A Handbook of Indian Politics
By Indranil Dey
This is a compilation of a brief history of Indian political parties, their representative leaders, their leadership, and overall, a subjective commentary on their performance. This is a completely biased account of the author and the Constitution of India allows every citizen to have an opinion.
This article will also offer a preferred composition of the Lok Sabha post the polls. A caveat and a disclaimer here. The author does not wish to denigrate or accuse any man or party but is trying to write what he feels based on reports in the media. The words must be read in the context of this article and cannot or should not be used outside the context of this article.
So here we go…
The Congress: This is the oldest party in India functioning for over 125 years now, having been founded to achieve independence and self-rule from British colonialism. It had a fairly simple objective: becoming the political voice of the masses and trying to raise various issues pertaining to governance in an orderly fashion to the imperialist regime. It succeeded to bring the masses together. In its struggle against the British, it had more or less pursued a non-violent struggle.
Post-independence, this party has been enjoying the majority power at the center for over 85% of the time, sometimes with a straight majority and, at other times, through a coalition.
Over a period of time, it has earned the reputation of being a truly Indian party. It claims to be a secular party but its secular rhetoric is more often deployed to garner minority votes without doing anything substantial for them.
Also, it treats every Indian citizen’s pocket as its potential source of fund. The name has become synonymous with corruption, so much so that it has significantly alleviated poverty of many of its party-men and leaders. Those who are in the Congress for generations seldom boast but enjoy a wealth rivaled only by top business families of the world.
Now consider how this party has performed at the helm. Nations like Israel and a handful of others achieved independence along with India. Today every country including the South-East Asian countries – Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – has achieved more economic prosperity than India. While we are still trying to solve the same problems which we have been facing for the last 50 years in terms of road, electricity, housing, food, and infrastructure, other nations have become the destination of choice for investors, and have thus become financial hubs of the ASIAPAC region.
The Congress has overseen development. There is no contesting the fact that India has achieved a fast growth rate. Unfortunately, there is little or no data to challenge the claims of Congress against any other party since no party has been at the helm of Indian politics for even half the time it has been.
In terms of defence, India as a nation has become nuclear capable and managed to put a Chandrayan on route to Mars. Yet, we appear to be a “soft” state, snubbed by our neighbors. Bureaucracy and politics often defeat simple steps which can prevent massacres of our soldiers in the hands of both the external and the internal threats.
While Dr. Manmohan Singh remains one of the top economists in the world, one who had initiated the liberalization of Indian economy in the early 1990s, his reign as the Prime Minister has been a huge disappointment. His reputation has taken a huge beating with multiple scams being unearthed during his regime: the Commonwealth, Coalgate, 2G, 3G, LIC housing, LTA, and the list goes on. He vehemently reiterates that he has never used his position of power to enrich his friends or family and it is hard to believe otherwise. Whether the accusations of corruption are true or not, the fact remains that he is still the captain of a team, which has been maligned with serious allegations of corruption, mis-governance, lack of political will for execution of policies, and a decision paralysis.
Rahul Gandhi, Congress’ potential Prime Ministerial candidate, is the enviable crown prince of Indian politics: a very eligible bachelor, who has devoted his life to a political career in the trickiest of times in Indian politics. With the brand Congress taking a beating, they have devised an ingenious way to do an image-makeover for him. That is playing good cop, bad cop. Mind you, this strategy was last heard as being implemented by Samajwadi Party’s magnanimous leader, Mulayam Singh, with his son. So when the people expressed their frustration by drubbing Congress in the latest assembly polls, the party finally awoke from the slumber. And then the crown prince started giving speeches exactly tailored to the audience. When he met corporate honchos, he delivered an inspirational B-school speech. When he met the poor, he spoke their language. When he met the common man, he spoke of self-governance models. He seemed to support worthwhile issues like no election ticket should be given to criminals. None of these were unique. None of these were his vision. But he started playing the good cop nevertheless, hoping against hope that his image makeover would help bolster his party’s image. A noble cause indeed. Doesn’t really help mother India, does it?
The BJP: The roots of BJP go back to the ideologies of the Jana Sangh and it was founded by people who did not believe in the appeasement politics of Congress. The foundation of the party was laid on strong Hindutva philosophies and backed by local Hindutva groups, which did commendable job in pockets. When it finally came to power in 1998, under the leadership of one of the most outstanding leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it lasted only for a term. This was the era when coalition politics was on the rise in the country and the underhand deals meant that this party never had the kind of support in governance that the Congress enjoyed.
