Monday, May 2, 2011

Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard Magazine/May 01, 2011

It’s final now. Ideology is dead.

Long live those individuals who have killed their own ideologies.

An analysis of the recently held Assembly elections in four states and one Union Territory has conclusively proved that all political parties have been taken over by a few individuals whose familiarity with ideology is either coincidental or historical. Yet another powerful message coming out of these elections is the marginalisation of all national parties and the elimination of their local leadership in the states. While hardcore workers were made to feel the heat and dust of campaigning, their leaders fought from the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles, well stocked with cushions, bottles of cool mineral water and hygienically packed food.

The tone and theme for the electoral battles in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry were decided by individuals who had one thing in common— their social and corporate companions. This was most evident in West Bengal where well-spoken and well-heeled former bureaucrats and corporate retainers joined Mission Mamata to provide a pro-poor government. Didi and her brigade marketed the Trinamool Congress (TMC) as a Left-liberal alternative to the dogmatic and authoritative Left Front Government. But the election campaign of the TMC was bright with the United Colours of Corporate India; its well-paid retainers seen in the forefront of leading the Install-Mamata-at-Writer’s- Building movement. Even Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee expressed his regret over the Singur fiasco and swore not to repeat it. But both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi chose the Left Government as a target for their scathing attacks instead of talking about an alternative agenda for the state.

The less said about the BJP leadership the better, as its only objective was to offer its visiting leaders from other states a platform to address the chatterati in Kolkata’s exclusive clubs or brief the media selectively to get TV ratings. The party neither had an ideology nor an individual leadership to offer in a state in which it had put up 160 candidates as against 65 of the Congress. Obviously, once the election results are out, the BJP leadership is certain to claim a sizeable increase in its vote share as a sign of growing popularity, even if it fails to open a single account in West Bengal.

The central BJP leadership’s target wasn’t the CPI(M), but its ideological nemesis Mamata who poses no threat to the BJP in any other part of the country. The BJP has miserably failed to produce any local leaders in Tamil Nadu and Kerala where Sushma Swaraj drew more crowds than its local satraps.

From Kolkata in West Bengal to Kochi in Kerala and Dibrugarh in Assam to Dindigul in Tamil Nadu, the BJP’s frequent fliers from Delhi and elsewhere were chose to launch personal attacks and harp on the failures of others.

The competition between various political parties and their leaders was not for getting more votes but for grabbing more media space and power symbols like chartered planes and helicopters. The joke doing the rounds in BJP circles in Assam and West Bengal is that helicopters were reserved only for only 3Gs—leaders of the Opposition Arun Jaitley and Swaraj, and Party President Nitin Gadkari.

Other netas, including local ones, were asked to use ordinary transport.

State-level BJP leaders were perhaps considered a liability as none of them could attract either votes or media attention.

The situation in the Congress party was equally ridiculous. All its star campaigners were leaders from Delhi who got more prominence than local workers and leaders who were given charge of mobilising voters. Any central leader, while attacking the Opposition, did not take their inputs into account. For example, when AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi questioned the ability of the CPI(M)’s ageing leadership to run a state, the Kerala chief minister hit back by calling him an “Amul Baby”. Though the fight was clearly between incumbent governments and their hopeful successors, poll campaigns were mostly led and decided by those who were not native to each state.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress had no homegrown leader to take on the AIADMK’s mighty Amma. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the number of seats the Congress eventually wins turns out to be less than the number of factions the party was divided into. The humiliation of local Congress leaders was evident with most not even allowed to share the platform with Chief Minister Karunanidhi who extended that privilege only to Sonia and Manmohan. Ditto for West Bengal, where various Congress leaders were more concerned with defeating the candidates of factions opposed to them. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee showed local Congress leaders their place by sharing the platform only with Sonia, Manmohan and Pranab Mukherjee. Her conduct reflected the further erosion of the Congress clout in almost all of India’s important states. In many big states, allies dictate and lead the Congress’s agenda. Barring Andhra Pradesh, it doesn’t have a single major state in which it can return to power without an ally’s help.

Both the Congress and the BJP may be losing their national legitimacy.

Both have national leaders without a popular base in any state. Those who are popular in their own states are dismissed as regional leaders without national appeal. Both parties are likely to claim victory soon after the verdict is out in May. The Congress is confident of winning four of the five Assembly elections. The BJP will claim a massive increase in its share of popular votes. Even if all this turns out to be true, both the national parties will be at the mercy of local nabobs who are short on vision and big on ego. In the end, it is quite likely that the amount of money spent on the peregrinations of any political leader will more much more than the votes garnered by them.

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