Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I wrote this before the BJD-BJP alliance broke ... But then, nothig much has changed

Maya Kodnani is a minister in Gujarat. We are told, by a Special Investigation Team of the Gujarat police, that Kodnani went around firing a pistol and commanding a mob that massacred Muslims in the Naroda Patti area in Ahmedabad in March 2002.

The number of dead in the anti-Muslim pogrom has now been revised from 952 to 1180. It is not that 228 people died just now. They were declared missing in 2002; and pronounced dead after seven years because that is what the law demands. In other words, their dead bodies were not found anywhere.

Dr. Binayak Sen, a medical practitioner by profession who spent most parts of his life treating the poor adivasis and the mine workers in Bhilai and in Raipur has been in jail since May 2007. Dr. Sen is charged of having been an associate of the Maoists.

Irom Sharmila Chanu has been fasting since November 2, 2000, demanding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be scrapped. Medha Patkar has been leading the adivasis in the Narmada valley demanding their right to live in their own land for more than two decades now.

In a single decade from 1997 – 2006, over 33,000 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra. This is the official data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). A few thousand more farmers had killed themselves since 2006.

13 adivasis were killed in police firing at Kalinganagar in Orissa on January 2, 2006. Atleast 15 people were killed by the police in Nandigram in West Bengal in March 2008.

There are fewer jobs than there were in the software sector now. The real estate sector that seemed to be booming until a few months ago is now in a crisis; and hence there are fewer jobs available than in the past. Newspapers that used to bring out supplements with as many as eight pages listing out job opportunities are no longer doing that now. And the Self Financed Engineering colleges that were doing roaring business, thanks to the placement melas by the BPO industry that offered jobs to anyone who happened to be there cannot hope to get as many students they did in the last year.

Well. A general election in such a context could, in the normal course, make a lot of sense. For, that would be an occasion for the people, in a Democracy, to deliver their verdict against those who failed. But then, the reality now is such that there is hardly any choice before the people. Between April 16 and May 13, 2009, the people across the country would have exercised their right by chosing between the devil and the deep sea. Much worse is that in the few days after May 16, 2009, when the results will be out, they will also end up watching, helplessly, a theatre of the absurd unfolding, with parties that pretended to be adversaries cobbling up alliances to form the next government.

Let us take, for instance, the choice before the people of West Bengal: The ruling Left Front has been paying the price for the pro-industry policy. In the by-elections to the panchayats and the assembly constituencies in the past few months, the Left has lost out to Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. This clearly is the fallout of the simple fact that Mamta has been leading the protests against the indiscriminate alienation of farm land to the industrial and other commercial houses in Singur and in Nandigram. But then, the dynamics of the Lok Sabha elections are different from that of the by-elections hitherto.

An alliance between Mamta and the Congress is more or less certain at this stage. A pre-poll alliance between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress in West Bengal could mean that the anger against the Left Front, most pronounced now than at any time in the past three decades, could find expression in the form of much lesser seats to the Left Front than the impressive score of 35 out of the 42 seats that the Left won from West Bengal in May 2004. But then, it may not mean anything in a political sense for two distinct reasons. One is that the Trinamool, the Congress and the Left parties do not disagree on the issue of alienation of land from the farmers and handing it over to industrial or other commercial purposes. And secondly, it is most likely that the Left and the Congress will get on to the same bandwagon, post election, and it does not really matter as to whether the MP from a certain constituency from West Bengal belongs to the Congress or the Left parties!

The story from Orissa is not too different. The Biju Janata Dal-Bharathiya Janata Party coalition that has been ruling the State for more than a decade now has been letting murderous attacks on the Christian missionaries with impunity. This, however, had begun earlier than the advent of Naveen Patnaik as Chief Minister. Recall the grissly massacre of Graham Steines and his two sons in Manoharpur and the fact that the State was then ruled by the Congress party! Or the fact that both the BJD-BJP combine and the Congress in Orissa agree on the policy of taking away land that naturally belongs to the adivasis and handing them over to the industrial houses and define this as development. And anyone who has a faint idea of the political landscape in Orissa will know that the people of the State will have to chose between the Congress party or the BJD-BJP combine this time too.

We traverse to Andhra Pradesh now. Unlike in Orissa where the political discourse is polarized so completely, the scene in Andhra Pradesh, as it is now, provides a wide range of choice to the voter. The people of the State, as it is, can chose the Congress or the TDP-Left-TRS combine or try out Chiranjeevi’s Prajarajyam. And the BJP does not seem to have even an outside chance from Andhra Pradesh as it is now. All this, however, are only apparent. The reality is that the choice before the people of Andhra Pradesh is to ensure the formation of a coalition at the Centre led either by the Congress or the BJP. The Telegu Desam, the TRS and the Praja Rajyam, given their social and political predilections will certainly veer towards a BJP-led coalition while the Left, even if they win only a couple of Lok Sabha seats from Andhra Pradesh will end up propping up a Congress-led coalition. And in any case, some more farmers will have their land acquired by the State Government for a pittance as compensation and handed over to a Satyam or a Maytas!

