*This post was featured on Centre Right India on 02/17/2014: http://centreright.in/2014/02/treatise-on-realpolitik-de-2014/
**Click to access hyperlinks throughout the article
According to the mainstream Indian media, there are currently three main political trends emerging across India today: the emergence of an anti-corruption party – the Aam Aadmi Party (“AAP”), rebranding of the incumbent Indian National Congress’ (“Congress”) along the lines of its new-found activist streak spearheaded by its leader Rahul Gandhi, and finally the nationwide mobilization of supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (“BJP”) Prime Ministerial candidate – Narendra Modi, from heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to distant West Bengal, Kerala, Nagaland, and surprisingly even Jammu and Kashmir.
Although all three trends have been correctly acknowledged by the media, the argument that each is equally significant as the other is simply inaccurate or worse, propagandist. What the liberal media fails to do is differentiate between the impacts of each of these trends, resulting in the creation of incorrect assertions about the probability of success of their respective outcomes. Case in point was the latest round of recently concluded Assembly elections in the heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and of course Delhi.
These elections were a watershed moment in modern Indian politics, and the verdict was abundantly clear, as much as the mainstream media tried to obfuscate it – the most significant trend was that BJP under its firebrand nationalist leader, Narendra Modi was the biggest winner. The party received almost 72 lakh more votes than its nearest rival – the Congress. Yet, if you were to believe the media, results from the three states where the BJP performed spectacularly were hardly worth noting. The only result that mattered to them was the hung assembly of the most densely populated state in India – Delhi. AAP’s debut of winning 28 seats out of total 70 available seats was mighty impressive, but their seat tally was still less than the 31 seats BJP won (BJP lost six seats by a margin of less than 1000 votes). If there was ever a chance for an upstart party to emerge unexpectedly, it would have to be in the most densely populated state of India.
While campaigning in Delhi requires the support of small apartment societies, colony administrators and community meetups – mohalla sabhas (door-to-door campaigns); to take your message through spread-out districts in the desert state of Rajasthan, and densely forested, Naxal-infected Chhattisgarh is way more impressive. Winning by three-fourth majority is unheard of in today’s fractious electoral system, and to do that in one of the biggest states of the country where you’re a 10 year incumbent is absolutely astounding – like the BJP did in Madhya Pradesh. The message of the latest assembly elections, the last polls before the Grand Slam event of 2014 General Elections this summer, was that the BJP was the most desired political party, with its charismatic leader Narendra Modi at the forefront of this ‘saffron’ wave engulfing the country.
Realpolitik – de 2014
This brings me to the second part of this long overdue post. While we all have a set of core political, economic, and social beliefs that remain unchanged over time, i.e. ideology; there are times when one must make choices that are better for the greater good in the face of the realpolitik. For example, when I supported the Congress Party in the 2009 general election, it was because the previous Congress government (UPA I) had provided India with energy security (Indo-US Nuclear Deal), cushioned the economic recovery after the global recession and managed terrorism as effectively as any past governments had managed to do. Although this was completely against my core ideologies of secularism, free-market economics, privatization, etc., I believed the Congress party back then was best positioned and better prepared to tackle the issues at hand compared to the opposition BJP – which found itself vision-less and in complete disarray after Atalji’s retirement from politics, with little chance to form the government (As was later found to be true – the party won its lowest vote share in more than 20 years).
Although I would have hoped for a utopian political alignment to form that would open retail, insurance, and defense industries to foreign investment, privatize railways (to the extent possible), ports and airports, increase spending on national security, reduce wasteful implementation of subsidy programs, usher in an era of nationalism and true secularism into our society’ fabric; there was no party in 2009 that could offer that, and definitely not the BJP at the time – the party I’m most ideologically aligned towards. And so the decision to support Congress was based on the realpolitik. I was too scared for a haphazard coalition government to form at the center with the support of Communist Parties when our nation was going through a precarious national security (26/11 aftermath) and fragile economic situation. The choice for a lesser evil at the time was between Congress and a hung parliament scenario with a nightmarishly weak socialist coalition government.
