Friday, May 23, 2008

Issues of governance at the centre (and ritual of elections)

Issues of Governance at the Centre (and ritual of elections)

The next Lok Sabha elections should be an opportunity to focus on issues of national governance by creating a cadre of nationalist-minded politico-s. Is this a pipe-dream?

The way the state is run will decide on the possibility of realizing a national identity. Will it ever be possible to convert the elections in such a way as to focus on issues of central governance?

Clearly, the present state of the polity with a foreign-born empress running the state from 10 Janpath is an unacceptable, intolerable situation. How to make the politico-s realize this?

I am no admirer of Shekhar Gupta, who has reduced journalism in the country to unabashed chamcha-giri. But, I am referring to his article, ‘And there were nine’ not because there is something new in it but because, it helps focus on the issue of governance of the federation (or is it, really a Union?)

In the history of swarajya bharatam, we have not had, so far, a government which really cares for national interests and woks towards realizing India Vision 2020 (only 12 years left to reach the target).

The next two bouts of national governance will determine the direction the nation will take in pursuing the ideology of dharma samsthaapana. (The word 'secular' in the Preamble has been translated in the official Hindi version of the Constitution as pantha-nirapekshata, because no bharatiya governance can ever be neutral as to dharma; hence, translation of 'secular' can never be dharma-nirapekshataa). Dharma-samsthaapana should be an integral, basic feature of the Constitution by the next amendment of the Preamble. Will the parties join forces on this one-point common minimum program?

The tragedy of regional parties and a dummy rule by coalescing regional parties (with a titular head like ABV) is that national interests are made subservient to dada-giri and a general coalition of looters of the general exchequer, mineral wealth of the nation and the state treasury (as evident in the ministerial fiefdoms of UPA coalition – headed by an FM who proudly announced that he became Director in Vedanta Resources to learn about intl. Finance -- and the fraud called the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme).

It is an extraordinary challenge to institute a national-minded, nation-oriented governance at the Centre governed by a will to institute large-scale measures to jolt the state out of its stupor. Some large-scale measures can be cited: 1. Creation of a National Water Grid and quadrupling agricultural production, making available 9 crore acres of additional wet land for distribution to 9 crore poor families; 2. Provision of Urban Facilities in Rural Areas; 3. Creation of Marine Economic Zones for samudra manthanam for increasing nation’s wealth; 4. Creation of an Indian Ocean Socio-Economic Community as a counter-poise to European Economic Community (together with the launch of Trans-Asian Railway and Trans-Asian Highway Projects)


And then there were nine

That’s the number of states which hold key to who will rule the Centre. So, farewell, national leaders; welcome, regional winners

Shekhar Gupta
Posted online (Indian Express): Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 0043 hrs IST

How would you describe the electoral contest in Karnataka? Whether it is a two-way or a three-way fight would depend on which of the two exit pollsters you trust. But generally you would call it a fight between two national parties, with one regional spoiler. But what if we called it, instead, a fight between one national party, and a strong regional one, with a second hoping to have just enough leverage to become kingmaker, if not the king? I say this, because for weeks now we have been hearing our pundits and pollsters describe the BJP’s campaign in Karnataka as a “regional” campaign, led by a local chieftain, Yeddyurappa, on local issues, even at the cost of the BJP’s “national (read saffron)” agenda. So the second national party in the equation has actually become a regional party with a local leader, and is benefiting from that “localisation”.

Confusing? So are most changes in old patterns of set-piece politics. But our national politics has been changing now for two decades, starting with the defeat of the Congress in 1989, then an incumbent with the largest ever majority in India’s history. Some change has been noticed, acknowledged and accepted. For example, the rise of caste leaders, regional chieftains and anti-incumbency. Together, these factors are believed to have contributed to the terminal decline of India’s only national party capable of winning a majority on its own. But national parties seem to be missing another change that has come about as a consequence of this.

