Monday, March 12, 2012

UP is BITA Pill / The Sunday Standard/ March 11, 2012


UP is BITA Pill but Congress yet to learn which way the wind blows

The Dynasty is dead. Long live the Dynasty. Uttar Pradesh decisively rejected the Gandhis by voting for homegrown succession. Akhilesh Singh Yadav, a 38-year-old mechanical engineer, became the youngest chief minister of a state which will decide who will be India’s prime minister in 2014. Akhilesh is perhaps the only political scion who has become chief executive of a state without ever having held a ministerial post. Perhaps his anointment is the only commonality between the Gandhi Family and Yadav Parivar. Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister without having held any administrative post.

Analysts and pollsters define the Uttar Pradesh verdict as a vote against Mayawati. The outcome also emphasises the increasing irrelevance of the national parties—the Congress and BJP—in the state which has 80 Lok Sabha members. While two young inheritors of a political legacy were seeking democratic legitimacy, it was a local youngster from a land-owning backward community who became the electorate’s preferred choice. Rahul Gandhi’s high-powered super-tech campaign to install a Congress-led or supported government was foiled because neither he nor his party were seen as a credible alternative to Behenji. As one of the senior Congress Ministers puts it: “Only viability generates credibility. In Uttar Pradesh, our party wasn’t a viable proposition and therefore Rahul’s campaign didn’t get credibility.” Local leaders with a clear message and mission are proving to be assets for their parties, and national leaders non-productive assets, or even liabilities.

According to Congress insiders, Rahul’s electoral tools suffered from ideological and strategic infirmities. He was aggressive in tone but weaker on conviction. He targeted Mayawati but didn’t seek votes for his party. His speeches at 200-odd public meetings were aimed at demolishing Mammoth Maya, painting her as a deity of destruction and devastation. He charged her with squandering the Centre’s money as if it belonged to the Congress. His message was well received, but the beneficiary was Akhilesh, whose target was also Mayawati. When voters itch for change they don’t go by pedigree or social hierarchy; they look for a credible replacement. Rahul couldn’t convincingly hawk the Congress as a vehicle for better governance. He and his co-planners became victims of the BITA factor (Bhaiya Is The Alternative). Even in their captive constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Congress could retain only two of 10 Assembly segments. It was the first time the party came a cropper in Rae Bareli; most of its candidates lost their deposits or were defeated by huge margins by their rivals.

Unfortunately, new age politicians live in the present and do not learn lessons from past political battles. No party can win, unless it is able to project itself as the best substitute for the incumbent. Both the Janata Party and the Congress learnt this in 1983, in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Powerful national leaders like Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandra Shekhar and George Fernandes campaigned aggressively in Andhra Pradesh against the Congress government. They drew huge crowds, but the Janata Party was rejected soundly; the Congress also lost and a dark horse, film actor-turned-politician N T Ramarao, became the chief minister. Later in 1989, the Congress decided to fight the Tamil Nadu elections alone under G K Moopanar’s leadership. But it was the regional party DMK which came to power.

The problem with the current Congress leadership is that it lives in its own world. Its leaders never forget to extol Rahul’s spectacular success of bagging 22 seats in Uttar Pradesh during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections—its largest tally since 1984. It conveniently forgets the context. More than half of its elected MPs were defectors. But the most important factor was CPI(M) honcho Prakash Karat’s efforts to form a Third Front and market Mayawati as India’s first Dalit prime minister. Both the upper castes and the OBCs were polarised against the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, and voted for the Congress.

If 2012 has turned out to be the nemesis for the Congress and the BJP, 2014 is going to be worse. The bitter truth from Uttar Pradesh is: without solid caste or local support, the Congress is unlikely to repeat its 2009 performance. Until recently, national leaders could sway voters. Sixty-six years after Independence, the country is left with an ideologically and sartorially compatible cabal of national leaders, but they can’t win a single state for their parties. The old Brahminical order has been dismantled to pave the way for caste and community leaders who will decide the national leadership. It will be the Badals, Yadavs, Abdullahs, Chautalas, Pawars, Stalin and Jagan Mohan Reddy—and not just a Gandhi—who will decide India’s political destiny. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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