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Between the line

Major parties lose ground
May 18 , 2011


INDIA’S biggest story of latest state elections is the decimation of communism. Most believe it is a good riddance of an ideology that had outlived its utility. In fact, it got buried under the debris when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, after losing the cold war.

Yet, West Bengal and Kerala, more so the first, were the only two states which defiantly stuck to the Stalin philosophy and even put up his life-size photo at the politburo. The rout in West Bengal was humiliating, the party securing only 63 seats in the 294-member house. Kerala had a better showing winning 68 out of 140 seats, primarily due to the outgoing chief minister V. S. Achuthanandan’s clean image, without the humbug of ideology.

However, the advance of capitalism or consumerism without any challenge has not made the world better. While Russia has settled down to a western pattern, the communists in India are riding a high horse. The jaded ideology is still sacrosanct for them. They do not see that their agenda has been appropriated by the Maoists who have also used the gun and coercion to spread. China’s version of communism is a free economy under the strict discipline of the party and the army. The classical type of communism does not sell any more. The middle class has to be associated in one way or the other.

In any case, the West Bengal communist government was not the setup which could have retrieved the ideology because the leaders were arrogant, the ministers nonchalant and the cadres law unto themselves. The Communist Party of India (Marxists), which either misgoverned or non-governed the state for 34 years, had a cockeyed idea of ideology that by flaunting the red flag or mouthing slogans they could win popular support. Little did the CPM realise that there was disconnect between it and the people. The party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections should have made it read the writing on the wall.

In Kerala, something worse is emerging. Communalism is replacing the remnants of communist ideology. Hindus and Christians have voted for the Congress and Muslims for the victorious United Democratic Front. Muslims won 20 seats out of the 24 they contested. For the first time, the state is in the throes of religious fervour, although the BJP’s Hindutva forces have been defeated roundly.
I do not think that the communists can stage a comeback with the same old Lenin-Stalin approach. They have to return to the grassroots and expand their base. The Left has to keep in mind that any ideology without morality will not go very far in India, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.

Mamata Banerjee of Trinamul Congress, now West Bengal’s Chief Minister—she won 226 seats—realized the moral aspect. But a maverick as she is, she can wreck a system but may find it hard to overhaul. The administrators, the police and other government agencies have to be rejuvenated with passion and dedication to serve the people, not to be at the beck and call of others like commissars in the Left government. Switching over loyalty is the bane of civil service. But it can be awakened to the ethical considerations inherent in public behaviour. At present, they have become generally dim.

How to revive the dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral that has got erased is the challenge. This is not only for Mamata but also for Jayalalithaa who has smashed the family-cum-government apparatus in Tamil Nadu. By securing 203 seats in the 234-member house, she has proved that her win was not negative but positive.

But she has begun on a wrong note. She appears to be making up with the ruling Congress. When the case of “unaccounted assets” is pending against her, the stance of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is under New Delhi, is crucial. How will she cope with that? A telephone call from Congress president Sonia Gandhi within 24 hours of Jayalalithaa’s winning elections says it all. Yet she must keep in mind that the people in Tamil Nadu have trounced the Congress and reduced its tally from 34 to five. Her election plank to eliminate corruption should be on top of the agenda.

In fact, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) would not have been routed if it had not to face the fallout of 2G spectrum scam. The problem that the Manmohan Singh government faces is that the DMK has 19 seats in the Lok Sabha. However, Jayalalitha’s 11 will make up the deficit to some extent. At some stage, either the Congress will dump the DMK or the latter would withdraw its support.

The Congress victory in Assam was expected. Once state chief minister Tarun Gogoi brought the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leadership to Guwahati for talks, it was clear that his eyes were fixed on state assembly election. The ULFA still has an emotional appeal in Assam. The Congress won at the polls last time with the help of Bangladeshis who had been registered as voters. The chief minister left them high and dry this time. And his victory pushed into the background the grave charges of corruption against his government. Before long, both forces will catch up.

It would be, however, heartening if something tangible, not just an agreement, emerges from the talks to reconcile the aspirations of the ULFA with Assam’s identity within the constitution of India. The Congress should learn a lesson: political problems need political solutions and not the military ones. The large presence of the armed forces in the northeast region operating under the outmoded Armed Forces (Unlawful Activity) Act, has alienated the people, not calmed them down.

In due course, when the election dust settles down, all the three major parties—the Congress, the BJP and the communists—will reliase that they are losing the ground. Regional parties are beginning to occupy the space which an all-India party should be commanding. This means a coalition government at the centre for a long time to come. There is nothing wrong with it if the federal structure is respected and a consensus of opinion sought. But the manner in which the major parties growl at one another holds little hope. They have defamed the system so much that their own credibility is zero.

One thing that the nation must keep in mind is that morality has been squeezed out of Indian politics. The polity has to go through a series of coalitions at the centre and even in the states. There will be shocking bargains and business-dictated combinations. People would be would be mute spectators. They will have to wait for a third alternative before they reach the sunny ground.

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