Reversal of Fortune

73 Comments

The cliche of the old Hindi movie weepies was that of the tartar mother-in-law making the life of the bahu miserable. Of late that stereotype has been turned on its head by a new Saas-bahu formula where it is mostly the scheming bahu who humiliates and dispossesses the saans (maybe the serial-makers have figured out that more saans-es are watching their stuff than bahus) and the husband’s family rather than the other way round.

In the political scene, there has been a similar reversal of fortune over the last few decades. Where once regional parties were treated with condescension and contempt by the national parties, now it is the small local players at whose door the national parties have to stand, plate in hand, for left-overs. Be it Naveen Patnaik giving a tamacha to the BJP or Laloo and Mamata entering into seat-sharing alliances humiliating for the Congress, the writing is clear on the wall—-the “national parties” are national only in name with the real power resting in the hands of small regional power-brokers.

With the Congress and the BJP both having their influences and power severely curtailed, a government made up of an agglomeration of regional power-brokers is a distinct though nightmarish possibility. With no unity of purpose among the different constituents other than to hold power, a Third front government (and history shows this to be the case) essentially becomes one in which since noone expects the alliance to last through a year, every stakeholder tries to smash and grab whatever one can in the limited time one has the kursi. Governing essentially comes to a halt as each day becomes a struggle to make it through the next no-confidence vote or cabinet reshuffle with its attendant back-room plays and legislator-trading.

This being the case, one is justified in feeling nostalgic for those days in which strong national parties (principally Congress) had an almost total mandate to rule. Free from pesky allies trying to arm-twist privileges, the onerous task of governing could be accomplished in less tumultuous settings. Long-term, globally-beneficent national policies could be put into place. There was an incentive to do so because a national party had the entire country to keep happy. As opposed to regional parties who could not care the less what “others” thought of them as long as they could wring out benefits for themselves and their own constituents.

However in reality, the national parties were pretty regional too. Power almost always lay in the hands of politicians from the Hindi heartland and in the case of the Congress with people having a certain surname (Narasimha Rao, arguably one of the best PMs if not the best we have ever had, had to struggle throughout his life to get to the top, something he would never have been able to do, despite his persistent ambitions, had not Rajiv Gandhi been assassinated) For the sake of “homogeneity” and “consensus” the ambitions of “regional” leaders were sidelined. Pawar had no choice but to take the highway. VP Singh’s ambition to forge the Janata Dal into a national party led to Chandrasekhar being shown the door, with consequences for the whole party and the country.

During election time, the national party would play the caste and religion cards, stoke local ambitions, create power-centers. But once election was done and dusted, the central figures would once again take over leaving the satraps dissatisfied (a state of political KLPD). However so strong was the power structure, that the national parties had nothing to fear from the disgruntled who would lick their paws at the best and split off to form regional outfits of marginal importance at the worst.

But now the shoe is on the other foot. In the 80s, for instance, the Congress government would consistently create funding problems for Bengal with respect to power projects at Bakreswar and Haldia simply to “punish” a CPM-ruled state. Now with the arrogance gone it can ill-afford to be so cavalier not just with Bengal but with any state. Every political leader now needs to be pampered and while the national party head is still a person of considerable influence, he/she can never wield the kind of supreme power that Indira Gandhi did. And while the rail minister can still make 75% of trains run through his state, he cannot make it 90%.

Thus it may be argued the atrophy of the old “all powerful” national party concept has led to a wider diffusion of power beyond the narrow boundaries of yore, giving the long tail a hitherto-never-realized importance on the national stage. As a result, any megalomaniac from any demographic with a love for one owns birthday and a desire to construct huge statues in one’s own image can now aspire to sit on the throne of Delhi and any group of regionally powerful but nationally insignificant can hold the country’s policies to ransom.

Somehow that is supposed to be a sign that our democracy is vibrant. Whether it be a comforting sign, I leave for you to judge.

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73 thoughts on “Reversal of Fortune

  1. I guess you are wrong. This time, it will be more of national parties than ever before after the ’84 mob and the ’89 mess.

