May 16, 2009

What we want, and don't

Continuing the thought train started from the previous post ...

After the 2004 elections, which saw the BJP tossed out of power, one of its more fervent and vocal supporters wrote an article eloquently mourning the loss. Among other gems (many many gems) in it was this proclamation:

"I feel Indians do not really know what they want."

This, because the result of an election was not to his liking.

I wrote a note to the man, saying this:

If the BJP and its supporters, like you, are unwilling to do some introspection about why [the party lost power], if you will ascribe it merely to the fact that we Indians "do not really know what we want", I assure you the BJP will lose again next time.

Well, it is now "next time". We Indians who do not really know what we want have just voted again. Low voter turnout yes, spoiler parties yes, all that. But the fundamental reality of this election is this: the BJP lost again. It lost seats from its previous tally. Again. So did its coalition.

Proof that the BJP and its supporters did zero introspection about what happened in 2004. (Check the contents of innumerable blogs run by BJP fans, for example).

And that leaves me with curiously mixed feelings.

Glad, because with its preoccupation with some mythical Hindutva and a temple and stoking resentments, my hope every time is that the BJP loses.

Sorry, because if it ever learns to evolve beyond that preoccupation, the BJP can be the strong right-wing party that, even if I disagree with them, I believe a vibrant democracy needs.

Sad, because neither the BJP nor its fans has ever shown any inclination for that evolution. Nor do I see it happening now.

So what happens next time with us Indians who do not really know what we want?

44 comments:

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I think there's no room in India for the BJP brand of social right-winginess. If they keep shrinking, I'm happy. As for economics, the Congress could well evolve to a centre-right position (free market, less protectionism, etc). The centre-left could be occupied by the so-called third front. Here the BJP has no particular ideology and I don't see them occupying a right-wing space.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Rahul, food for thought.

My point is what you say in the last sentence: the BJP offers no ideology at all. I'd like to think the electorate is slowly finding that out. As they currently are, I don't see them as "social right-wing" or even just "right-wing" -- they are just empty barrels, is all. Seems they prefer to remain that way.

Sachita said...

Dilip,

It would be great if the results were as you say. That people rejected BJP's religious extremism and that was the reason why they lost. BJP hasnt lost as much, they seem to be the same.

I see that Congress has essentially gained in West Bengal and Kerala, two Marxist states..
And I am glad the left is off the congress back.

I do have to admit my deep-rooted hatred for congress for multiple reasons. And I am scared that country will just turn and go back to what we were two decades before. All kinds of ineffectual good only on paper policies.(that was nightmare, reservation for every one - that is what congress will do). I am not Pro-BJP, I am anti-congress.

Suresh said...

The BJP has no ideology but it does have a dream: to consolidate all Hindu voters into a "vote bank." The one way of doing this is to postulate a threat to "Hindus" from outside. Hence, the constant talk of threat to Hindus: As Pratap Bhanu Mehta notes, there is an air of permanent victimhood about the BJP even when it is in power!

Unfortunately, as elsewhere, this type of politics can work to an extent only, mainly in extreme circumstances. It is well-known that the Muslim League has had difficulty winning elections in Pakistan even though it was the party responsible for that state's creation and garnered most Muslim votes in the last elections prior to partition. The Shiromani Akali Dal has never managed to consolidate the Sikh vote in Punjab. For most of Punjab's history, it is the Congress which has been in power! This was true even during the 1980s and 1990s when Sikh alienation was dangerously high. Note also that in Gujarat, the Congress-BJP seat split this time is 11-14 which suggests that the Modi brand of politics may have reached its shelf-life (hopefully).

I think sometimes secularists make the mistake of thinking that religion and social issues are "unimportant" to the "common man" and that "good governance" is all they care about. But, as partition and even the success of people like Manoj Pradhan (accused in the Kandhamal anti-Christian riots) tells us, people are rarely that one-dimensional. It is a recognition of this fact that forced Indira Gandhi in the 1980s to a policy which was dubbed "soft Hindutva", something that was continued -- with disastrous effects -- by Rajiv.

