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The Indian Voter does it – again


Complacent Congress was jolted by the Left VoteThe Indian Voter does it – again

March 18th 1957 Cartoon by RK Laxman - Complacent Congress jolted by the Left Vote

The Indian Voter has again shown that he has a mind of his own – an independent mind. In spite of various allegations, which come in very superior sounding tones, the Indian Voter has displayed a few common patterns.

1. Risk Taking

The Indian Voter has not stepped back from electing new parties and leaders. The 1956 election, saw the Indian Voter challenge Nehru himself. The Left gained nearly 20% of the popular vote – and became the first Communist Government to be elected to power in the State of Kerala. Leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani and Jaya Prakash Narayan became legends in their own life time – in many ways, with greater regard and respect than Nehru himself.

These worked outside the system’ – and pioneered land reform, proved to be a check on the Nehruvian onslaught on Indian languages (along with the Dravidian parties) and sensitized the indifferent colonial-cadre bureaucrats to be more responsive and caring. To many this looked like Western Socialism (including the practitioners themselves), but it was nation building at a different level.

This election verdict is again a risk – that a victorious Manmohan Singh and hard working Rahul Gandhi may revert to the imperial ways of the old Congress Party. Earlier, the Indian Voter cured this imperiousness by underwriting the rise and use of regional parties. Purpose served, these regional parties have been sent back to the drawing board – to reinvent themselves.

Jayaprakash Narayan gave up electoral politics

Jaya Prakash Narayan gives up electoral politics

2. Power and hubris

Time and again, the Indian Voter has chastened political leaders – whose hubris and power overwhelmed them. Nehru in 1956, Indira Gandhi in 1977, Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, BJP in 2004 at a national level and many at the state level.

In this election also, the hubris of the regional parties was broken. Sharad Pawar with a few MPs projected himself as Prime Ministerial candidate, as did some other bit players. Film stars like Chiranjeevi thought they could make a power grab by just announcing their candidature.  In Maharashtra the Shiv Sena /MNS goons also got their comeuppance. To all these players, went out a clear message, from the Indian Voter.

The national alliance of BJP /NDA did not do too badly! It was the ‘Third + Fourth” Front that has been decimated. Possibly, this election was also about BJP hubris – with LK Advani appearing at every website. Similarly, the use of Varun Gandhi was also in bad taste – if not bad strategy.

3. No sops and no bones

To many, brought up on the Western schools of political understanding, the Indian Voter will vote for cash, sops, caste and allurements. This displays a profound disrespect for the Indian Voter – and greater ignorance.

The Indian State has been gradually and steadily retreating – and the Indian Voter has been at the forefront of this retreat. For all practical purposes health care in India has been privatized over the last 70 years. The vestigial State support for health care can also go, if the State cuts away its exclusive dependence on Western medical systems – and the complete collapse of Indian medical systems. The Western Voter will not let go of the subsidized health care system – while the Indian Voter has been gradually shifting the the private sector.

Similarly, the dependence on subsidized grain has been steadily decreasing. Inflation may give a false impression of increasing food subsidy bills. However, fact is that from about 75% of the population in the 1960-1970 decades, the dependence on subsidized food grains has reduced to 30%-40%.

Similarly, in other sectors too, the reduction of the role of the State is becoming apparent and welcomed – by the Indian Voter. The resistance is from the bureaucracy and the vested interests of Big Business.

In this election, Chandrababu Naidu in AP promised a cash transfer scheme to all families – even middle class families. His welfare stat-ism has been soundly rejected.

NTRs Chaitanya Ratham

NTR's Chaitanya Ratham

4. Hard Work

Similar to Gandhiji’s Dandi march, which galvanised the nation, NTR Rama Rao’s epochal ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ rewrote politics in India. His 180 day campaign,  in 1982, covering an estimated 75,000 km, across Andhra re-wrote Indian politics. For the first time, a political party of a few months, unseated a century old party.

It provided the inspiration for LK Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ in 1989 – which saw BJP gain a national following. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the Andhra Chief Minister’s padayatra, which was ignored and ridiculed by the then TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu, (‘as Budabukkalodu, a village jester who wears outlandish clothes and asks for alms during Sankranti festival’) was patterned along similar lines. Covering 1500 km in 60 days, YSR’s padayatra saw Congress re-capture power in Andhra Pradesh after 20 years.

Rahul’ Gandhi’s 2009 campaign was no less. With limited use of helicopter’s and low media  coverage, it was  a combination of courage and the sheer drudgery that saw Congress come out on top – winning in 60 constituencies out of the 106 in which Rahul campaigned”.