    BTW, I can’t be serious that you are dishing out iPod’s to the first commenters here. If you are, I am entitled to one. My goat needs to hear some music.

  2. I think it is a symptom of the present political system – I mean the mixed Parliamentary one that we have. The process is modeled on the British system, but there are only 2 parties in UK, so cohesion remains through whatever government is formed. Either a 2 party system or a Presidential system would suit India better IMO, specially the latter as it would force leaders to look beyond their immediate power base

  3. Though it will be a hung Parliament, the regional parties wont be any better off than they are right now.

    BJP or Congress will have to take some help to form the Government.

  4. Dear GB, thanks for this politically-hot, juicy post. Timing bilkul perfect hai.

    There are no permanent friends or foes in politics. Politics sure makes for strange bedfellows, eh?

    To mention other notable examples of “political promiscuity”(apart from Patnaik and Jayalalitha):

    – Mamata Begum quits the Congress, creates Trinamool, join hands with BJP, quits and then forms an alliance with Congress.

    – Communism has disappeared from rest of the world. It survives only in Cuba, Kerala and Kolkata. In India, the Communism is still alive because of a covert agreement with the Congress. The CPI(M) has agreed to be the B-team of the Congress in rest of India while the Congress plays the role of B-team of the Left in West Bengal.

    What are your thoughts on the BJP’s “IT Vision Plan” and “Ladli Laxmi Yojana” ? More details on these two ambitious plans here: http://lkadvani.in/eng/

  5. “Narasimha Rao, arguably one of the best PMs if not the best we have ever had” – couldn’t aree more with you. If it were not for PV I don’t know where India would be today.
    That apart, I believe this election will determine which way we will go in the next decade or so. There is no “national agenda” or a “national issue” based on which it can be estimated as to how the entire country will react. (Economy and security being the exceptions, but I am not so sure that people in the remote villages care about either to base their vote on these issues, IMO). This election will probably be fought on a constituency by constituency basis. No two constituencies might have the same high priority issue.

    Not minding the impossibility, I just hope Modi becomes the PM with 300 seats. =)

  6. I guess it is inevitable that a parliamentary democracy will always end up being a coalition of special interests. It so happens that in India, the special interests are aligned to linguistic states. Governance will just become a mean average of catering to the agendas of small parties who get power disproportionate to their constituency (PMK for example).

    On the other hand, perhaps it is a good thing that we’ll end up with a fractured parliament. They can be busy plotting & fighting (with our tax money) while we, the people, can get on with our life. At least they’ll be too busy to interfere any further in our lives.

    Cynicism aside, I’m sure a presidential system would work better. At least, the executive will seek a national mandate and will be forced to have a broader outlook and deliver on promises. The legislative arm can then plot & scheme to their heart’s content. Who cares!!!

    Have awarded our 14th Lok Sabha the Bharatiya Oscar Awards (Bhaskar) for Best Movie of 2008. Do check it out at http://www.rameshsrivats.net/2009/03/bharatiya-oscar-awards-bhaskars_18.html

  7. I think the regional parties are breaking the hegemony of the national parties. It’s it not letting them being complacent. It’s is doing the same what competition does for economy. But this comes with a caveat – these regional parties and national parties becoming too myopic to act adverse to national interest

  8. Reminds me of Game Theory, with so many parties, we will only achieve a Nash equilibrium, which can be arbitrarily bad!

    I only wish that in the short term, there be some consensus that all parties contesting more than 20 seats already decide who they are going to align with, BJP or the Congress. No Queen-maker with >50 seats. There is no doubt that she is going to play spoil-sport after all the summer drama!

  9. @ Shashank

    BJP might get the maximum seats, but 300 is a tough ask.

    The maisntream media though, as expected, is doing its best to keep BJP down.