The aspiration of today’s realpolitik, a political wave – is that the electorate is ready to offer change a chance, without the threat of paralysis and instability of a hung parliament, but with the hope of good governance along with economic prosperity and inclusive development. If the main issues for this election are economic mismanagement, corruption, poor governance, political instability and weak leadership, who amongst the current crop of politicians as of February 2014, can address any if not all of these issues? Which politician has the acumen, a purpose, and most importantly the administrative experience to take these challenges head on and still have the vision to transform our nation? (Hint: Click to read)
For many, 2014 is a decision to choose the lesser evil. The incumbent Congress Party has realized that winning anything close to a majority 272+ seats in a parliament of 543 seats is almost impossible, in fact winning a meagre 100 seats should kick-off wild celebrations in the Nehru-Gandhi household. The choice today then is between the well-oiled engine of BJP’s 272+ mission, one that has presented clarity in vision and decisive execution, versus a hung parliament scenario with an undecided leader, unclear vision, uninitiated responsibility, that will eventually lead India to an uncertain future.
The party with a difference
Between 1998-2004, under the able stewardship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP government built more roads than were built in all the other years since 1947… combined! Vajpayee led India to a decisive victory in the 1999 Kargil War against Pakistan, strengthened nation’s sovereignty with the establishment of a nuclear weapons defense program, and most importantly clocked higher GDP growth rates than many developing countries in the world, with careful implementation of fiscal consolidation –this in spite of the economic sanctions that were placed by the western world in response to India’s nuclear tests. There were fewer internal disturbances during BJP’s tenure and strong anti-terror laws were passed (later annulled by Congress) to curb the growing threat from religious fundamentalists in the wake of 9/11. The BJP also had the first ever divestment ministry to remove government from the business of doing business, while being instrumental in beginning the process of privatization of ports and airports, introduction of the Lokpal, Right to Information and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.
In states where it is in power, the BJP has a stellar track record of good governance, greater economic freedom, inclusive growth, and it may come a as surprise to some but a largely peaceful environment of religious freedom without state interference. The states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab consistently rank amongst the best states in Human Development Index rankings, economic growth, ease of doing business, agricultural and manufacturing growth, infrastructure development, and employment opportunities. BJP’s Chief Ministers are either talented professionals with engineering and medicine backgrounds or grassroots leaders who emerged as ardent volunteer workers ‘sangh pracharaks’, dedicating their lives to serve the people of their country. It might come as a surprise to an avid mainstream media viewer, but it was, in fact, the BJP that gave the country its first IIT-graduate Chief Minister, in the state of Goa – Manohar Parikkar. For all the witch-hunting by the ‘liberal’ mainstream media in India, the BJP may well be the party with a difference as it claims to be.
In 2014, the side contesting the BJP constitutes parties who are either still in the process of forming their base-ideology and governance vision, fanning pseudo-secularism, or worse wasting critical government resources on bone-headed policies and schemes that are destined to leave the economies of their respective states in shambles for many years to come. In Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, vote-bank serving governments are introducing religion-based subsidies and quotas that are reminiscent of the regressive Jaziya tax on majority communities, applied by religious persecutionists of the Mughal era. West Bengal’s Trinamool government has created such a massive welfare state that has made even the Communists, who ruled Bengal for 30 years before her, look like champions of free-market capitalism.
Meanwhile for Congress, it seems like Rahul Gandhi – the party’s heir apparent, has already given up any hope of forming the next government. His constant refrain of improving the Congress party from within, empowering poor, and establishing internal democracy has given stand-up comics a lot of material but will take years to actually fructify – that is if the scion is serious about these lofty ideals. His are ideas that can transform the Congress party from being a vote-bank oriented mai-baap party to a credible alternative to BJP’s center-right model. But again, this will not happen overnight and definitely not in the next 50 days. Rahul Gandhi must spend his time in the looming opposition resurrecting the grand old party of India, so that it can, one day, take over a further developed nation from the BJP and implement welfare policies that a (moderately) rich country can afford.