Fortunately for those of us who dislike the BJP, neither are people as one-dimensional as that party would like us to be. I think the party itself recognizes this because in many cases, it has won power not by "uniting all Hindus" but by diluting Hindutva in favour of "good governance." The permanent dilemma for the party is to somehow hold on its core voters (the Hindutva types) and also attract significant number of "others." That's a difficult balancing act: Vajpayee possibly managed to carry it off but Advani certainly could not.

Just some thoughts...

Btw, no party other than the communists can claim to have a well-defined ideology. (Even that is in doubt.) What is the Congress' ideology, for instance? Or the BSP's ideology? In fact, the BSP's position - if I'm not mistaken - is that it has no ideology and it's objective is simply to capture political power.

It may be nice to have parties with well-defined ideologies in India. But we are not Europe. Given our heterogeneity and the fact that we are still a largely traditional society, I don't think that's possible. Even on the economic front, I don't think that ideology will play an important role in distinguishing parties. The Congress, for instance, still has people like Mani Shankar Aiyar within it who are strongly against the policies initiated in 1991. That group (within the Congress) may be less powerful nowadays, but it is still there and can be depended on to play the role of an "in-house opposition." And on the BJP side we have ardent "swadeshi" guys like that ass, S. Gurumurthy, along with Arun Shourie who can be dubbed a "neo-liberal" (to use the JNU favourite term of abuse).

Anonymous said...

The only difference between BJP and Congress is the Hindutva agenda. Apart from Hindutva, rest of BJP's manifesto will be implemented by Congress. So I don't think BJP's loss matters much to the country. Pre-Independence Congress anyway had BJP like elements under its fold.

What matters a lot is the defeat of the Left in Bengal. The Left has the ideological capacity to stifle our growth and choke us to death.

Anonymous said...

@Rahul

Congress can never occupy the centre-right. This position demands a different kind of policy delivery that Congress is not capable of. Manmohan Singh had to stake his position to get the nuclear deal. Rest of the Congress party was at best an unwilling passenger on this journey. When MS goes, I think Congress will slip back into its comfort zone of Garibi Hatao.

Dilip is right. Centre Right is wide open and it is for BJP's taking. It has proven credentials on this side. It can move into this house straightaway. All it needs to do is to jettison Modi, Varun etc. It should reduce Hindutva to the level of fighting appeasement politics. It will get its day in the sun.

Anonymous said...

One question that a centre right party can ask Congress is why that it is still in league to communal parties like IUML. One can argue with the wisdom of such a question during present times but in ten years India would have matured differently. After all, in 1977 who would have fought on bijli sadak paani slogan.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sachita:

BJP hasnt lost as much, they seem to be the same.

If the BJP agrees with you that the loss of 22 of 138 seats -- that 138 itself being a serious comedown from five years before -- is to be considered "the same", well, what can I say. The party will lose the next election, losing even more seats.

I am scared that country will just turn and go back to what we were two decades before.

What's the evidence for this fright? What has happened in these past five years? Have we turned and gone back to what we were two decades before, whatever that is?

Suresh:

The permanent dilemma for the party is to somehow hold on its core voters (the Hindutva types) and also attract significant number of "others."The question for the BJP really boils down to this: how can we win an election? The answer has to be that they give up the crazies and the hate and the victimhood. If two election debacles in a row cannot teach them that lesson, nothing will.

I agree about the absence of ideology everywhere on the political landscape. There are glimpses here and there, but otherwise, zip. As you seem to suggest, that may be OK. But with the BJP in particular, there has been nothing in all these years that I might think of as a vision for the country, a direction for the country. Unless you call a temple that vision.

Anon 451:

It should reduce Hindutva to the level of fighting appeasement politics. It will get its day in the sun.