  10. too bad that u cant understand telugu. u are missing out on a lot of fun in andhra politics since the arrival of chiranjeevi and his PRP into politics. when he was a movie star, nobody could say anything about him, as he had a mass appeal. now, after his entry into politics though, the gloves have come off. you should have seen the way actress roja accused him and his brother of using the casting couch. xtremely funny and embarrassing and really really sad.

  11. A penny for your thoughts on the latest Varun Gandhi fiasco.

    The transcript of his speech is not available right now, but from what I heard on “Aaj Tak”, it was impassioned but hardly vitriolic.

  12. What if we had a 2 party rule in India like the UK? India with it vast culture and diversity that we pride ourselves on will NEVER let the 2 party system work.

    Also with the 2 party rule, the party in power would have absolute power and would serve out its full term irrespective of the decisions it takes. So tomorrow if a party won and decided to sell me to another country at 20paise/day wages with no bathroom breaks nobody would come to my rescue. But with 8023470234803 parties forming the government 1 withdrawal could spell doom. Mind you the party withdrawing support wont do it cause I am getting exploited but cause it can gain political mileage. Either ways I end up not being exploited…..

  13. If the recent assembly elections were any indication, Indian voters have matured and making good decisions. This time with all the vote please campaign I guess the actual participation might go up significantly. Somehow I get a feeling people will try to drub the third front and pull one of the national parties closer to the magic no. On your

  14. Superb blog! i must say we have become, as u call it, a “vibrant democracy”. In fact i think we’ve become so vibrant that we’re now heading towards anarchy!

  15. The singlemost important advantage of fragmented parties and co-alition governmenr:
    Voice of every corner can be represented strongly especially in a diverse country. From here the advantages of competetion and decentralization can be explained.

    However, here is the killer in the real scenario which totally goofs up the potential advantaegs. The consequences of actions of the smaller parties almost never affect them directly.
    A 2-party system is more accountable and hence they are concerned about the long run and there results would be in public memory with direct relationship between “who acted” and “what was the consequence”.

    So in a more ideal world and matured democracy, I would support co-alition government; but with the current scenario, two party is the way to go.

    However, here’s the catch. There has to be a transition and that is a painful experience for us. May 100 years on, people would be more aware and remember/track the follies of smaller parties leading us to the better solution.

    Sweet dreams are made of these…

  16. Thankful for mentioning PVN.

    Vajpayee jee attributes the nuclear bomb to PVN. Still wonder if the hardcore BJPs know that!

    ‘The bomb is ready, you an go ahead’.

  17. @ wall
    Yes the liberation at Ayodhya can also be credited to PVN, to some extent. He watched and smiled while BJP made the most successful attempt since the days of Guru Gobind Singhji to bring down the edifice of Babri.

  18. What of the National Parties that you speak of with nostalgia.

    What is the agenda of Congress — perpetuate the Gandhi family myth and ensure that they rule forever. What do mom and son stand for? I have not been able to figure it out in so many years. In case you know please update the post. 39 years of largely uninterrupted and clear majority could not ensure basic services for us. It was left to PVN to kick start the change.

    Is BJP contesting this election or is it LKA and his team? By the way what do they stand for. One thing that you can be sure off is if BJP wins expect a lot more attacks on religious minorities and people frequenting clubs. Haven’t heard a single good news emerge out of Karnataka ever since the regime change.

    That leaves the PMK/BSP/RJD/NCP variety of corrupt leaders. Well are you sure Rajnath Singh has a better vision for India or capability to govern compared to an Anbumani R?

    Or he would really care for a person in TN/WB or North East. He too has his ultra narrow constituency the ‘Thakurs’ of UP. How is he different from, say, a Laloo?

    ‘None of the above’ is going to be the best candidate in most constituencies. I wish they allot this candidate a symbol.

  19. IMO multiparty system is fine, but Post-poll alliance and government formation is something that makes voters feel that they were cheated. There voters should know their “PrimeMinister candidate” while voting… morally they have the right to know that.

