Friday, May 29, 2009

You have again written off a loser

One of the biggest shortcomings of hacks like me is the unwavering ability and willingness to jump to conclusions and mistake hindsight for foresight! Something similar can be seen in abundance in newspapers, television channels, news portals and magazines across India. As Rahul Gandhi is hailed as the new messiah and Sonia the new Gandhi, self styled pundits, hacks, experts and assorted doomsday prophets are tripping over themselves in a rush to write gleeful obituaries of the BJP and the Left . It is as if the new King Singh and the Indian voter have delivered such a decisive and brutal knock out blow that both the BJP and the Left are presumed down for the count. Pundits say that the BJP, till recently an alternative to the Congress, has no future. And the Left , kingmakers till recently, are history. Of course, the pundits also say that assorted regional chieftains like Ram Vilas Paswan, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav can now start looking for alternate careers.

I humbly disagree and present a few footnotes from recent history to show how breathless, shallow and shortsighted hacks and mass media can be.

Back in 1971, Indira Gandhi swept the Lok Sabha elections with her slogan of Garibi Hatao. So complete was her sway and dominance over the country that even opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee praised her as Durga! The same Indira Gandhi was routed by the voters aft er the Emergency in 1977, losing even her own seat. A fractured and fractious opposition, which was totally written off in 1971, swept to power as the Janata Party. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won a mandate that even his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was never able to win. In the same elections, as India celebrated a “Youth” renaissance under Rajiv Gandhi, the leader of opposition party, the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was staring at a complete loss of face.

The BJP won just two seats in 1984, and you guessed it right, hacks and pundits instantly wrote off both him and the BJP forever. We both know what happened to the BJP in subsequent elections and what happened to the Congress. Cut to 1999 and you have pundits singing an entirely different tune. The NDA under Vajpayee is given a decisive mandate by the voters to rule India for the next five years and the Congress under Sonia Gandhi sinks to an all time low number of seats. There are titters galore about the complete failure of Sonia Gandhi as a leader. There is measured rah rah about the long term decline of Congress as a political party. There are even objectionable whispers about how Sonia Gandhi is planning to leave India for good. Suddenly, the BJP is the party of the future and every word spoken by strategist Pramod Mahajan is lapped up by the media as gospel. Honestly, do any of you remember any hack or pundit saying in 2004 that the BJP will lose the elections? Mamata Bannerjee is the latest example of how the mass media almost always gets it wrong! When the Left swept back to power in the 2006 assembly elections under Budhadev Bhattacharya, nobody gave a ghost of a chance to Didi to stage such a spectacular comeback in 2009. And now, we are busy saying the Left will never come back in West Bengal!

Let's face it. Both the BJP and Left are down, but not yet out. And India needs opposition parties!


Friday, May 1, 2009

The Congress Chimera

Just a few days ago, I was in Lucknow arguing vociferously with my father-in-law. He is a die hard supporter of Congress and would have cast his vote in favour of Rita Bahuguna Joshi. I personally think the chances of her winning are about as high as Shah Rukh’s Knight Riders winning IPL 2. But then faith and optimism are eternal. In fact, my father-in-law, who is a middle class Bihari settled in U.P is convinced that there is a strong undercurrent in favour of Congress this time in the Hindi heartland. He is almost wistful when he talks about how the glory days of Congress can come back with Rahul Gandhi by the time the next Lok Sabha elections are organized. I have come across hundreds of such Congress well wishers who are sick and tired of regional parties ‘holding the nation to ransom’. I empathize with them, but can’t help pointing out some hard realities that make the challenge of reviving Congress so formidable for Rahul Gandhi and his well meaning earnestness.

Here is a list of major states where the Congress can hope to win a lot of seats on its own: Assam, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Orissa and Karnataka. That works out to about 230 plus seats. Here is a list of states where the Congress cannot hope to win even a few seats without strong regional allies: West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and J&K. That works out to almost 300 seats. The last time Congress won in Tamil Nadu was in 1967; it was 1967 in West Bengal; 1984-85 in Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh; 1991 in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In the states where the Congress can win many seats on its own, the party already has about 110 out of 130. In the second category of states, the party has about 50 out of 300.

Even a school child will know that it is the second category of states that will be the biggest challenge for Rahul Gandhi and his so called youth brigade. To be able to cross even 200 Lok Sabha seats, it needs to at least double its tally in the second category of states. More importantly, Rahul Gandhi needs to plan and execute a strategy which can help the Congress have even a decent chance of winning a large number of seats on its own in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand which send almost 225 M.Ps to the Lok Sabha. Currently, the Congress has just about 50 representatives from these important states.

Sure, many of us wish Rahul Gandhi well. But we also realize that as of today, the revival that my father-in-law talks wistfully of is a chimera. Perhaps the one most important thing the young Gandhi needs to do is nurture powerful and popular state level leaders like Y.S.R Reddy, Sheila Dixit and Ashok Gehlot in the states where the party is in a shambles. But will the Congress courtiers allow such leaders to emerge?