It should acknowledge its Hindutva as the emptiness (putting it kindly) it is. Only then, I believe, will it stnd a chance of winning an election.

a traveller... said...

We may not know what we want, but we do know what we don't want. And we don't want a government that thrives on dividing the country, that based its campaign on the flaws of their opponents rather than talking about their own achievements. C'est tout!

Dilip D'Souza said...

that based its campaign on the flaws of their opponents rather than talking about their own achievements.

Well, traveller, it seems to me there were no achievements or ideas to campaign on. After all, even an apparent supporter of the BJP told me in a comment on an earlier post that spelling out the BJP's message for us ordinary voters would amount to "diluting the message".

a traveller... said...

True, but I tried to avoid saying that in case there was some obscure achievement I had missed out on! :)

Anonymous said...

Sri Lanka has declared decisive victory in its war with the rebels.

Something that India cannot emulate in the next 5000 years

Anonymous said...

Identity politics will not go away...after all BJP was not vanquished in this election.

So long as one is poor ones primary aim is to improve living standard and rightly so. Questions related to identity are a luxury. But as people more and more move up the social ladder, it is only natural that they will ask such questions to themselves.

Take my example. My blood boils at the sight of Sri Lankans decalring victory over my brethen. Today my loyalty has shifted to my people Tamilians, first and last. This is the case in rest of Tamil Nadu where people have handed victory to DMK but defeat to Congress.

Dilip, I don't expect your blood to boil at this sight because for you Tamilians are a distant people. After all from your co-ordinates, Madurai is far off compared to Calcutta and Karachi.

Anonymous said...

Sri Lankan could not have achieved this victory with out the complicity and culpable silence of Congress on the massacre of Tamils. After all India invaded Tamils under the Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi.

Dilip D'Souza said...

for you Tamilians are a distant people.

Not that it matters, or is relevant to this discussion (so I don't even know why I'm getting into this) ... but I'm half-Tamil, with family roots in Sengottai, and speak the language.

The LTTE is possibly the world's most committed and vicious terrorist organization, but it is squarely a creation of short-sighted and vicious policies of various Sinhala leaders. Policies deliberately intended to reduce Tamils in SL to second-class status. Result: the years of civil way that have nearly destroyed a once-peaceful model country.

Again, what this has to do with the Indian elections, I have no idea.

Suresh said...

From Madhu Kishwar's blog regarding Rahul Gandhi:

I remember that after his trip to India British Foreign Secretary David Milliband had made this revealing comment in a British newspaper about Rahul Gandhi ... He said he found it strange that a man expected to occupy the prime minister's chair in the near future could not be engaged in discussing anything beyond "development issues" related to his constituency--such as building polytechnics, schools or factories in his constituency. He could not engage in any macro level political discussion--not even on burning issues like Indo Pak relations or the future of Kashmir. I found that comment devastating because if this is the kind of training he is being given, then the Congress intellectuals are doing a very poor job of grooming their leader.This sort of captures the ambivalence towards the BJP of many like me. We wish that the BJP would be a better party if only because the Congress can't seem to think beyond the Gandhi family. We already have seen the nauseating spectacle of the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia proclaiming his "loyalty" to the "royal family" by asking for Rahul to take over as the PM.

If the above extract is anything to go by, then I am not looking forward to Rahul taking over either now or in a couple of years' time (the likely scenario). But if the alternative is Modi or worse, and the only things by way of a vision is executing Afzal Guru or building a temple, then I far prefer Rahul. [Incidentally, I found it disgusting that a man's life should be made the target of political football. That's not defending Afzal Guru by any means.]

The link to Madhu Kishwar's post:

http://tinyurl.com/qvoemj

Xo said...

>> Jyotiraditya Scindia proclaiming his "loyalty" to the "royal family" by asking for Rahul to take over as the PM.

Its Rahulji. You just cannot disrespect elders :)

Nikhil said...