  20. Machoism runs in the family. Varun gandhi is true sucsseor of sanjay gandhi. At present he is leaving behind the modis, the thakreys and togadiyas. we urgently demand an article on Gandi part-3

  21. @Deepak

    The Election Commission has been the mistress of the Congress (or more specifically the Gandhis) for 60 yrs. They are scared of the real thugs in the Samajwadi Party and due to the PC epidemic can do nothing about the casteist and racist haranguing of the Dravidian parties (they make Jeremiah Wright sound like Gandhi). So let us take the Varun Gandhi issue with a lump of salt.

  22. @another thought

    There is no obligation for a party to disclose a PM candidates. I am trying to imagine a US style Primary in the Congress with Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka contesting with possibly some dummy candidates like Arjun Singh 🙂 Apart from the BJP no party declares a PM candidate in India.

    However, the voters have the right to reject parties that don’t have a PM candidate.. of course that will be hard for the sickulars due to the above mentioned reason.

    Voters of regional parties don’t feel cheated cos the parties make no secret of the fact that they have no political agenda. Kanshi Ram once said that he was not capitalist or communist, he was oppourtunist. Mayawati voters just want her to win. Mamta Begum’s voters just want CPM to loose.

  23. I know… GB is wrong.. my personal favs are V.P. (mandal) Singh, Jawaharlal (socialist forever) Nehru, Indira (bluestar) Gandhi and Rajiv (shah bano/Babri/bofors) Gandhi.

  24. Just a note of correction. Its Lalu & Ram Vilas Paswan (of the LJP) who have arrived at a seat sharing agreement (not Lalu & Mamata as mentioned in your pretty good post)

  25. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

    Regional parties, representing aspirations of marginalized and oppressed groups, getting stronger, is a good sign, in my opinion, for the Indian democracy.

    Corruption and lack of accountability of party leaders, be it those of a national party or a regional, is another story.

  26. varun gandhi is an idiot and just does not deserve all the publicity! I hope BJP gets decimated this time and then we will have got rid of it for ever!

  27. I think there is some sort of vague coalescing of parties towards a center-left coalition around Congress & a more right-wing coalition around the BJP, for what it’s worth. We’re moving closer to a kinda-sorta-big tent two-party system, though not exactly like the Republicans/Democrats. India is far too diverse for that. Even the UK actually has a number of serious smaller parties in addition to the two big ones — the BNP, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, etc etc.

    As for best PM ever, I vote for Deve Gowda. No disrespect to Narasimha Rao but his legacy is too tainted by Babri & the Harshad Mehta scam. Gowda, on the other hand, appointed Chidambaram as finance minister, let him do what was needed, encouraged foreign business & investment, slept through international summits, & was so busy managing his fractious coalition he was unable to screw up. I only wish we’d been able to keep him around longer. Damn & blast Sitaram Kesri to the lowest depths of purgatory. May he be reborn as a moth with a two-week lifespan. Old man in a hurry indeed.

  28. @Satyajit:

    “8023470234803 parties”–> Looks like some encoded message that you are trying to communicate to someone in this Blog 🙂

  29. @ AlphaQ:

    How bout your own view point sir? Aren’t you narrow minded and hopelessly paessimistic? Is everyone out there fighting an election a fool(not that they are saints)? The point is that you cannot have everything in life at a same time. If the need be you have to prioritize your needs/demands and vote for the ‘best-fit’. Try to think this way and making a choice won’t be as difficult for you as you’ve made it out to be. Even if Rajnath Singh stands for Thakurs of UP he won’t be putting my and your children’s future in jeopardy by increasing quotas for reservation, he won’t close down the disinvestment ministry, should he become home minister he wont change his clothes 3 times on a day of bomb blast. Try to look at the bigger picture friend….

  30. Beta Q

    “What is the goal of LK Advani and his team?”

    are you quoting from my previous comment?

    Anonymous Mar 20th, 2009 at 5:24 am

    Agree it sounded a lot pessimistic than intended. I do intend to vote, but you must also appreciate it is not easy to zero in on a party or a candidate who is without taint. It is difficult to ‘like’ any one of them.

