May 21, 2009

What it meant (I think)

So what did it mean, this election just completed? Five days on, just before Manmohan Singh is sworn in for his second term, some thoughts:

* Is this the end of the era of coalition governments?

A resounding no. The Congress and the UPA improved their haul of seats, sure. But the Congress alone got only 206 seats, the UPA 266. Both short of the required 272 for a majority. We're a long way from the days of 400-seat Congress majorities. Even going by vote-share, the Congress is just short of 29%. Over two-thirds of the electorate voted against the Congress.

That last, of course, continues the trend we've had since Independence: in every election, a majority of the electorate has voted against the Congress.

The Congress is emerging from the nadir of 1999, yes. But I suspect we'll see many more years of coalition governments.

* Was it a vote against the "Left"?

At best, a hesitant nod of the head. If by "Left", we mean the parties that have the word "communist" in their names, yes, they lost plenty of seats.

But if we mean instead the ideology of the left, I'm not so sure. After all, in West Bengal it is the ruling CPM that has worked hard to attract big business and capital. It is Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool that has found new popularity in being the voice of the small farmer and the near-mythical "common man". (Case in point, Nandigram. Say no more). And Mamata, with the seats she won, is now an important part of the UPA.

* Was it a vote against regionalism?

A hesitant thumbs-down. Yes, such regional parties as the Shiv Sena and the AIADMK lost in their heartlands (and what a good thing that is).

But consider then the performance of such other regional strongmen as Chamling in Sikkim, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, and Karunanidhi in TN. Or Mamata herself, in WB. None of them have any presence outside their states.

Who, then, is sounding the bells of doom for regional parties, and why?

* Was it a vote against "communalism" and for "secularism"?

At best, a hesitant thumbs-up. The BJP lost seats for the second election running, the Congress won seats for the second election running. But does BJP vs Congress equate nicely to communalism vs secularism? Not in my book, and in many ways.

One example: One Congress winner in Bombay used to be in the Shiv Sena. Another Congress winner in Bombay is named in the Srikrishna report in connection with a ghastly murder. What's communalism and what's secularism in politics, I'd like to know.

I think the vote can be interpreted -- if the BJP is so inclined -- as a signal that "Hindutva", as the BJP has articulated it, does not appeal to most Indians. Time for some introspection on what that means. If the BJP is so inclined, of course.

* Was it a vote for good governance and stability?

A qualified yes. I don't believe Manmohan Singh's government gave us unstinted good governance over the last five years (though it was a huge improvement over its predecessor). In my state, I believe Vilasrao Deshmukh's Congress/NCP government was, at best, a non-performing nonentity. After last November's attacks, it was excoriated, and rightly so, for its non-governance.

Yet the Congress has won more seats than 2004 both nationally and in Maharashtra. So what governance were voters voting for?

Again, the signs are in the regional results. Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar have, from all accounts, given their respective states a better, cleaner and more responsive administration than they have seen for years. Voters there recognized this and rewarded their parties. One the other hand, Mayawati has given UP not much more than a huge Lucknow memorial to her own ego, complete with rows of stone elephants. Voters there recognized this and punished her party (though even that punishment was a qualified one, see below).

Nationally, I think this was a vote for the minimal prospect of a stable government under a clean man. I also think it was a vote against the much worse prospect of a much worse government by any of the other contenders (BJP, BSP, etc).

* Was this the coming of age of one Rahul Gandhi?

Well, yes and no. Sure, he scripted something of a revival for the Congress in UP. It's been years since the Congress was a player in UP politics, and this may be where that turns around. But let's remember that the party still came in only third in vote-share, well behind the BSP and the SP in that order.

In UP, Rahul Gandhi showed that while there are enough people who try to write him off as a nincompoop newcomer, he has a nose for politics. He will no longer be so easy to write off. This is no baba in the political woods.

But does that qualify him to be PM? Not for me. I want more from a PM: a greater breadth of knowledge about the world, a vision for this country, things like that. Maybe Rahul Gandhi will grow into that kind of leader. For now, he remains what he is: one more Congress MP, that's all.

And on that note, good luck to Manmohan Singh and his government.


Anonymous said...

And why is AIADMK losing a good thing?

Boskoe said...

Nice article. You should be a consultant :-)

Boskoe said...

What I meant was - very sharp and insightful article :)

Sachita said...

"(though it was a huge improvement over its predecessor)" - But How?
There is a saying in Tamil, "Raavan andalum raman andalum....". the state remains the same irrespective of the ruler.

But I like your analysis, it is bringing in fore lots of issues.

This is sort of mess, i dont like swinging parliament that the chota regional parties bring in but at the same time they exist so that the regions get a voice as well which national parties failed to do previously.

amit varma said...

Dilip, this is a very fine, nuanced post. Thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

If at all anything this vote is a vote against Left. It has been decimated. This is in no way a vote against BJP. It lost only 10% of its seats despite lacklusturing campaign bereft of any focus.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sachita: you ask, "but how"?

I think Vajpayee's government was a pretty poor one, let's leave it there.

Thanks, Amit.

As I think I've said in a previous comment somewhere, if supporters of the BJP want to believe that a loss of 22 seats this time, following a loss of about 50 in 2004, is "not a vote against the BJP" -- well what can I say, except to assure such supporters that the BJP will lose even more seats in the next election. said...

I write a blog on the BJP. Have a look at this post, if you have the time:

Anonymous said...

We want nationalism, India first, second and Non Alignment,international social justice and other such crap. Let these nonsense be the burden of the Big Five in the Security Council.

If Congress deliver this nationalism so be it. BJP supporters should be happy.

Anonymous said...

The big question is whether the self serving chatterati, glitterati, fashionistas will get behind the government in this task of nation building.

Dilip D'Souza said...

The bigger question may be this: whether some of those who offer prescriptions for the country, and suggestions for self-serving fashionistas, will find the courage to use their names when doing so.

Nilu said...

The biggest question is, whether a random statement without any basis will be explained. Such as AIADMK losing being a good thing.

Ohteetoo! said...

nilu, dont you know by now?? you will never get an answer on this blog.

but having said that, i too think loss of aiadnk is a good thing. amma has too much corruption and fascism.

Nilu said...

Questions are my answer.