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Elections 2009 – The Churn Begins




The elections this year are turning out major surprises. For first time, there seems to be no clear-cut favorite. We have regional favorites and individual preferences, but no party is in a position to stake its claim. For very first time in Indian democracy, we have four Fronts in this election. And no one is sure which Front will eventually lead the country. Not even after fate of nearly half the seats has been sealed in the EVMs. Probably, a first time in our short democratic history.

This election may not throw up a majority or a stable government, but it has potential to reshape the political and administrative landscape of this country for at least next few decades. Even if it is followed by a series of elections in next few years, that will all be a part of process that has been set in motion by this election. Because this election will decide the future of India polity – both from political as well as bureaucratic perspective. In other words, a churning process has started and will shape our country’s foreseeable future.


The reason is fairly obvious. This time, the smaller parties have felt lot more independent and are taking far more liberty with their bigger (national) counterparts than ever earlier. And while the big daddies (Congress and BJP) were busy pooh-poohing the effectiveness of Third Front, some parties had the guts to form a Fourth Front. These smaller parties no longer survive on goodwill of national parties and are now vying for their own place in the sun. And the fact that there are so many of them, gives them the strength as it reduces the influence of the national parties. This brings up 3 distinct scenarios for stable government formation.

First scenario is both Congress and BJP do well in this election. That will obviously be at the cost of erstwhile allies and regional parties. And will reinforce the importance of the national parties in mind of the electorate. The warring allies will coalesce around these parties and the polity will revert to the days of two main alliances, with Left being a poor cousin confined to its base in three states. The centralized structure of governance will continue, probably get strengthened and the regional satraps will have to acquiesce to the national party, even though they will continue to be masters of their limited domains. The scenario will be much like Tamil Nadu in 90s – where only DMK or AIADMK would rule, but would be a junior partner in the national dispensation.

But what happens if only one of them does well while the other one flops? That will be dream-come-true scenario for the winner. That will reinforce the national standing of that party – in fact, that will anoint that part as the ONLY national party and then all the regional parties will flock to it. In fact, the current and erstwhile allies of the winning party will get the message loud and clear, and will have no choice but to accept the hegemony of the leading party. And as the other “national” party cedes the space, the winner can only go from strength to strength. And this will lead to next few years of domination for this party and its alliance. The governance will continue to be centralized if Congress is the winner while BJP’s victory may result in increased de-centralization.

However, it is the third possibility that is more likely. If performance of both the parties shows a significant dip, as is feared in many quarters, it will spell the end of national domination by a single party. Already dumped by key allies (RJD-LJP in UPA and BJD in NDA) before elections, both the parties are now facing dissention even amongst the remaining allies. While NCP sups with BJD and keeps options open for Left, while being in Congress-led UPA, JD(U) in Bihar is keeping its post-poll options open even while being in BJP-led NDA. And the smaller allies are also making noises. The very fact that Congress and BJP are wary of taking any strict action or indulge in any tough talk with its wavering allies, indicates the shakiness that is rife in their ranks. Their confidence in their own ability has sunk to a dangerously low level and a lack-luster performance at the hustings will not only leave them at mercy of regional satraps but will also significantly dent their capacity for revival. In other words, the way Congress has been decimated in Uttar Pradesh by advent of SP and BSP, these two parties will lose ground in the whole country the same way.

A new central government, characterized by a grouping of fiercely regional parties, will result in more power devolving to the states as every regional grouping would want its share of the spoils. And with increasing regional power, they will be able to thwart the revival of national parties whilst championing their own cause. In other words, such a formation will hasten the process of sidelining of the Grand Old Party as well as the Hindutva torch-bearer. Whether this will be good or bad for the country is debatable, it will definitely change the structure of the administrative machinery in the country and will eventually shape the expectations of the people as well.

What if none of above three prevails? It will lead to a rag-tag bunch of parties forming an unstable government will lead to early round of elections. But then, the next election will take this churning process forward, and will continue to do so till a conclusion is reached. And that conclusion will be any of the three options listed above. In a nutshell, when the results are out on 16 May, the country will be looking for a direction. Whether it gets it now or later, doesn’t matter. But the process has been initiated and the country will wait with a baited breath for its future.




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