    In this regard I prefer the BJP of yore. They had a clear agenda of a Ram temple. However, dangerous it may have been for the country but you knew where they stood and could choose to support or not support.

    Ditto for Mrs Gandhi (senior) in the past or for that matter parties supporting reservations, among others. I used party and leader names interchangeably. The argument stands for both.

    Today’s parties or leaders are a free floating amoebic bunch. They change everything to suit the environment. It is more of a negative choice than a positive one.

    Agree, I can not expect all the things at the same time but I can surely expect some of the things – some very basic things like future alliances and agenda. I would hate to vote for Congress and see J Jayalalitha as a PM in a compromise deal. (disclaimer: Nothing personal against JJ, just an example).

    You ask “Is everyone fighting an election a fool?”
    The only fools are the ones writing points and counterpoints here. Those fighting elections are really smart guys 🙂

    Is it too unreasonable a demand to expect better leadership?

  31. @ AlphaQ:

    “Is it too unreasonable a demand to expect better leadership?”

    You yourself have answered your question here. I appreciate the fact that you intend to vote. But you if you think of it the lack of leadership or the absense of agenda by BJP is due to fickle nature of Indian Population. Please ask this question to yourself – Have we alloowed BJP or for that matter anyone to deliver on what they stood for. In 2004 NDA completed a remarkable term which saw India garnering double digit growth and many more achievements(judging by the standards its predecessors had set). But people voted them out. Why? Was it because they stood for nothing? No Sir. Actually their biggest mistake was the India Shining campaign(coz they stood for progress). But what did they get in return?

    Now see the case of Mayawati coming to power. All she had to concentrate was Scoial Enginnering. Who allows these people to get to power on these lines? Its us. Now due to this precedence everyone goes about doing social engineering, a prime example of which was seen in Karnataka where BJP announced a Lingayat leader as CM candidate(Arun Jaitley himself said that we outsmarted JDU and Congby doing this). Only exception that comes to my mind is the 2007 Gujarat assembly election where the ellectorate showed immense maturity by voting for progress, and yes Gujarat has seen plenty.

    So if this is the nature of the voters then where will the vote-seekers get the confidence from? Now is the time to show that we can vote for you( BJP/CONG/Anyone) if you stand for what we want. But then we aren’t even sure what we want. For starters, do we want Hindu leadership, or a Dalit empowered govt, or free TV sets, or a separate Telangana state, or a Marathi Manoos at the top, or Singh is King?

    You yourself have to break this catch 22 situation by voting. But how? Answer is – based on your perception. I know its a sad way of making a choice but you’ve got to do it some day in order to finish this debate. Learn from gujarat if you want to.

  32. I see the problem as this. Indian political parties have no internal democracy and the leader is selected, not elected. The natural response is to break away and form your own party — that is the only way of getting heard. So this is actually democracy fighting back. You don’t have this problem of regional parties in America for example because the leader or presidential candidate is elected by the party members. If the BJP or Congress start conducting serious internal elections to decide on office bearers, leaders and candidates, then I suspect this ‘problem’ of regional parties will go away.

  33. As a result, any megalomaniac from any demographic with a love for one owns birthday and a desire to construct huge statues in one’s own image can now aspire to sit on the throne of Delhi …who is that ?? :P……….MMMMMMM

  34. The Marxists have been in power in West Bengal continuously since 1977. Yet, what have they given the State? “West Bengal’s unemployment rate is the highest in India”, points out economist Bibek Debroy. The backlog of registered unemployed is 7.72 million, yearly registration in employment exchanges is 497,000, and placements a meagre 15,100. The intra-State disparities are as striking as the human development index disparities when one compares Marxist-led West Bengal to Gujarat.

    Mr Debroy reveals, “47.3 per cent of West Bengal’s poor have neither of these cards (BPL or Antyodaya Anna Yojana), and surprisingly 43.3 per cent of non-poor have BPL or AAY cards. A facilitating business environment doesn’t exist and this goes beyond man-days lost to industrial disputes, strikes or lockouts.” The faltering steps that Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took to attract investment have mostly come to nothing largely because his own party is split over these measures. Thirty years after coming to power in West Bengal, the Marxists have reduced it to what Mr Debroy calls “both a failing and flailing State”.