The party in news though is Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. While the earnest nature of AAP’s rise is commendable, its supporters and well-wishers must understand that a country doesn’t run on good intentions alone. The chaotic 50 days of AAP’s stab at governance in Delhi, were a great example of how a vision-less contrarian party with activists running the show end up providing a guerrilla form of hit-and-run governance, which is not only unsustainable but also a recipe for disaster in a country the size of India.
AAP kataar mein hain
But there is a long way to go before AAP can represent the aspirational class that it believes it presently does. It must work hard to establish and grow its fundamental grassroots level structure, expand its vision – making it broader than just a ‘Ram Baan’ medicine of Lokpal that it believes will solve all our problems. Most importantly, AAP must find leaders from within its young new supporters, and distance itself from the current crop of failed journalists, naxal-backing social activists, and rabble-rousing mob leaders – suddenly tasked with administrating a constituency of millions of people. All this while acquitting itself of any subterfuge, be it its curious relationship with the left-liberal US based Ford Foundation or its stone cold silence on corruption charges against the Gandhi family. India’s ‘liberal’ hero – PB Mehta even argued in his recent article that the existence of Plutocracy and corruption isn’t the only problem ailing India (read the article). There is a fear of governance paralysis, a clear weariness to agitation, and a growing fear of joblessness and economic doom. Taking on Plutocracy is a marathon, not a sprint, AAP’s dramatic fracas week after week has only exacerbated this fear of constant agitation and government paralysis.
AAP’s time will come and when it does, it may even lead to the transformation of our country to the utopian society I discussed earlier – one that is removed from the influence of crony-capitalists, fixers, middlemen, ridding us of the Plutocratic society that our current democracy has come to represent. But that day is still in the pipeline, the idea in its infancy and will not be ready in the next 50 days.
AAP has successfully created a potent ecosystem for disenchanted youth and honest bureaucrats to be the change they have wished to see in the country. Now is the time to nurture this ecosystem. AAP needs to strengthen this support and channelize it so that India can possibly have three governance alternatives come 2019. But it seems like the current AAP leadership is in some sort of hurry, may be it thinks a Modi-led BJP government will dilute the strength of its support, or maybe it is in reality a concatenation of closet Congressis who can obviously not air their support for Congress under current circumstances, and would never have voted for the BJP anyway. Whatever is the case, PB Mehta summarized it well when he said that the AAP had the opportunity to “tap into a prosecutorial instinct we are developing against plutocracy, but also to demonstrate a steady trustworthiness in governance”. It blew it, and today stands woefully exposed in front of those that gave laid their hopes on the ‘new paradigm’.
The realpolitik of 2014 will have many twists and turns up until May, but it is clear that no party this time around has all the answers to our nation’s problems. For some, there is again a choice to be made for the lesser evil. But this time around we have a strong alternative in Narendra Modi – an alternative that is credible, experienced, visionary, and perhaps the only one capable of pulling India out of its current mess, with ideas that may even reroute us back on the path to double-digit growth. The choice is between the hope of a stable government enacting policies that usher in renewed growth, kickstart the investment cycle, remove uncertainty for foreign investors, lower inflation by removing supply-side bottlenecks, or a pack of rabble-rousers in a fragmented realpolitik pulling the nation in a thousand different directions.
2014 will also be an opportunity for voters to affirm that development and good governance deserve a chance over politics of vote-bank pandering and endless government activism. There exists today an alternative to the current malaise, one that envisions harnessing of renewable sources of energy, building 100 satellite urban centers, unshackling infrastructure and power reforms, while decentralizing power for aid development. The alternative wants “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas“; and I believe it is time for the populace to unite under Mission 272+ and answer the call of realpolitik de 2014: that of choosing Development for all, Appeasement to none ( link).