India: Fractious & Unstable Future Ahead

Five State Assembly Elections – 2013

The much expected humiliating defeat of the Congress in 4 out of the 5 State Assembly elections has shattered all its political calculations for the General Election to be held in mid-2014. While its defeat in Madhya Pradesh was more or less on expected lines and Chhattisgarh was a close call; but the scale of its defeat in Rajasthan and especially Delhi have put a question mark on its return to power in 2014.

The Congress finds itself in a mess on all the fronts – social, economic and political. Growth though expected to rise, will be minuscule at 5.5% and nothing compared to 8-9% growth rate that was seen in the last decade. Prices of essential commodities continue to soar with the inflation rising to 11.2%. Meanwhile industrial output has slumped to 1.8% in October. There is nothing to boost on the welfare front, excepting the Food Security Bill that was passed in September of this year that aims to provide subsidized food-grains. But its provisions are very narrow, not universal and unlikely to reap electoral benefits in the short term.

It is on the political front that the Congress faces its major hurdles. The Congress led UPA II{{1}} has become tainted by all sorts of corruption scams that has made it one of the most unpopular governments ever and even led to a major mobilization on the issue by Anna Hazare & co in 2011. The Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill that was passed very recently was just too little, too late. The mess that the Congress finds itself on the Telangana issue and its scheming plans to hijack the issue for electoral gains in 2014 has instead alienated the Congress in the whole of the Andhra Pradesh region and beyond. And now this electoral setback in the Hindi heartland and the prestige issue of having lost the national capital- New Delhi is just beyond its comprehension.

modiriseThe Rise of the BJP & the Modi Factor

The victory of the BJP in 3 out of 5 states, as well as being the strongest party to emerge in the Delhi elections has put to center stage its chances in the 2014 elections and the influence of its Prime Ministerial candidate – Narendra Modi in the just concluded elections. No matter how much the BJP leadership showers praise on Modi for single handedly taking on the Congress, it is beyond any doubt that BJP would have gained with or without Modi.

The anointing of Narendra Modi as BJP’s PM candidate in September of this year was a well calculated plan by the RSS-BJP combine that very well knew that BJP would gain in the elections and the idea was to attribute this to Modi’s leadership to keep his rivals within the BJP such as L K Advani at bay (See: Will Pheku Get In? Modi Factor & the Indian General Elections 2014). The victory of the BJP was in fact a negative vote against the Congress, which is made clear by the fact that in Delhi it was Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that was the real gainer in the elections and not the BJP. And lastly, in all the four regions BJP already had a strong base and local leadership that was very much capable of taking on the Congress with or without Modi.

In all, the victory for the BJP in the 2014 General Elections is not a foregone conclusion. The Delhi election verdict just demonstrates that there are too many permutations and combinations at play that could simply go wrong for the BJP, especially in a nationwide election where the regional parties and the Congress hold sway.

Implications for the General Elections – 2014

For the Congress, except for a few states such as Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, the northern states of Haryana, Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh and maybe Punjab; Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand to some extent in the Central belt, and a few of the North Eastern States, it is not expected to gain much votes on its own beyond this. In the rest of the states, it is either going to lose out to the BJP or the regional parties.

It does not matter whether Rahul Gandhi is projected as Congress PM candidate or not. It is now abundantly clear that he simply lacks the charisma or the mass appeal to swing the votes decisively in the Congress favour, despite the family name and whole of the Congress/ govt. machinery behind him. The days of Manmohan Singh (current PM) and his neo-liberal cabal are all but over.

While BJP might appear to be at a much better position, but the truth of the matter is that apart from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand, it is heavily dependent on allies such as in Punjab or Maharashtra. Even in regions where it appears to have fair chance on its own such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa or Karnataka, it faces a tightly cornered contest with the regional parties and the Congress. The chances of BJP winning seats in the rest of the important states on its own such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and North Eastern states is next to zero as the party has no strong political base in these regions.

Even if the BJP manages to garner the highest number of seats, it is likely to fall short of the 200 mark, way too low to reach the halfway point of 272 seats required to form a govt. at the center. Its only allies at present are the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and few other small parties. Even if others such as AIADMK{{2}} in Tamil Nadu, TDP{{3}} or TRS{{4}} in Andhra Pradesh, MNS{{5}} in Maharashtra, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and BJD{{6}} in Orissa were somehow roped in, it is still likely to be far short of the majority. Moreover, Narendra Modi’s autocratic style is unlikely in the present scenario to endear potential allies to support a BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The most likely scenario that is bound to emerge is a fractured mandate with the regional parties holding the cards.

AAP_broom_launch_295Emergence of the AAP

The most significant aspect of the just concluded election is probably the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the implications that this holds on a national level. Winning 28 seats in the 70 seat Delhi State Assembly is no mean streak and already speculations are rife that AAP might contest the parliamentary elections from others parts of India apart from Delhi.

However, AAP very well knows its appeal across India is very limited to a few metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore (where it might potentially partner with similar middle class outfits like the Lok Satta). It might even possibly tests waters in states like Haryana (close to Delhi and also Arvind Kejriwal’s home state), Uttar Pradesh (Western UP or at-least the Urban areas) and Maharashtra (where it is said to have base). Beyond this, AAP is not likely to have a major impact as the issues are totally different from the one single issue that AAP usually harps upon – corruption.

And this is where its problems arises. Notwithstanding its narrow understanding of corruption, it is yet to spell out its position clearly on communalism, caste and reservation; nationality question that is hanging fire in Kashmir, the North Eastern states, Tamil national question in Sri Lanka (which is very relevant in Tamil Nadu) and now Telangana; land reforms and land acquisition for SEZ’s; nuclear energy and most importantly its economic policies, especially on its stance with regard to neo-liberal reforms. On all these, if the past is any indication, AAP stands on slippery ground.