Interesting perspective Dlip.
But you have missed or ignored another milestone of this election and something I am celebrating - the demise of the left. Just for that I thank Mamta Bannerjee. For their destructive attitude during the first term, the left deserves to be in oblivion and hopefully never return to the power corridors again.
Maybe for somebody who was gung ho about the left winning 2 years back and wanted them to make a big splash, will you do a reality check about this too?

Dilip D'Souza said...

you have missed or ignored another milestone of this election and something I am celebrating - the demise of the left.

If you feel like celebrating something, please go ahead. Does it somehow lessen your celebratory feeling if others don't proclaim that they are celebrating it too?

It's rather amazing, anyway, that you "thank" Mamata B for the demise of the left. Given her stand on Nano and Singrur and Nandigram, and given the WB govt's stand on those things, it is Mamata who is really the left in WB. It's the WB CPM folks that has wandered away from what we think of as the left. So Mamata's rise is really the rise of left ideas.

As for destructive attitudes, I find it hard to think of a party that has been more destructive than the BJP. They've got the reality check they've needed for years. Question is, will they take it?

Dilip D'Souza said...

One more point that should have been in the previous comment ...

Given their behaviour in Nandigram, I welcome the debacle the CPM has suffered. No party responsible for that deserves electoral success.

Chitta said...

Fully agree with the last comment of Dilip. Slight modification of a statement in another blog post: "Riots and murders have consequences"

Chitta said...

Especially in the age of Internet and Youtube.

People of India will not forget Post-Godhra 2002 as long as the culprits have not paid their dues. Like Varun Gandhi's win, BJP's win in G. Udaygiri, and BJP's wins in Gujarat there may be some local wins but there will be bigger costs as it will disgust a much larger constituency.

In Orissa BJP has gone down from 32 assembly seats to 6 and from 7 parliament seats to ZERO. It has lost a big ally in BJD and similarly in other states. (I am sure that unless BJP learns its lesson and changes for the better, Nitish's party will be out of NDA very soon.)

Anonymous said...

Dilip,

Good to know that you're one of us. Hope you do well. It wrecks my heart to see my people wandering around without hope. Reminds me of Subramanya Bharathi 'Thikku theriyaatha kaatil'. What is their offence to warrant such a punishment?.

Apologies to bring this out of context. But for a moment forget Congress, BJP, etc. Let them rot in hell. What did Tamilians gain after all these years playing politics with these guys... Nothing...Congress Nehru blew up Tamilian taxes on hopeless 'cow belt'....only to be shot at by his grandson Rajiv Gandhi in the form of IPKF. Please write blogs whereever you can about the plight of Tamilians.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that you call Sri Lanka was a model state....

http://www.dailynews.lk/2009/05/18/news31.asp

Nikhil said...

It's rather amazing, anyway, that you "thank" Mamata B for the demise of the left. Given her stand on Nano and Singrur and Nandigram, and given the WB govt's stand on those things, it is Mamata who is really the left in WB. It's the WB CPM folks that has wandered away from what we think of as the left. So Mamata's rise is really the rise of left ideas.
Again you create a strawman of 'left ideas' - whatever that is.
The issue was never about 'left ideas' The key issue is how irresponsibly the left wielded whatever power during 4 years with their ibscurantist attitude for 4 years bullying the Manmohan Singh govt at every turn.
Did you simply ignore how the left parties sacrificed national interest at every instance and scuttled all reforms. I had argued the same thing in the 2006 election result that every victory for them (left) will embolden them a chance to bully the govt even more and end the entire reform process.
Agree with you about Nandigram

As for destructive attitudes, I find it hard to think of a party that has been more destructive than the BJP. They've got the reality check they've needed for years. Question is, will they take it?

Please elaborate - Could we once get down to specifics. This is again a vague statement. For a party that has formed govts in so many states and is the biggest opposition party, surely they cannot be written off.
At least MMS shoudl now learn from PV Narsimha Rao and engage the opposition meaningfully instrad of cozying up to idiotic characters and isolating the NDA.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Suresh: you hit the nail on the head, re: Rahul G. It's the Congress's obsession with the Nehru/Gandhi family that, among other things, got so many of us searching for alternatives. The BJP had a huge opportunity, in that dissatisfaction. Except that they showed that they are no different, and in many ways much worse.

