Millennium Post

A change in the offing

The transformational change under way in India’s political scene, bringing people’s concerns to the fore in governance, that has been demonstrated in the national capital, has set new challenges to the long-established parties, ruling at the Centre and states.

They have to become not only pronouncedly pro-people but also action-oriented to maintain credibility and strike the right balance between populism and other obligations of the state to both development and evolution of a knowledge society to take the nation forward in the 21st century.

Efficient and corruption-free governance, safeguarding internal security and protecting the borders are the other postulates. Growth and price stability have to be equal imperatives and growth has to be job-intensive and convincingly redistributive. Transparency, speedy disposal of business, accountability and greater decentralization with enforceable norms for achieving results on the ground – whether in terms of real reduction of poverty, employment and effective spread of social development services like education and health-care, both qualitatively too, and provision of basic infrastructure - roads, communications, drinking water and sanitation.

It is the level of commitment to these objectives as would get reflected in the political manifestoes that would determine how far the national, regional and state parties become more relevant to the needs of the common people. All this would mean a total change away from the manner in which the so-called democratic governance has gone on for decades with a virtual disconnect between policies proclaimed with some authority in air-conditioned comfort and ground realities. There are vital lessons to be drawn from the failures of UPA-II for which the nation is paying heavily through unaffordable high prices, not only of food and drugs but even manufactured goods across the spectrum, hitting the limits of tolerance of the vast majority of population, and yet helplessly watched by the Congress-led government at the Centre for its full term.

Both corruption scandals and high inflation over five years in continuity were slurred over by power-wielders, all the time chanting reforms and high growth but with little impact on investors, domestic and foreign. The Congress rout in recent state polls resulted from the twin maladies cited. The prime minister himself admitted failure in controlling prices. From the start, UPA-II had become too complacent with a tally of 206 seats for the Congress, which was more a fortuitous outcome through its alliances across the country than a real mandate for its claim of standing up for aam aadmi, its watchword pinched away by Arvind Kejriwal to name his party and build and win power in Delhi. This unique formation, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – made up largely of citizens, rapidly building itself on a national scale and buttressed by a growing tribe of scholars, technocrats and ex-CEOs joining the party – is now ready to spread itself all over and contest the Lok Sabha elections in April-May in at least 20 states with 300 and odd candidates.

This will be the real third force that both the national parties, the Congress and the BJP, have to contend with and perhaps lose ground to a sizeable extent in the 2014 battle. AAP is also likely to cut into the support base of regional or state-level parties. Thus, the 2014 election could yield an even messier outcome than seen before. Despite its decade-long hold on power, the Congress, wedded to growth and ‘reforms’, whatever it may mean, has failed to be relevant to the needs of common people. No longer electoral gains are to be regarded as a general mandate for the parties to follow their own framework of policies, as at present, unless these reflect to a large extent the day-to-day concerns of the vast majority of the rural poor and urban low-income earners. In the changing electoral dynamics brought about by AAP, ethics for individuals and parties seeking votes has gained greater importance than before and no longer is it a given that the first-past-post candidate, once elected, can resort to his old ways. He would have to remain loyal to the electorate that puts him in the legislature in the first place. As the country gets galvanised for the elections in April-May, the long-recognised national and state-level political parties have necessarily to redraw their electoral strategies to take note of the vastly-changing mood of the electorate, as typified in recent state polls, and also meet the challenging demands for ethical conduct, observance of austerity and rooting out corruption. The leading opposition in the present Parliament, BJP, is far advanced in its preparations for the epic battle, mobilising support with a hectic campaigning by its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. The Congress is yet going through in-house exercises under the leadership of the party vice-President Mr Rahul Gandhi, who is likely to be named to lead the party to the battle ahead when AICC meets in Jaipur on 17 January. The Congress manifesto for a renewed mandate in 2014 is also expected to be finalised by then. Relatively, the Congress has to go through a more difficult terrain this time in the vastly changed political conditions in the country, with the strong anti-incumbency wave prevalent and the BJP and other parties arrayed against it exploiting its sins of omission and commission. Though neither of the two national parties would be in a position to hit the 272 mark, even with some allies, the Congress would find it tougher this time to forge alliances which would at best be confined to a couple of states and this may not make much of a difference. BJP is clearly perceived to be ahead in the race toward 272 mark.  The Congress is being shunned by its major allies in 2009 and there is no region of the country where the party looks dominant.  The Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who not long ago talked of returning to implement his reforms with more vigour after the elections, says now no party will get a solid majority.

With the entry of AAP which can make substantial inroads, the post-electoral scene may become more intriguing while the country continues to remain in the grip of low-growth, high inflation
syndrome under the watch of an assertive policy-maker in UPA-II. It is to be hoped that the Congress would move away from its faith in ‘trickle-down’ effect from the elusive high growth, discredited globally, which has only widened economic and social disparities, as well as from its permissiveness of crony capitalism.


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