West indian people

We the people have nowhere to fall short – The New Indian Express


A quick thought experiment. Applying market rules to Indian elections. As a voter, you are the buyer, the consumer. The products on offer come to you as two or more brands competing for your attention, essentially the same cola in different bottles. However, it is a dangerously reductive, even blasphemous, model to apply to the primary mode of renewal of a democracy. But you can be almost persuaded if you take into account the granular detail. Like we said, test it logically.

What is the smallest product unit circulating in the political supermarket? The candidate, of course. Candidates are the single, smallest and most indivisible purchase items. Before announcing their charms to the voter, they are already objects of transaction on the farmers’ market. Political parties acquire them like so many scripts. Watch the way they float, and the Indian political party system begins to look like a stock exchange.

Consider the evidence. Amarinder Singh, one of the most loyal and long-serving Congress strongmen till another day, is on the side of the BJP. The son of the late Manohar Parrikar, a much-loved BJP icon in his day, is abandoned by the party. They won’t give him his father’s old seat, Panaji, because they have to please Babush Monserrate, one of his father’s bitterest enemies. Why? Because Babush is the one who came to the BJP from Congress with a bag full of MPs, enough to help them stay comfortably in power. (Vishwajit Rane, son of former Congress CM Pratapsingh Rane, and Devendra Fadnavis, the son of an MLC, rationalized this with excellent anti-dynastic logic.)

In Uttarakhand, a whole slew of ex-Congress members who ate fish and breads from office as BJP ministers now prepare to pack their tents and return – like seasonal migrants in the old economy of transhumance. In UP, a collection of BJP leaders from EBC communities discovered Lohiaite socialism in no time.

And Priyanka Gandhi’s “Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon” slogan poster turned saffron. As for Manipur, voters cannot be blamed if they do not know who or what they are voting for: as in Goa, the whole landscape has changed color. Whichever party wins, it’s always the same cola, in a new bottle. Words like ideology seem to risk dissolving into utter nonsense.

But even if it is in these swamps that the great themes of politics are sown, ideologies have their domain of value. Who wins, which parties come to power, these things matter to the voter for a variety of material and symbolic reasons. Governments of this color or bearers of a real political sense, the effect of which is felt in ordinary life.

Like feminism or epidemic forms, ideologies can come in waves. It can be said that Hindutva is at the beginning of its third phase. How the Yogi Adityanath dispensation performs in the upcoming elections will determine the future course of its product.

Mandal, likewise, reaches a newer and deeper level. Akhilesh Yadav, the son of a Mandal messiah, seeks to propel himself precisely on this, broadening the base of social empowerment politics to encompass a variety of non-Yadav OBCs and EBCs. But even that deepening seems to be limited by imagination, hampered by a political animosity that has defined the “social justice” side of UP politics for three decades.

It is the lasting rupture between the Samajwadi Party and the Mayawati BSP – or, on the ground, between the communities they represent. The two have been bitter rivals almost throughout after a brief coalition in the early 90s – the unsuccessful experience of mahagathbandhan around 2019 being the only counterpoint.

The failed negotiations between Akhilesh and Chandrashekar Aazad of the Bhim army bear the traces of this difficult interface between the neo-mandalite and dalit communities: the future of a viable “bahujane” policy is at stake there. Obviously, with the BJP stung by agricultural protests in its western Uttar Pradesh stronghold for a decade, the theater of action will shift to Purvanchal.

The complex interaction between voters from different Dalit sub-castes, small OBC groups and EBCs will be crucial. Can Yogi attract non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs? Will Mayawati keep her herd? Can Akhilesh wean them? In this stream, the ambitions of individual candidates positioning themselves in the producer market can decide the future of Hindutva, Mandal and Dalit politics.

Hindutva faces a curious challenge in Uttarakhand – weakened by factionalism, accusations of corruption in flood relief funds and the perception of overreach in conservative Hindu and ultra-Hindu camps (think to the now-withdrawn Char Dham bill that would have given the state control of some of India’s holiest temples and arrests after Haridwar calls for genocide). If it persists, it will be because of the good old fratricides on the side of Congress, not to mention the reverse defections.

Punjab to some extent mirrors Uttar Pradesh in offering another fascinating showdown between religious and secular themes. Within the Sikh fold, there are panthic voters and former leftist blocs who have led the farm protests. There is caste – Jat Sikhs, OBC Sikhs, commercial caste Hindus and India’s largest Dalit population in a single state at 32% (both Sikhs and non-Sikhs) with a new dot of focus in CM Charanjit Channi.

Voters’ inclinations will depend on the attraction of old and new parties (like the AAP) and fickle candidates and leaders. (If Amarinder is pro-saffron now, leading Congress is a combustible former BJP speaker, Navjot Singh Sidhu.)

People, of course, have nowhere to defect.

Santwana Bhattacharya ([email protected])
Resident Editor, Karnataka, The New Indian Express

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