When it was in power, however, its policies were largely confusing. While it has always been against article 370, and has had a non-appeasing stance towards our neighbours, it was BJP that started the goodwill bus service to Pakistan, which was, of course, very well reciprocated with an incursion in Kargil. The BJP-led NDA carried out nuclear tests, which put India alongside far more powerful nations, but also gave a perfect excuse for the neighbours to acquire similar lethal capabilities. These have been some of the deterrents in our hope for lasting peace. Going by the latest reports, five Indian soldiers have been ambushed and one beheaded.
Narendra Modi, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, has been the chief minister of Gujarat for over a decade now. He has also been the most talked-about leader in the same decade for the Godhra massacre and the subsequent riots, leading to his being denied a US visa. However, he has been officially exonerated by the Indian judiciary of any wrong-doing. While the rest of India has been largely behaving like a blindfolded man in a dark room, Gujarat has been galloping like Gandalf on a white horse over a green meadow of economic growth. That he is a shrewd politician, great administrator, and one of the most intelligent strategists is something we can talk about for days on end. He is the only politician who genuinely talks technology. In his speeches, he talks about how Indian varsities need to produce a Larry Page and a Sergey Brin to create a google for India, how we can leverage solar energy through technology, how civil engineering can help the nation by diverting rivers to the more barren regions. His mode of operation has largely been driven through technology: using skype to conduct meetings with civil administrators, thus saving huge costs.
But I have a problem with Modi. Albeit everyone is talking about his complicity in the Gujarat riots in 2002 and a clean chit given to him, since he was the chief minister when the riots occurred, it was his duty to protect the lives of citizens. Failing to do so was incompetence as we never want to compromise on the lives of fellow Indians. Second, while he would like to present himself as a morally upright administrator, he shouldn’t impose his sense of morality on others. A report suggests that he not only chooses the best guards to provide him security but also imposes the condition that they must not be addicted to tobacco products like gutkha, pan masala, and zarda. No wonder, encouraged by a rigid sense of morality, multiple Hindutva outfits wreak havoc on occasions like the Valentine’s Day. Fearing violent moral policing by these groups, the city of Bangalore used to shut down before 11 pm, until recently. If we keep Narendra Modi aside, the BJP is not very different from the Congress. When a senior leader like Nitin Gadkari threatens the CBI with the words, “Let us come to power…” it clearly indicates the future abuse of power.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP): The AAP epitomizes the resurgence of activism-based politics in India. The model of governance with civil society members is neither a new nor a particularly difficult concept to implement. Co-founded by Arvind Kejriwal, who openly accepted a challenge posed by Congress leaders while ending a fast during the Jan Lokpal movement, this party has a simple vision: removal of power politics and removal of graft. Kejriwal has kept his word from day one. He didn’t enjoy any special privilege. However, his brand of politics is undone by a few factors. First, the aggressive attack by pseudo-intellectuals, the ones who have an opinion, write op-ed articles (like the current author), post on FB, twitter, and other social media, just to prove how smart and unique their ideas are. For them, AAP is just one of those fads which will go away with time. Second, the sheer expectation of people who supported AAP in its bid to power: ranging from getting permanent jobs to increasing rickshaw fares. And, lastly, AAP’s short government has been largely inept and dangerous for the economy because of its pseudo-socialist ideology, a proven unsustainable model of governance.
There are various other regional parties like Trinamool, AIADMK, Shiv Sena, SP etc. Unlike the top three, they have neither the political will nor the vision to work for a united India. Moreover, they are often engrossed in bitter in-fighting and divisive politics. Thus, these parties are insignificant in the larger scheme of things.
For the 2014 polls, let me do a Bejan Daruwala. I see Narendra Modi wave sweeping BJP into a possibly strong NDA coalition. I can only hope that it will not repeat its mistakes and allow lives to be lost again. What India needs is a visionary who will create a technological edge. That will pave the way for a bright future for India.
Indranil Dey writes software for a living. He is passionate about reading books in almost every genre under the sun. He writes for pleasure. He loves rubiks cube solving and chess.