The Gujarat Verdict and After A Way Back to Coalition Era
The voters in Gujarat have spoken up with a sense of maturity in consonance with the traditional spirit of old. Therein lies a message, clear and straightforward, for those in power and also those aspiring to be in power to rid themselves of their hubris and shed their trademark arrogance. Indeed, the BJP does have a solid reason to celebrate its sixth-time return to power in the state, but the story does not really end at that; even if denied power once again, the Congress too can take heart for bettering its earlier performances. In fact, it turned out to be a touch-and-go finally and a mere difference of less than 10 seats here and there would have been enough to upset the entire set-up.
With a tally of 99 seats 16 less than last time’s—has nothing much to gloat over, and nobody knows what really happened to belie the promised tally of 150 in a 182- member House of Mr Amit Shah? . All said and done, it was a bitterly yet closely-fought election reducing the BJP’s tally of 118 seats to a mere double-digit figure of 99 in a House of 182 members; the Congress, on other hand, bettered its tally from 58 members in the previous House to 80.
More significantly, the fact of the ‘invincibility’ of Prime Minister Modi having taken a sharp beating in his home state has opened the floodgates of all sorts of political speculation—and possibilities. Thus more than a renewed mandate to the BJP, the outcome may be seen as the electorate’s wish to get back to the era of coalitions. If really so then the state assembly elections due in the coming year—and more importantly the general election another year on assume added importance. It must make the BJP-RSS component sit up and make an agonizing reappraisal of their manner and mode of their functioning. On the Congress side, it has been their leader Rahul Gandhi’s moment of truth. The Congress went to the polls in some sort of an alliance with the regional groupings each holding the sway in its own way—the politics of caste being the main plank.
In effect, no new issues came up in the course of the electioneering even as Mr Modi called termed the outcome as a victory for vikas and a defeat of secularism. On the other hand, the election was fought on pronouncedly communal lines—the Hindutva of BJP-RSS pitted against the Congress’s soft Hindutva plank. Rahul Gandhi did make a renewed attempt to cash in on issues like demonetization and GST yet more relevant and biting issues more or less went ignored like that of the youth unemployment, economic meltdown and rising prices of fuel and food grains. A more effective way of putting the BJP in the dock would have been to persistently focus on the Prime Minister’s “accehe din” promise, and the gaping hole between promise and profession.
The general political atmosphere in Gujarat was plainly anti-establishment making the BJP understandably nervous to an extent that the Prime Minister had to introduce the ‘Pakistan factor’ in his election rally. Be whatever it may, it must have been hard for the less imaginative voter in Gujarat wondering how really a failed state like Pakistan could have gathered the courage and audacity to influence a former Prime Minister, a former Army chief and a host of others as venerable and think of interfering in the domestic affairs of the world’s largest democracy—a la Russia’s Putin in the Presidential election in the US!
The murky atmosphere of fear and communal hatred generated by the mischief-makers of the so-called fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar also went ignored amid Mr Gandhi’s zest to prove his Hindu credentials. If such explosive issues were raised at all it must have been done by the lesser and obcy leaders on the opposition side and that too sotto. In the final analysis what came about was the sight of more than one ‘emperor’ appearing without clothes! . This is reflective of a general malaise linked to the overall decline of values in public life: the words and expressions used in the electioneering were far from edifying and completely unbecoming of the ‘supermen’ status they claim to be occupying. Looking back in time even the ‘pachas crore ki girl-friend’ jibe of 2014 would sound innocuous. Home Minister Rajnath Singh did not lag behind in doing his bit by uttering his substandard cliché “Sar mundatey olay pare” to ridicule Rahul Gandhi’s elevation in his party hierarchy.
More reprehensively, the BJP took no time in assuming arrogant postures after coming to power in the 2014 landslide while the Congress on its part took more than three decades to become arrogant. Not Nehru, not Indira Gandhi not even Rajiv Gandhi; all of them kept their cool despite provocation. During its uninterrupted 10-year rule from 2004-2014, it picked up the soft Hindutva card and facing a disaster of its own making finally. (one cannot understand how and in what way the Congress could have been seen as a “pro-Muslim” organization after knowing the truth of the matter in the light of the Sachar Committee report.)
The Gujarat verdict needs to be seen and understood in the context of the overall message it conveys. It has shed enough hints about the prevailing general mood in the country. As such the outcome of the assembly battles in the coming year and more poignantly and crucially in 2019 general election would be worth watching. If anything it makes out a strong case for opposition unity with less than 18 months to go.
Rahul Gandhi indeed put up a better showing in the course of his election rallies in Gujarat, but the moot question is whether he would fill the bill to spearhead the opposition campaign in the general election, or would he be in a position to counter Modi’s ‘jumlebazi’ challenge effectively enough next time? .
If the Gujarat verdict is any guide the electorate seems disinclined to give unbridled powers to any party or leader: there are positive signs that they would prefer to have a cohesive and a stability-guranteed coalition over one-man rule in whatever garb. Any talk of consolidating a two-party system is sadly out of sync with the prevailing political mood in the country. Thus all efforts on the part of the Congress as well as other opposition parties need to be directed with that end in view.