5. Negative campaigns

The 1967 election came closest to breaking the Congress rule in the pre-1977 India. In 1969, further, a significant group of senior leaders, split from the Congress, and formed the Congress (O). A highly negative campaign, saw Indira Gandhi come back with a stunning victory in the 1971 election.

Her party program was summed up in the simple but highly appealing slogan, “Garibi hatao” (Remove Poverty). The old Congress, led by Desai, responded with the unimaginative, inane campaign slogan, “Indira Hatao “ (Remove Indira). (from The making of India By Ranbir Vohra)

The opposition to Indira – the ‘Grand Alliance’ consisting of the Congress (O), the Jan Sangh, Swatantra and Samyukta socialist parties – all knew that she was the issue in 1971, and they made the mistake of choosing a personalized campaign slogan to reflect this: ‘Indira Hatao’ (Remove Indira). Indira retaliated with the simplistic but effective battle cry of ‘Garibi hatao’. (from Indira By Katherine Frank).

Her speeches had simple logic. “Main kehtin hoon garibi hatao. Voh kehten hain Indira hatao. Ab faisla aap keejiye.”

LK Advani’s anti-Manmohan Singh campaign made the same mistake that Congress (O) made 40 years ago. PM Singh, who is seen as a well meaning, honest, ‘politician’ started looking better – after Advani’s attacks. Rahul Gandhi’s riposte, “have you ever seen a weak Sardar?’ killed this line of campaigning.

The legal processes against Indira Gandhi, by the 1977 Janata Party Government, was again seen as a vindictive and negative campaign, which started off Indira Gandhi’s comeback campaign.

Indira Gandhi’s own negative campaign and ouster of NT Rama Rao, by engineering the split in TDP with Nadendla Bhasker Rao, ensured that Congress was out. The tidal wave of Voter solidarity with Rajiv Gandhi, in post-Indira Gandhi’s assassination elections of 1984, still saw the angry Andhra Voter shun the Congress Party. Varun Gandhi’s abrasive campaign, in contrast to Rahul Gandhi’s inclusive agenda, was albatross around the BJP neck.

The Indian Voter will simply not accept negative campaigning.

Fractured Verdicts ...

Fractured Verdicts ...

Cause for optimism

LK Advani (?) and Manmohan Singh are possibly going to be the last colonial-era Prime Ministers of India. The next generation of political leaders will be Indians who have grown in the post colonial India. This vote is vote for consolidation – for the national parties and for performing administrations.

Colonialism is hearsay, propaganda, exaggerations – a second hand experience, to most young post-colonial Indians. Brought up on a diet of nation building, socialism, (opportunistic) English education, limited exposure to the rest of the world, they have seen rapid change. From an India, which was a ship-to-mouth basket case, to an emerging power, seems to be have been a facile and an easy experience – with little credit being given to Indian political leadership for managing the post-colonial Indian system.

India’s successes have been built on Indic elements retrofitted on Western models. Renewing an Indian model – how will India’s young leader’s face up to this challenge? Will they ‘fall into the trap’ of copying successful countries or take the (really) easier path of renewing the Indic model, which may initially, seem difficult.

The continuity will be provided by the Indian Voter, who has seamlessly handed over political power – to tested and untested, to the imperious Indira Gandhi and the humble LB Shastri.

Similar to Gandhiji’s Dandi march, which galvanised the nation,
  1. galeo rhinus
    May 17, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Too many romantic generalizations without any analytical support.

    Consider this broad statement “The 1956 election, saw the Indian Voter challenge Nehru himself. ”

    The 1957 elections, the Congress had 47.8% votes vs 1951 when it had 45%. Their seats went up from 354 in 1951 to 371 in 1957.

    The socialists (Socialist Party), whose rise in 1957 you had pointed out with admiration in a previous post, had their percentage drop from 10.6% in 1951 to 10.4% in 1957. In fact the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party (Peasants and Workers Party) actually went down from 5.8% to 0.8%.

    Funded by the Russians and indirectly supported by the progressivists in the US and Britain, the CPI, went up from 3.3% to 9% – largely at the cost of the homegrown domestic socialist outlets.

    These western progressivists used the communists as a tool to prevent the Congress from slipping from their hands. They were able to force a “social” agenda for India, instead of simply letting people be free.

    I can see that you remained completely enamored by a system that is essentially an English creation 🙂

  2. May 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    romantic generalizations without any analytical support

    There are two answers top this phrase. One is the romantic generalization which you allege.There is a significant set of the ‘Indian intelligentsia’ which is sure that apart from them, no one knows better.

    And if the ‘other’ happens to be the non-English speaking Indian Voter, it gets worse – and compounds the problem. The non-English speaking Indian Voter, in their superior view, has no judgment, does not know the ‘issues’, whose opinion cannot be trusted. Based on your stated opinions, I think you will not fall into this category.