There are so many other capable people in the Congress: Milind Deora, Scindia himself, Jairam Ramesh, Chidambaram, Sibal, etc. Yet they end up chanting the Rahul-for-PM mantra.

Rahul may have pulled off a political coup in UP, which is what he is being feted for. Does that make him PM material? Not in my book.

What did Tamilians gain after all these years playing politics with these guys...

The real question to ask, and find answers for, is, what did we Indians gain after all these years playing politics with these guys? In other words, make these parties accountable to us all.

Did you simply ignore how the left parties sacrificed national interest at every instance and scuttled all reforms.

Not at all. There's a definite debate that we should have on what is and what is not the national interest. There are some who believe a temple in Ayodhya is the overriding national interest. Should we ignore that?

I think the left acted in what it believed was the national interest.

Could we once get down to specifics.

Certainly. The destruction of that mosque and the killings it generated. The killings in Gujarat and the lack of any justice, or even any belief that there should be justice for that. Etc.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I think both the Left and the BJP have essentially negative agendas (it was always true of the BJP but not always true of the Left). Even on the Ram temple, the BJP was more concerned with destroying a mosque than with building a temple. Once the mosque was gone, the issue fizzled out. The Left's obstructionism has hurt them. Their wooing of industry could have been positive -- WB certainly needs it, and I think Buddhadeb's victory in the previous assembly elections was deserved, he seems mostly to be one of the saner people out there -- but they botched it in Singur and Nandigram and made enemies of everyone.

Nikhil said...

Rahul
The BJP may have had politically negative agendas - like mandir etc. The mandir issues was just political expediency that made the BJP take it up - nothing else. This is not unlike other parties like SP and Congress that build their vote banks on communalism.
But on the economic and other issues like international relations, there is no difference between the Manmohan Singh line and them. It was the left that lives in the stone age and wanted us to break relations with the US, end diplomatic and defence ties with Israel and even Taiwan and staged Anti-Bush demonstrations when he visited India. Not only that they dictated India's Nepal policy and we saw an anti- Indian head of state installed there.
On the economic front, they sabotaged all govt initiatives of privatisation etc.
Dilip - If you think all of the above things the left parties were doing was acting in National interest, then I think you need a reality check.

Nikhil said...

There are some who believe a temple in Ayodhya is the overriding national interest. Should we ignore that?

To answer that, it is not a priority. Even if you look at Hindus there are more urgent priorities that need to be set right for the state treatment of Hindus. If anybody says that the mandir is overriding national interest then it should be ignored.

Dilip D'Souza said...

To pick just one example:

staged Anti-Bush demonstrations...

What about staging anti-Bush demonstrations is, by definition, against the national interest?

Please explain.

Note again that I'm only taking one example from the ones you have provided.

In other words, the more general question is this: if a party believes that a certain direction the country is taking is the wrong direction, what should it do? Suppress its belief and principles? Or act on them and protest?

This is what I meant by a debate on what is in the national interest. This is also what I meant by saying the left acted in what it believed was the national interest.

For me, the greater crime than these, by far, committed by the "left" is what happened in Nandigram.

The mandir issues was just political expediency that made the BJP take it up.

Really? Tell that to the millions they persuaded that this was what made them a different, principled party. (One of those millions).

Years of hatreds and killings of Indians, and it was just political expediency. And these are the guys who call themselves nationalists. It's also time we had a debate on what being "nationalist" really is.

Anonymous said...

With the LTTE being officially decimated, Congress do not have the privilege of raising the bogey of terrorism in Sri Lanka. Till date they have been ducking real questions under this cover.