With the decline in the might of pan-national parties and vote banks, even a national election has now become just a net result of many state elections. The process began in 1989 when V.P. Singh emerged as a kind of regional leader of Uttar Pradesh and used that leverage to lead a coalition government. Over the following two decades, with no great national leader emerging, this trend only strengthened. Vajpayee, the last of the long-marchers, was the one, but limited, exception to this. His appeal did cut across geography, ethnicity and language, but not so strongly that he could fill the old Nehru-Gandhi space. But he did help the NDA buck this trend, in parts. With his wider acceptability, he was able to swing that small but crucial number of fence-sitters in various political geographies towards his coalition partners. His absence from active politics has now removed all resistance to “regionalisation” of national politics.
Even Congress leaders acknowledge privately that it was this change that brought them to power in 2004. The UPA came into power because four things happened. Rajasekhar Reddy demolished Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra, Karunanidhi trounced Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu and, even more importantly, the NDA was reduced to just 10 in Uttar Pradesh and 11 in Bihar. Even if the BJP had won anything close to the 29 seats it had in Uttar Pradesh in 1999, which in turn was half of its 1998 tally, it would have had the critical mass to keep the NDA in power. Together, these four states accounted for a swing of nearly 120 seats and brought the UPA to power.

One factor that wasn’t common to these states was the Congress. In Uttar Pradesh, it was Mulayam Singh’s surprising resurgence that destroyed the BJP. In Bihar, Lalu’s caste coalition swept the NDA aside. In Tamil Nadu, it was a straight fight between two regional leaders and their respective allies. So in all three of these decisive states, the battle was won by a regional leader. And what about Andhra? Yes, the Congress swept it. But wasn’t Andhra, besides Haryana, the only state where the Congress had allowed the emergence, and projection, of a clear state leader, unchallenged by local rivals and unmolested by its Rajya Sabha-ist general secretaries? Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy had campaigned for the chief minister’s job for five full years, and won such a brilliant victory for his party. In fact, even today, he and Bhupinder Singh Hooda are the only two Congress leaders who are allowed to function as unchallenged regional chieftains.

The lesson, therefore, is self-evident. National elections are now no longer “national” in the conventional sense but a net result of elections in different states.

In a rapidly fragmenting vote base, a national election can now be more aptly compared to a best-of-nine-sets tennis match. The coalition that wins five of these nine will take the match, and the gaddi of Dilli. These nine sets are: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Kerala. Together, these nine states (or sets in our mythical tennis match) represent 351 seats in a house of 543. And while there are other large states, like West Bengal, Gujarat and Orissa, we are not considering these because in these radical change is unlikely. The nine on our list are states that can and usually change, and can go one way or the other decisively.

The national party that can win five of these nine can be nearly sure of bagging power for its coalition, since this by itself will give it a tally of 120-145, and it is reasonable to presume that it will get another 20-30 in the rest of the states. Conversely, even if one of the coalitions wins a clear victory in five of these nine, it will be almost unassailable.

And how will this be ensured, and by whom? Each of these will be a local battle between a local incumbent and his challenger. So the party or coalition which has the best regional leader in each state will win. This is where the Congress is in trouble. Barring Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, it does not have any state under a leader who could even be sure of winning his own seat. Where it has leaders, as notably Krishna in Karnataka, they have been humiliated and squashed into pulp by its Rajya Sabha-ist High Command, whose self-serving leading lights you see preening on TV news channels every evening. The most striking example of this is Vilasrao Deshmukh in Maharashtra whose fate is worse than that of a daily-wage paid employee. No leader in Karnataka, one in Maharashtra dead in the water, nobody in Uttar Pradesh, the ally still punch-drunk in Bihar, and if you were a Congressman, you would think four of the nine states are written off already. This, the party’s crisis of regional leadership, is what Rahul Gandhi needs to focus on if there has to be a real chance in 2009. There will be time and opportunity later to revive the nostalgia of the pre-1989 mega vote banks.

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