    With US of A currently affected by the flu bug, chances of infection can be high. A nasal swab should do the trick.

    The second part of the comment is lack of ‘analytical support.’

    The very first paragraph does provide a link – which points to a big spike of 19.33% of the combined vote won by Leftist parties (CPI and the Praja Socialist Party – a party formed in 1952, whose founder members were Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani) – versus Nehru’s Congress which got 47.78% of popular vote. This ‘Leftist’ surge shook Nehru out of his complacency. Not to forget various Independents who won another 19.32% of the national votes!

    Funded by the Russians and indirectly supported by the progressivists in the US and Britain, the CPI, went up from 3.3% to 9% – largely at the cost of the homegrown domestic socialist outlets.

    Now this is something else! I am not privy to sources, which have confirmed this to you. As for the Indian Voter, my reading is –

    The Left parties were given an opportunity. The Leftists did not live up to their promise. Apart from regional mandates, the Left were not given any major opportunity – after the 1956 mandate.

    a “social” agenda for India, instead of simply letting people be free.

    I think the India of 60 years later allows the freedom to speculate in this manner. For the starving, post-colonial population, such high-faluting ideology was just that – hot air.

    Which is where people like Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani and Jaya Prakash Narayan made an impact. They were less about ideology and more about helping a population back on its feet. I agree that the mai-baap sarkar is a risk – but the ‘socialists’ made a huge impact. The typical Western socialist looks to the state for action. But people like Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani and Jaya Prakash Narayan, looked at non-state options to get on and get over with.

    You are right to the extent that the Indian State has compromised on the basic freedoms – and that is something that needs a significant correction.

  3. galeo rhinus
    May 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    “issues” or “non-issues” are moot when people are free to make choices… democracy is less relevant if the state has little power.

    These are core Indic concepts.

    Any aggregation of data to make an argument, is essentially only the elites can do (no sarcasm intended)… and these elites don’t need to be speaking English… in fact these “elites” had a special place in Indic polity… and they were admired, not mocked. 🙂

    …and to suggest that your analysis is somehow not “elitists” is insidious. Let’s put this ridiculous “elitist” debate aside. It is a classic argumentative fallacy – so please don’t patronize me with that accusation 🙂

    I wish you looked at the election commission data yourself before you promote someone else’s conclusions (which are essentially self serving).

    My analytical argument was against your claim that the “people” did something “new” to “challenge Nehru” in 1957.

    Nehru’s numbers actually increased from 1951 to 1957. The socialist party was already in existence in 1951 – in fact it split from the Congress in 1948 and merged with the Bolshevik-Lenninist Party of India and gained 10.6% votes in 1961. Jayaprakash Narayan was already a part of the Socialist Party. In 1952, it merged with the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party and renamed itself as the Praja Socialist Party. Their combined votes in 1957 DROPPED significantly in 1957. The leftist parties that did grow had deeper connections to Russia.

    Going back to the core debate… as long as you remain in awe of a foreign polity, you will never allow Indic polity to be revived.

    Democracy, I repeat, loses significance,when the people have the freedom and the state has little power.

    Only when you accept the paradigm of a powerful state, then “sharing” that power becomes key. But as us “elites” will know, is the oxymoron – because “power” and “sharing” rarely go together… therefore the true paradigm is “freedom.”

    If that cannot be the basis of your arguments, then, I am afraid, you are promoting western progressivist ideals – where the state knows better… and what can be more elitist that that? 🙂

  4. galeo rhinus
    May 18, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    errata – gained 10.6% votes in 1961. should be 1951.

  5. May 19, 2009 at 8:38 am

    I see significant merit in your points …

    1. The ‘glorification’ of the democratic mandate is a short step from the tyranny of the masses. While the Indian Voter has displayed significant maturity, I see your point on the ‘romanticization.’

    2. Your point that “Democracy, I repeat, loses significance,when the people have the freedom and the state has little power” is again a point well made.

  6. galeo rhinus
    May 19, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I think I am in complete agreement about the maturity of the Indian voter – and that the voter has done remarkably well in an alien system… just like Indians have done well with English.

    But, as with English, the concept of a powerful state (even if “elected” to power) restrict the freedom of people.

    About the democracy being the tyranny of the masses… it is an argument that many have made in the west who also see the risks of unbridled “democracy.” However, they don’t have what Indians have – which is a history of a successful implementation of a polity that has worked effectively in the past.

    For the western intellectual it is purely a theoretical concept – never successfully implemented (but I do give them credit for trying 🙂 ) unlike the Indian intellectual who remains enamored with the seduction of the false promise…

  1. May 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm
  2. May 17, 2009 at 11:38 pm
  3. May 29, 2009 at 12:19 pm

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