Thursday, January 1, 2004

Will the People?

Will the People?
By Narendra Luther

Last month I wrote about the elections coming sooner than expected in Andhra Pradesh. You have now to concede that what AP does today, the rest of the country does tomorrow. It has happened in this case too. Chandrababu Naidu wanted to cash in on the sympathy generated by the assassination attempt on him. But what prompted the NDA Government to advance the polls? Well the 25(?) parties knotted together and called the National Democratic Alliance invented a new term -- FGF.
Feel good Factor
Basically it was the victory of the BJP in the Hindi belt which gave hope and optimism to the main alliance party. If they could win those states, the electoral mood seemed to be in their favour. The Prime Minister had dominated the Saarc meeting. Relations with Pakistan were improving sidelining the Kashmir problem for the time being. The harvest was good and rats were getting fatter nibbling at the stocks. The growth rate of the economy did better than expected. Exports outdid the forecast. Our foreign exchange reserves were swelling. Foreign institutional investors started thinking no end of India. They bought stocks. They made other investments. Telephony had become cheaper. More and more people were using mobile phones. People could talk while they walked. The sensex was zooming. It is very emotional. It starts booming and then goes fut for no reason at all. But somehow it is considered as a barometer of the nation’s mood. And it showed the nation was mighty pleased with the performance of the government. So the political managers thought it was a good time to go to the country. The nation will say, go ahead; we give you another term.
Merit of the parliamentary system
So, first the speculation was encouraged. Testing of waters, some call it. Sounding people who matter. Note the reaction amongst the adversaries. Deny all rumours. In politics don’t believe anything unless it is officially denied. That is one of the merits of parliamentary democracy. It allows you to take people – which include your opponents -- by surprise. The presidential system does not allow that. It follows a dull predictable timetable. In the parliamentary form the ruling party has the advantage of deciding when and where to fight. NDA managers thought this was a good time. Who knows what might happen in October when elections were due?
The ruling party has another advantage. It can suddenly become generous, loosen the purse strings and start doling out goodies. It can concede long pending demands of the employees. It can raise salaries – or appoint a commission to recommend that. It can lower or even abolish import duties across the board. It can make things cheaper. It can raise the income tax exemption limit. It can announce many welfare measures which no one ever expected. All that adds to FGF. The ruling party is feeling good. It believes that the nation too is feeling good. The media starts feeling the coolth of the FGF. So, you are feeling good whether you like it or not.
Civil War
Elections are won by defeating opponents. Individual defeat individuals, parties defeat parties. That is done by demoralizing rivals. While you buck up your ranks, you sow confusion in the opponents’ camp. You raise questions about the legitimacy of the leadership of the biggest party. Election is civil war by other means; it is a love affair with the people. And according to old wisdom, every thing is fair in love and war.
There has been criticism of India’s foreign policy right from Nehru’s days. But no party which came to power made any change in its basic thrust. Now the same has happened to our economic policy. The Opposition attacks liberalization and globalization, but when it comes to power, it adopts it proudly as a part of the pragmatic approach in the national interest. So, what is the difference between one party and another? Ideology? But a coalition dilutes ideologies. Its manifesto is survival. You adopt the lowest common denominator and call it CMP – Common Minimum Programme. Without survival you can’t achieve anything. So, survival is the ideology of coalition. The opposition has to mobilize enough strength to defeat the incumbent party or group of parties. So, it looks for allies. Any party, which can add to it fighting power, is good enough. Here again, ideology is an empty term. You go and embrace your bitter enemies of yesterday. Like the advertisement in newspapers, to get the runaway son back home: ‘Mother serious. Return home. Every thing is forgiven -- and forgotten’.
Acquisitions & megers
This winter is the season of mergers and acquisitions. Big fish always swallowed the small one. But before the elections the small one suddenly develops an illusion of grandeur and makes a bid for reversing the old practice. The queen of the largest, oldest party goes to wish a happy birthday to the Dalit ki Beti because her bag contains some precious jingling votes. She can swing things. Old colleagues of the NCP forget the principle on which they broke away from the main party and established a new one. For one, it is ‘homecoming’. The other asks :where is the home? It is a house without the spirit which makes a structure into a home. He finds comfort in a party which he denounced earlier. The NCP breaks up. Mulayam Singh is still mulling over his options. There is time yet for that. He may find himself in the same camp, which has accommodated his arch enemy.
Where are their oft-repeated declarations? Where are the manifestoes? asks the common man. That is what prevents him from becoming uncommon. In his innocence he looks for steadfast adherence to principles and ideology. He/she forgets that politics is the art of the possible – making impossible into possible. Didn’t Emerson say that foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of a small mind? How can one be consistent in a changing situation?
Watch the circus
I have seen many elections. I have been updating myself on changing equations and new names and symbols. I do that because they tell me that my vote is precious. I should cast it carefully. On that depends my future and the future of the country. I like the sudden arrival of elections. We get so many freebies and incentives. There will be excitement in the air for some time. We will get to know the truth about various persons and parties from their opponents. That is one reason why I prefer parliamentary democracy. It can herald elections when we least expect it, like rain in dry season.
Let us now await the circus. At the end of that there will be new friendships and enmities. In the security of my superannuated situation I shall be amused to watch the loss of security of many and even forfeiture of deposits with the equanimity of a bystander.