Mandate 2004:

Signals and Opportunities

In March 1977 when Indira Gandhi finally ‘ordered’ elections little did she know that she would be in for a massive shock. When the results were out, the Congress stood liquidated almost everywhere except the southern states. Likewise in December 2003, the Sangh Parivar too could not possibly anticipate that by gambling for early elections it would only be hastening the downfall of the Vajpayee regime. But the ‘upset’ is now a recorded fact. The BJP and its allies have been virtually decimated in all but a few states. At the end of the day, two of independent India’s most arrogant and anti-people rogue regimes have met with the same fate. Good riddance!

There is a strong tendency in the media and especially in NDA circles to describe the present outcome as a fractured mandate without any focus or thrust. We are also told that the overall outcome is essentially the sum total of rather disparate state-specific verdicts. While there is indeed a good deal of variation in the results from one state or region to another, the results do indicate a strong countrywide rejection of the BJP and the NDA. The trend is probably most clearly reflected in the national capital and neighbouring states like Haryana and UP and even in Modi’s Gujarat, a traditionally strong bastion of the BJP, where the BJP has had to take a severe knock.

Indeed, the end of the ‘Atal era’ apart, the warning served on the man-eater Modi regime of Gujarat and the collapse of the Naidu rule in Andhra are among the most redeeming features of the 2004 verdict. Not only the countryside, much of urban and even metropolitan India has refused to buy the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ propaganda. The much talked about ‘feel-good factor’ became a crude joke across the length and breadth of the country. The plight and anger of the ‘other’ India – the real India inhabited by the starving rural poor, the crisis-ridden farmers, the unemployed and an increasingly insecure working class – transformed the BJP’s fond ‘feel good’ dream into a veritable ‘feel bad’ nightmare.

Midway through the elections, the BJP made a desperate attempt to counter and defuse this anger – described as ‘anti-incumbency’ factor by psephologists – by once again invoking the bogey of instability. But unlike in 1999 when the ‘stability factor’ did play a major role in the elections, this time round even the ruling classes’ most sacred concern for stability did not come to the BJP’s rescue. The 2004 verdict can only be described as an emphatic rejection of the reigning elitist model of ‘development’ and a powerful reassertion of the real issues of employment, livelihood and basic amenities for rural India and for the working people at large.

A key aspect of the BJP’s ‘Mission 2004’ targets was the goal of securing an independent majority for the party. In the course of the campaign Vajpayee even appealed to the electorate not to burden him again with the tiresome task of running another coalition regime. Campaigning in Haryana, Advani called upon the people to vote for either the BJP or the Congress. Yet the BJP’s own tally dropped below 140 seats while a partially rejuvenated Congress could not cross the 150 mark either. In UP the BJP tried all kinds of tricks to spoil the electoral prospects of the Samajwadi Party, but in vain. Like the Left in West Bengal and Kerala, the SP in UP has also succeeded in securing its highest ever tally.

While the attempt to foist a two-party model has thus been stalled, most of the non-BJP non-Congress parties seem resigned for the time being to a two-coalition model led either by the BJP or the Congress. In spite of a very good electoral showing by the non-BJP non-Congress parties, especially by the Left and the Samajwadi Party, it is the Congress which has come to seize the political initiative. In the face of a Congress comeback after nearly a decade, the only expression of the Left’s independence so far has been a welcome refusal by the CPI(M) to participate in a Congress-led coalition government at the Centre.

To conclude, the 14th Lok Sabha elections have indeed delivered a big blow to the Sangh’s agenda of Hindutva and ‘hard state’ and to the reigning rightwing and pro-imperialist economic and foreign policies. The obscurantist and sectarian agenda of the Sangh has been pushed back and the basic issues have come back in a big way. The challenge before all progressive forces is to seize this opportunity and build up a powerful movement for a genuinely modern and democratic India.

-- DB

Courtesy: Indian Express