Indian Voters have difficult choice to make
Syed Ali Mujtaba
With the announcement of the 14th Lok Sabha elections, India is buzzing with political activities. The shades of the banyan trees, Café and parks have become hot spots of political discussions in rural and urban India. Electorates are debating similarities and difference between the two political formations; National Democratic Alliance and Congress and co; that are pitched against each other in the ensuing elections. Their debate remains inconclusive, as there is no visible tilt in favor of either political formation.
Indian politics has reached a very peculiar stage where it is difficult to differentiate between the ruling and the opposition parties. Their ideology, policies, programes and political strategies are so similar that it is difficult to distinguish what separates one from the other. This leaves hardly any choice for the electorates other than replacing one set of politicians with other, whom former chief election commissioner J M Lindoh described as 'cheats' and 'cancers' of the society.
Congress and co plans to take on the BJP led NDA government by exposing its comprehensive and glaring failures. It's raking up Corruption as an issue with a promise to provide a clean government. The party's tryst with corruption is too well known. Bofors, Harshad Mehta stock scam, JMM bribery case are all associated with Congress rule. This is exactly the same way the BJP had campaigned during its 1999 election promising a corruption free government but soon after coming to power its then president Bangaru Laxman was caught taking bribe on 'Tehelka' tapes. The party, which headed the NDA government, got further mired in a plethora of scams and scandals at the end of its rule. Now, Congress is crying hoarse exposing the corrupt government but electorates knows that there is noting original about 'pot calling the kettle black' story.
Then there is hardly any difference in Congress policies and programmes from that of the National Democratic Alliance. Congress has identified core priorities as reliable power supply, cheaper credit, better seeds, assured irrigation and remunerative prices to farmers besides promising people oriented governance, rural transformation and social empowerment. All these promises are also being made by the NDA too, though it may be couched in different wordings.
In an era of coalition politics, Congress is trying to sew up pre- and post-poll alliances and talking about uncompromising its principles but if we look at its alliances than there is nothing principled about it. In Tamil Nadu, Congress has aligned with the DMK whom it at once accused for being responsible for its leader Rajiv Gandhi's murder. In Maharastra, Congress has aligned with the Sharad Pawar's NCP, which had parted ways with it on the issue of foreign origin of its President Sonia Gandhi. In Uttar Pradesh, Congress is hobnobbing with Bahujan Samaj party, which not long ago led a coalition government with the BJP. More so its leader Mayawati had openly canvassed for Chief Minister Narendar Modi whom Congress accuses of abetting communal riots in Gujarat. Then Congress is seeking alliance with Communists whom it all through had accused of betraying the freedom struggle in 1942.
Similarly, when BJP campaigned in 1999, talked about principles and ethics but when it found itself shorn of majority it threw overboard all its moral high ground. The party went on to align with DMK and other Dravidian parties, which are tooth and nail opposed to its Hindutva ideology. The most interesting thing is the BJP again has again hemmed up alliance with the AIADMK, the party that toppled its 13-month old government in 1999.
The way both Congress and the BJP have forged political alliances suggests that there is hardly any ideological difference that separates the two formations. The BJP led NDA and Congress and co, look the two sides of the same coin.
On the issue of communalism, neither the NDA nor the Congress has come out with categorical commitment to free the country from communal riots. In 1999, when the BJP led NDA government had come to power people heaved a sigh of relief that now there would be end to human butchery as those who masterminded it would be enjoying power. But then the communal carnage in Gujarat proved all such assumptions wrong. Congress, which was an opposition party, did nothing to stop the communal riots in Gujarat except shouting from the rooftop that it would not allow evil and cynical attempts to polarize the society on communal lines. Its role remained limited to writing letters to the Prime Minister and President of India and helping the riots victims in relief and rehabilitation work. Had Congress been firm on stopping the riots, the month long communal program in Gujarat could not have continued for than few days?
On the resolution of Ayodhya dispute Congress and the BJP have been airing similar views. Congress favors court's judgment and a legal endorsement in case there is an outside settlement. The BJP is also talking about either of the two solutions with the emphasis on mutual agreement with the parties concerned. Prime Minister Vajpyee kick starting his election campaign from Ayodhya and reiterated that construction of "Ram Mandir" as unfinished agenda of his party. He however remained silent on the spot of the construction of the Mandir saying that the decision of the court may take long and the parties concerned should settle the dispute themselves.
Every one knows that BJP is not alone responsible for creating the Ayodhya controversy and Congress is equally party to this irresolvable mess. It was under Rajiv Gandhi's regime that the gate of the Babari Masjid was opened up and the 'Shilanayas' of the ‘Ram Mandir’ was performed. Further, Congress government under Narshima Rao presided over the spectacle when BJP lumpens tore down the 16th century mosque on 6th December 1992. Now even after a decade, Congress remains non-committal what it intends to do if the BJP goes ahead with its sinister designs of constructing the Mandir on the disputed spot?
The two parties, Congress and the BJP except talking at each other over the Ayodhya issue, have doing nothing to resolve the dispute. Both have vested interest to keep the Ayodhya pot boiling which gives the electorates hardly many options to firm up their choice. The glaring reality is both the parties are loosing their popular support. Congress has lost its entire permanent electoral constituency. The dominant upper castes, middle raging castes, the backward castes and the minorities which once formed the backbone of Congress’s repeated electoral success has deserted the party. Rajiv Gandhi who recognized the Congress’s dwindling political base tried to mobilize popular support by enfranchising the youth of 18 years of age. Then Congress under Narshima Rao embarked on the path of liberalization of the country. However, the party could not gain any political mileage out of the economic reforms, as the political space since then came to be dominated by the "Mandir" and "Mandal" politics. Since then, Congress's ambiguous stand on both of these issues became its undoing. Now instead of recovering its lost ground Congress is trying to jockey for power by forging political alliances.
Similarly, the BJP is also aware of its shrinking vote base. The party, which consolidated the upper and middle ranking caste, votes in its favor due to its strident anti- Muslim campaign centering on construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya is loosing its grip over the electorates. The party despite its best performance could not throw up an absolute majority on its own and had to cobble a coalition government to run its course to power. Now again it has pinned its hopes on forming a formidable coalition to retain power.
The trajectory of Indian politics suggests that there is no difference between the two political formations plated before the electorates. Both the political formations have resigned to the fate of running a coalition government. The pre election alliances have not given any head start to the either political formations. It’s only the post election alliance that will decide which formation will rule the country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television Journalist currently working in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org