs. For example, in 2004, current Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, from whom several media pundits in the national capital draw political wisdom, said that NDA had not lost the election. UPA had neither won it.

UPA could muster a majority only after securing the support of the Left and sundry parties, but the fact remained that those who remained opposed to the NDA were able to get the majority of MPs elected, irrespective of individual margins of victory. When NDA managed to thus win the majority of seats in 1999, it was seen as its victory. Its inability to repeat the performance, hence, should have been accepted as its defeat.

But that was not so for Jaitley. He kept repeating for the next few years that the 2004 results was the ‘sum total of assembly elections’. Different sections of voters had different issues and there was no single national issue, Jaitley argued. But that had been the case for most election results of the Lok Sabha before or after. So, why not admit it when you lost, rather than hiding behind technical explanations?

I recalled something said for the first time almost 13 years ago because not only does it remain the most banal excuse a politician gave after his team lost an election, but equally banal interpretations are being dished out by politicians and the media now for the losses suffered by different parties in different states.

Modi’s Popularity

A quick analysis of why the BJP swept the polls in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand does not do justice to it or the parties it vanquished. All what we know now is that the winner in this round of assembly polls is BJP, as it has won two states by overwhelming margins. Manipur and Goa, at the time of writing this, looks hung and Punjab has gone to the Congress, despite an impressive performance by ‘BJP B team’.

BJP has claimed that the victory in UP and Uttarakhand reflect the popularity of its leader Narendra Modi and endorsement of his policies and rejection of the Congress and its alliance partner’s ‘negative’ politics.

That is the job of politicians. But the job of the media is to go beyond echoing such views. Except in instances like when the Congress party won more than 400 seats in 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, analysis of results have been skewed most of the time. But what was interesting even in the 1984 elections was the fact that the Congress managed to win only over 49% of the total votes polled. Equally interesting was the fact that the all-India voting average was little over 63%.

Someone could have interpreted those figures to mean that 37% of Indians did not care for national integration, the main theme in the polls that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Or could we say that the Congress in that election did not enjoy the support of the majority of Indians, since 51% of votes went to non-Congress candidates? Definitely, one could interpret data any which way one wanted.

GST Time

Predicting what this round of polls would bring for the country makes better rational. After the spectacular win in UP, India’s largest state that sent 71 BJP MPs to the Lok Sabha in 2014, the Narendra Modi Government will be emboldened to concentrate on administrative measures that may not be very popular with different sections of society. Reform measures such as implementation of GST may happen soon as promised. The Centre will interpret the data from the results as an endorsement of its administrative measures and the Modi Government will be more adventurous on implementing more economic reforms.

However, the Union Government does not have a wide window for such things. Whatever measures it takes will be limited to the next one year or so because by the middle of next year, politicians will have to get ready for the Lok Sabha polls of 2019. Even someone like Modi who did not think twice about the consequences of demonetisation cannot be expected to take too many risks after 2018.

Rahul’s Task

For Rahul Gandhi, the saving grace has been the Congress win in Punjab. If Congress plans to be a contender in 2019, it would need to stitch up broader alliances. It may need to do a Bihar in UP, by bringing SP and BSP together and have winning alliances in states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra, while retaining existing ones elsewhere.

Rahul Gandhi needs to take over the reins of his party from his ailing mother without delay. He should take the old guard in his party along with his ‘youth brigade’. He also needs to learn the basic grammar of politics to become the acceptable leader of all parties that will refuse to align with BJP. Gandhi cannot match Modi in rhetoric but he has to put in more hours, for there is no substitute for hard work.


#(Published on 13th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 11)