Tamil Nadu too points to a similar story. The DMK-led front that swept the polls in May 2004 is now in a shamble. At the time of writing this, the DMK front consists of Karunanidhi’s sons, daughter and the several factions of the Congress party. The Lft parties are now firmly settled with Jayalalitha. Vaiko’s MDMK, though a part of the ADMK-Left alliance as it is may remain there or end up cobbling another front in the days ahead. The PMK and its leader, Dr. S.Ramadoss are negotiating with anyone and everyone except cine-star Vijayakant. And one does hear that the Congress party too is negotiating simultaneously with both the DMK and the ADMK! That the Left leaders are baffled is evident from their refrain that they are going by the belief that their alliance with the AIADMK is settled as of now.

Well, there is one thing that can be said with certainty: That the DMK is down if not out and the Congress is worried of its bleak prospects if Sonia Gandhi insists on going with Karunanidhi. And Sonia Gandhi seems to be worried of the behavioral disorders that Jayalalitha suffers. Recall the tantrums by the ADMK chief during the months when she sustained the first NDA regime or the instance when she resorted to abuses against Sonia Gandhi even while the two parties had a formal agreement. The Congress supreme seems to be working on a plan that she could go over to Jayalalitha in the post-poll context if that was going to be necessary to sustain a Congress-led coalition. And Jayalalitha too will be fine with that as long as she gets the Congress to pull down the Karunanidhi regime in Tamil Nadu in the process. And as for the people of Tamil Nadu, it does not make any difference. It is unlikely, as it appears now, that a majority of the voters will decide to register their protest against the DMK and the ADMK together and vote for a candidate put by Vijayakant’s DMDK. And even if that happens, the cine-star will have no other option than becoming a part of either a Congress-led front or a BJP-led front and share the spoils of power.

In Kerala, the choice before the voters has been between the Congress and the Left. And since 2004, there was a sense of absurdity to this anyway. The Left parties that swept the polls defeating the Congress party ended up sustaining the Congress-led UPA for most of the term. The situation this time is not very different except for the fact that the Left is no longer in a position to claim an advantage. And given the scandal involving Pinarayi Vijayan and the dogged manner in which the party’s Politburo has stod up in his defence, the party could end up facing the worst rout it has ever suffered from Kerala this time. The Congress, hence, could make good from Kerala of the losses in the number of Lok Sabha seats from Andhra Pradesh this time. And as for Pinarayi and the CBI, it will depend upon the way the game of numbers will evolve after May 16, 2009. In other words, if the Congress is forced to depend on the Left for forming the next Government, the Left even with the reduced number of seats it will have will readily support that project in exchange for an assurance from Sonia Gandhi that the CBI will cover up the SNC-Lavalin scam.

Karnataka seems poised for a direct fight between the mafia that is now with the BJP and those who are with the Congress with H.D.Deve Gowda promising to amuse one and all with his claims to represent the secular-democratic alternative. And as it appears, the Congress is hardly in a position to improve in a significant way from where it stood in May 2004. The several factions that constitute the Congress party in Karnataka will ensure that the party’s candidates lose elections as it happened in May 2004 and in the assembly elections last year. The BJP had won 18 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karantaka in the last election and even if it improves this time, the gains may not be all that significant to make a difference in the overall tally in the next Lok Sabha.

The scene in Maharashtra is equally amusing. The Shiv Sena is down and so is the BJP. The Sena-BJP combine had won 25 of the 48 seats from the State in May 2004. And there is now the Congress-NCP alliance that seems settled for now. But, there is no assurance of any kind that Sharad Pawar will remain in the fold and will not support a Government by the BJP in New Delhi. All that Pawar will be interested is an important ministry to himself and a rewarding portfolio to his aide, Praful Patel. The fate of the farmers in Vidharba, where over 32,000 suicides have been recorded in the past decade is not going to make the leaders wink. And the political establishment is as much united when it comes to dealing with the adivasis who are rallied behind the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

The Congress, the NCP, the BJP and the Shiv Sena agree on the way these poor tribals must be dealt with and in this they have a strong leader in Narendra Modi! The Gujarat scenario is unlikely to change significantly from what it was in May 2004 and in the assembly elections last year. The BJP had won as many as 14 out of the 26 seats from Gujarat in May 2004 leaving the rest to the Congress. It is likely that things would turn out to be the same and even after the strong indictment against Modi and his cabinet colleague Maya Kodnani for having led a killer mob against the Muslims in March 2002, the BJP manages to win seats from Gujarat. The Congress, after all, has not done any aggressive campaign in defence of secularism in Gujarat.