Arvind Kejriwal may have in the past given issue based support to anti-POSCO agitation or anti- Kudankulam struggle. However, there is a lot of explanation to do with regards to past associations with reactionary characters like Baba Ramdev, right wing, nationalistic slogans that are rife in AAP campaigns or even taking backhand support from the RSS during anti-corruption campaign in 2011, or even his association with anti- reservation groups like Youth For Equality, and their virtual silence on the nationality question or even issues like the AFSPA{{7}}. On the economic front, its manifesto for the Delhi elections might have sounded somewhat Social Democratic, but how far they would actually implement them in practice and their murky dealings with the corporate cum NGO money during the anti- corruption campaign are all questions that remains to be answered. (See: Delhi Election Verdict- A Shift in the Political Chessboard?)

A Fractured Mandate & Beyond

As stated earlier, the most likely scenario that could emerge after the next general elections is a fractured mandate as in the Delhi elections, with none of the parties in a position to forming a govt. A Third Front scenario, comprising of the likes of Samajwadi Party, JD(U){{8}}, AIADMK or DMK{{9}} and the long list of DK factions in Tamil Nadu, BJD, TDP, YSR Congress{{10}}, JD(S){{11}}, maybe even Sharad Pawar’s NCP{{12}}, Mayawati’s BSP{{13}} or Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, propped up by the Left and supported by the Congress from the outside; would be extremely corrupt, neo-liberal, faction ridden and unstable. Such a govt. would hardly last its entire term.

Except for the Left that does not see the reality on the ground and still clings on to such ridiculously outdated ideas as the Third Front, no other party has any illusions of such a front, except to capture power. In fact, AAP seems to be much ahead of the Left on this, when Kejriwal told recently in an interview “We are the first front, not the third front… There is a huge vacuum in the country for honest politics” (The Hindu). Meaning there is a huge opportunity for alternative politics that is simply waiting to be tapped and it is inconceivable that the Left does not see this.

A weak and an unstable govt. at the center would be an ideal ground for the communal right led by the RSS-BJP combine. They could relaunch a communal frenzy to polarize the situation and mount a campaign as a checkmate to counter any rise in the movement of the Indian working people. Thus the dangers of a right wing, communal govt. under a Modi like figure is ever present.

However bleak such a scenario might appear like at present, the coming period could open up very interesting possibilities for the forces fighting for Democratic Socialism. Despite its wrong approach, the emergence of the AAP clearly indicates a growing frustration if not downright hostility to the existing political set up. Ideas such as political alternatives, democratic accountability and even ideas such as direct democracy by the people in managing the affairs of the State are gaining ground. This is not saying that Socialism is in the air, but the rumblings of a sea change in the consciousness of the Indian working people has begun. AAP has unwittingly let the cat out of the bag.

No longer would any visibly anti- people policies of the govt. be taken hands down. For instance, even the latest protest by the LGBT community against Supreme Court verdict overturning Delhi High Court verdict decriminalizing gay sex has completely shaken the political establishment. As a consequence, already noises are being made by the political classes to amend the controversial section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing gay sex.

Democratic Socialist Alternative is the Only Way Forward

As we have stated in our introduction to the article on Socialist Kshama Sawant’s election victory in the US – “It is entirely pertinent to draw conclusions here in India that, it is possible to challenge all the mainstream parties such as the Congress, BJP and the so called Secular-Democratic Third Front mess (who are nothing but fair-weather cocks who will jump the fence as the wind blows) and build an alternative beacon of political dispensation based on the pro-peoples movements, anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation, pro-environmental movements.”

Collectively, with the right perspectives and articulation, it is entirely possible to break the stranglehold of the Congress, BJP and the System of Capitalism which breeds Communal-ism and the monsters such as Modis and Rajapakses. There is enough intellectual acumen in the ranks of various fighter organisations to expose the fakes of DMKs, AIADMKs, the namesake Socialist Parties and Communist parties and attract the well meaning rank and file who are erroneously going behind them for want of a genuine political alternative.”

The time is rotten ripe to urgently address THE QUESTION in the right earnest which is dogging everybody for a long time now. It is high time to initiate a dialogue and discussion amongst the various peoples’ movements and grass-roots activists, democratic trade union bodies, youth movements, Dalith organisations, Womens’ organisations, organisations fighting for the rights of Sexuality Minorities and various solidarity forums on the urgent need to fight for a democratic socialist alternative to capitalism.”

[[1]] United Progressive Alliance is the coalition of parties led by the ruling party – Congress [[1]]
[[2]] Current ruling party in Tamil Nadu led by the former actress Jayalalitha [[2]]
[[3]] Telugu Desam Party is one of the main opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh [[3]]
[[4]] Telangana Rashtria Samithi is the main party leading the pro- Telengana agitation in Andhra Pradesh demanding a separate state [[4]]
[[5]] Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is a right wing, Maratha Chauvunist Party and a breakaway faction of the Shiv Sena [[5]]
[[6]] Biju Janata Dal is the main ruling party in Orissa [[6]]
[[7]] Armed Forces Special Powers Act [[7]]
[[8]] Janata Dal (United) is the main current in Bihar [[8]]
[[9]] the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu [[9]]
[[10]] Breakaway faction of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh [[10]]
[[11]] Janata Dal (Secular) – one of the opposition parties in Karnataka led by Deve Gowda & Sons [[11]]
[[12]] Nationalist Congress Party – a constituent of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra [[12]]
[[13]] Bahujan Samaj Party [[13]]