Irrespective of how the family feud in the Samajwadi Party (SP) ends – and it is bound to be messy – one thing is clear. It is that the era of feudalism in Indian politics is coming to a close.
If Narendra Modi’s assumption of power marked a shift from a party extolling family lineage to a more broad-based organisation, the events in Lucknow have shown that stifling patriarchy and clannish loyalties are losing their primacy in the post-liberalisation period.
Since the emphasis is now on economic growth and not the exploitation of caste, communal, and dynastic allegiance, the voters are opting for development-oriented leaders rather than those who depend on sectional support or pose as the guardians of top-down, paternalistic governance.
If Sonia Gandhi was routed in 2014, and Mulayam Singh Yadav saw the writing on the wall when an overwhelming majority of the SP legislators flocked to his son, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s banner, the reason is that Modi three years ago and Akhilesh now are perceived to have risen above the traditional vote-bank politics based on sectarianism and are pursuing the developmental 'Bijli-Sadak-Pani' agenda.
The time is over when the Congress presumed that largesse from a feudalistic family in the form of cheap food from government warehouses and doles for the rural labourers digging holes and filling them, as Jairam Ramesh of Congress once said, will enable the party to hold on to power.
Similarly, Mulayam Singh’s assumption that caste and family loyalties along with the control of musclemen, including underworld dons, were the only prerequisites for electoral success is proving to be wrong.
Just as Modi’s assertion in favour of development for all - sabka saath, sabka vikas – carries the potential of weaning the BJP away from its Hindu supremacist philosophy, Akhilesh is holding out the promise of ridding the Samajwadi Party of its image as a party of goons which rejects computers and English, as Mulayam Singh once advocated.
The pledges of Modi and Akhilesh to reorient the outlook of their parties stand in contrast to the other status-quoist parties. Congress, for instance, remains trapped in its subservience to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty although it is evident that the family no longer has the charisma of its earlier generations for attracting the electorate.
Among the others, the initial expectation from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that he will vigorously follow the pro-development policies of his earlier stints has been belied by his need to fend off Laloo Prasad Yadav’s challenge to the Chief Minister’s authority which was so eloquently articulated by Laloo Prasad’s acolyte, Mohammed Shahabuddin, before being sent back to jail.
To safeguard his position, Nitish Kumar is banking on prohibition to attract a section of rural and lower-middle-class women to his side to boost his caste-based support of the Kurmis who constitute a tiny group among the OBCs.
In neighbouring West Bengal, the fear generated among investors by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s ousting of the Tatas towards the end of the communist rule means that the state will remain an industrial wasteland in the foreseeable future.
In Odisha, the pro-development Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, has been hamstrung by the stalling of the $12 billion project of South Korea’s steel giant, POSCO, by environmentalists on the grounds of the damaging impact on forests and the cultural life of the tribals.
He may still win elections, as will Mamata Banerjee, because of the TINA (there is no alternative) factor. But the message from Lucknow is that the voters are losing patience with the traditionalists among politicians with their belief in populism and statism.
The reservation of blue-collar jobs for Kannadigas in the private sector by Siddaramaiah’s government in Karnataka and the building of Shivaji’s statue by Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis government are likely to be wasted efforts where electoral success is concerned.
Even if automation has come in the way of job creation in the modern world, there is still a greater need for governments to encourage foreign and domestic investment by the corporate sector for inducing a sense of buoyancy in the economy and generating as much employment as possible although the inward-looking policies of the Donald Trump regime in America will be a hindrance.
Jawaharlal Nehru believed that growth is the antidote to primordial sectarianism. However, the so-called Hindu rate of growth under his and his daughter’s flawed public sector-based development model led to the Congress losing its support base to the casteist and communal parties.
Ironically, at least two of these very same parties are emulating Nehru’s ideal of dams being the temples of modern India and rejecting his and Indira Gandhi’s distrust of the private sector while the first Prime Minister’s party remains mired in statism.
Akhilesh may lose the forthcoming Assembly election in U.P. because of the turmoil in his party. But his eyes are probably fixed on 2022 when he will still be relatively young as a politician and ready to resume his growth-oriented policies.
(The writer is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)