In Rajastan, meanwhile, there could be some gains to the Congress and the BJP that won 21 out of the 25 seats from the State could end up with fewer seats than in May 2004. There is, as we all know, no other choice for the voters in Rajastan and the same is true of Madhya Pradesh. It looks like that the BJP will retain most of the 25 seats it had won in 2004. There are 29 Lok Sabha seats from Madhya Pradesh. In Chattisgarh too, the choice is between the BJP that won 10 out of the 11 seats in May 2004 and the Congress managing to win just one seat. It is unlikely to be different this time and in any case both the Congress and the BJP are in agreement over such issues like the detention of Binayak Sen or the setting up of the Salwa Judum against the Maoists. The people, meanwhile, have their fate determined so clearly: To survive as long as they can and struggle against the political establishment that is out there to sell off the natural resources to anyone who pays them off. Jharkhand is no different with the people having to choose between Shibhu Soren, Madhu Koda, Simon Marandi or anyone who has made money and is willing to invest some part of it in this election.

All this leads to Uttar Pradesh, where the battle is between Mulayam Singh an Mayawati. Neither the BJP nor the Congress have a major presence there and both Mulayam and Mayawati are potential allies to any one of them as and when the necessity arises. The point is that both these leaders are facing charges of having wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income and the CBI is involved in turning them into criminals and saints alternately. The only thing consistent about the CBI is that if Mulayam is a saint today, then Mayawati is a criminal and if Mayawati is made into a saint tomorrow it is certain to make Mulayam a criminal. The truth, however, is that both of them have made tonnes of money and siphoned out a large portion of that to outside India. The scene from Bihar is not clear. It is possible that the 40 seats from Bihar are shared equally by the RJD and the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine this time and unlike the sweep registered by the RJD last time.

The point is that for the first time perhaps in the history of our republic, we have an election where issues are there in plenty but none of them will determine the outcome of the polls. We are clearly in a stage where the political discourse is being determined by the instincts of our leaders, across the spectrum, to preserve themselves and land themselves into positions of power so that they can enrich themselves by several crores of rupees. The fact is that all the parties, including the Left, is now in the same boat and the people of India are caught between one corrupt party and another.


Anonymous Saurav said...

That elections are not won on issues but by some complex arithmetic of money, crime, corruption, caste or religion is nothing new. Perhaps this has been a specially striking feature of general election since the economic liberlisation in 1991-92.

There have also been times when parties have lost the elections by monumental follies of their own, as the BJP and its 'India Shining' campaign showed to us. It was more of NDA's defeat then a mandate for the Congress and its allies.

At the same time it would also be unwise to say that issues do not matter at all.They will matter in small localized spheres across the country. In Bihar the JD (U) looks almost certain to reduce the RJD to under ten seats because of the governance the Nitish Kumar has provided, in Tamil Nadu the DMK is all set to take a beating for its stand or the lack of it on the Sri Lanka situation and the general large scale corruption done by its ministers at the Centre.

But yes, a clutch of core issues, a national wave like the kind that threw Congress out after the emergency or the won that voted it back to power when the Janta government showed itself incapable of ruling will be missing. Don't you think that in the coalition era such waves of national consciousness is hard to arouse unless perhaps the issue is of national security?

We have seen how hunger, malnutrition, farmer suicides, tribal rights, the issue of development and displacement of project affected people have failed to impact elections significantly.

And yes, this time also that ultimate mirage, the Third front is rising but i continue to remain skeptical about it.In the end government formation will again be determined by what will keep the BJP out, the Congress in or vice versa. Who will be blatantly non-secular and side with the BJP or will be feebly secular and be with the Congress, will ultimately decide the choice the Third Front will have to make if it is in the condition to affect government formation in a big way. remember many of the third front parties have been in UPA and NDA governments and there is no telling which way they may swing again.

12:37 AM  
Blogger A Doosra Perspective said...

Most of the people conveniently forgets the reason for gujarat riots. It the Muslims invited the Hindu's to fight. Riots broke out because the Muslims torched the train,Anger spilled over to the other parts of the state.

Media in general will brand every Hindu as communal. I want congress to be voted out of power these elections.

4:06 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

The one with ``another'' perspective is free to wish whether the Congress must be voted out or not. I have no business responding to that.

However, I make it clear here that I do not share his views/understanding on the cause for the antiMuslim violence in Gujarat. The February-March 2002 violence in Gujarat was another expression of communal fascism and an illustration of what the sangh parivar agenda of Hindutwa is. In Gujarat, we saw the implementation of Golwalkar's definition of nation and nationalism and nothing more or nothing less.

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is wrong to retaliate (which has not been proven by any one other than Krishna and his comrades working for The Chindu) against the murders of innocent/devout Hindus in the Godhra train burning. But it would be fine kill millions of people to prove the worthless and meaningless communism all over the world. Krishna, have you forgotten what did Yechury say during his talk in JNU on Tiananmen square uprising. Have you forgotten you were a "brave foot soldier" defending the indefensible during the Tiananmen square uprising. Now you are talking so much about
Golwalkar's definition of nation and nationalism. How times have changed (only) in the last 22 years. If only you are more wiser!

6:01 PM  

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