I'll wait to see how Congress now deals with Sri Lanka to bring material changes on the ground in Ealem. My bet is Congress, hamstrung by its own minority related politics, can only issue innumerable statements. The Sinhalase like the Taliban appear to brook no nonsense.

Tom said...

I feel the left not being a prominent force this time is a big worry. When Congress and the Left are together, one could always expect nation wide discussions on issues affecting the common man. I believe we need both Manmohan's Globalisation-Liberalization Policy and the Left's reservations towards it at the same time.

Anyways, there is no room for complaint. Like someone suggested above, we atleast knew what NOT to do. :)

Anonymous said...

Dilip,

Some flavours of nationalism for your benefit.

Of the Sinhala variety:

Stand up againt US, UK, EU ( and oh, India doesn't need such soldierly discretion, just a fart would do) , smash the rebels to smithereens and party late into the night.

Of the Indian variety :

Considering the prevailing perception of nationalism on this blog, offer Kasab a leading role in a sexy Bollywood flick. This shock factor would definitely earn awards at Cannes, Golden Globe and with some luck a few Oscars and retire to, befittingly, the venerable Taj ( yes, the one on the corner with 'stained' glass windows) for a presentation ball. I hope Kasab doesn't break into celeberatory gunfire as is his wont.

While the former is a fact the latter is obviously 'heightened reality' - to borrow the phrase from NBC Saturday night show.

But don't be surprised if Kasab shows up at Tihar in ethic chic with a Qawwali in tow.

Or in line with our longstanding tradition of welcoming invaders, we can offer him to contest next Lok Sabha elections from South Bombay

Anonymous said...

Befitting reply to our Mukherjee dear by SL readers..

http://www.dailymirror.lk/DM_BLOG/Sections/frmNewsDetailView.aspx?ARTID=49277

Anonymous said...

Balochis, Northern Alliance of Afghanistan be warned - do not enter battle counting on Indian support. They can suddenly suffer a bout of secular fit and leave you high and dry in the battlefield. You have to only ask the LTTE ( if anything of them are still surviving)

Anonymous said...

LTTE was an Indian asset assiduously cultivated by Indira Gandhi thro MGR. The wily Jayawardene trapped a naive Rajiv Gandhi into the Indo-Sri Lankan accord and the rest is history.

Now with China on its side, SL showed two fingers to US, UK, EU and UN and defied them. In these present circusmtance the Indo-Sri Lankan accord is not even worth the paper on which it is written. SL will cleverly consolidate its hold on Tamils by playing up China against India...all the while Indians spend their energy in internal sqquables and chasing utopian dreams..Churchillian men of straw.

Anonymous said...

Of course this blog doesn't believe in hard headed root cause analysis...The attitude is to base the judgement on the the final act and pretend that Time somehow started from that point and the world didn't exist before.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese, with their tactical skills, will have the prince regent Rahul Gandhi for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Anonymous said...

Kasab has beat me in this game...he has already taken the initial steps for a career in Bollywood

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?sectionName=HomePage&id=bd2b5cb4-4f85-4980-86b4-d6eb7dc4603a&Headline=Kasab+wants+to+meet+John+Abraham

With a bit of help from Arundhathi Roy, Teesta Setalvad, we might have the privilege of a Kasab premiere.

What a farce?....

Anonymous said...

Sri Lankan Presidents speech in

http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/05/address-by-president-mahinda-rajapaksa.html

please read and let know if this is secular or jingoistic.

Anonymous said...

An extract from Rajapakse's speech

"We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago. No longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any others minorities. There are only two peoples in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth. Those who do not love the country are now a lesser group."

Can the secular shenanigans on this blog let me know if this speech is secular or communal

Anonymous said...

http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/may/19/guest-blood-on-our-hands-but-this-too-shall-pass.htm

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anonymous 346am: Someone else also sent me that article. Thank you. It is spot-on.

Anonymous said...

In summary Rajapakse speech underlines that nationaism, patriotism and pluralism can co-exist. Indians should learn a lesson or two from this speech.