  35. I am in two minds for a long time on a particular topic that you have mentioned. The center ignored Bengal since it had a CPM rule or was it the fact that the CPM’s running of the state for decades has been dissapointing or both ? The lack of growth , prosperity and opportunity is clearly evident in Bengal. The question is who is exactly responsible for that? I will love to know your thoughts on this historical question. Probably , a blog if you have time.

  36. @ Sourasis

    Its not just the politicians that are responsible for Bengal’s plight.

    Bengal and its resources, even though some of the best in the world during the early 1900s, could only sustain a certain amount of people.

    The manner in which the demographics of Bengal has changed, since 1940s is something that needs to be paid attention to, in order to understand not only the rise of Communism in Bengal, but also its gradual de-industrialization.

    If you sincerely want to study this, then we can talk about it outside this forum.
    Cant write more, or my post will get barred for being “communal”.

  37. @sourasis
    Read this paper, a friend recently uploaded

    http://www.bengalgenocide.com/Paper_Bengal infiltration.pdf

    Presented at National Seminar on ‘Migration and Its Impact on Indian State and Democracy’ – 13 March 2009,
    Dept of Politics & Public Administration – University of Pune

    The author Mohit Ray, PhD (Engineering) is an independent environmental consultant and visiting faculty in School of Environmental Studies, Jadavpur University.

  38. Marxism is Bengal is a result of the failure of the Bengali Hindus to deal with Islamism.

    After failing to fight the agression of Islam, Hindus in Bengal internalized their struggle for survival by using Marxism as a way of “resource” re-distribution.

    Wish Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was alive for another 20 years.

  39. [GB edit] Any advertisements for political candidates or parties will be removed. I have said this before and I will say it again–

    This blog is not a place for your “Vote for Party/Support my cause/Convert to my religion” messages. Please desist from doing so.

  40. It’s probably much further than just reversal of fortunes for the regional parties. The honeymoon period may end unless they start delivering on their promises… look at the fate of Karnataka.

    The so called political pundits also talked about how voting happens for state elections and national elections and freely advocated voting for regional parties for state elections and national parties for the Lok Sabha elections. But, is that how strategic our Indian junta think? I think we also sometimes intellectualise the discussion.

    Could imaging Mayawati in Mallu land of all the places? BJP ruling in Karnataka State?

    I am reminded of rural marketing strategies, where you create demand bottom up, when I look at BJP’s success in Karnataka… BJP seems to have worked hard at the grass root levels to gain ground and that is reflected in a number of communal incidents in Karnataka… Reason, a weak regional party

    The big questions is can either BJP (or) Mayawati do this in other states? Seems very difficult, but you never know what will happen in the next 5 years

  41. joyjit writes: “I hope BJP gets decimated this time and then we will have got rid of it for ever!”

    My friend, why do you want to get rid of the BJP forever? Why do you day-dream that it gets decimated this time?

  42. PVNR was indeed the best PM India had. Narendra Modi should be a great PM too…I feel he is more talented than Barrack Obama. It is all downhill from here if Rahul Ghandi becomes PM.

  43. can someone provide the list of ‘star’ people recently joining congress & BJP.

    Also ..kind of comparative list of people who could be in position of power….generally i support BJP…but i am impressed by new joinees at congress like shashi tharoor & Mahua Mitra.

    Will congress punish patil & Antuley or more such will get pat on back for loyality.

  44. can someone provide the list of ‘star’ people recently joining congress & BJP.

    Also ..kind of comparative list of people who could be in position of power….generally i support BJP…but i am impressed by new joinees at congress like shashi tharoor & Mahua Mitra.

    Will congress punish patil & Antuley or more such will get pat on back for loyality.

  45. @bikarna

    I read the article as suggested by you, and really got a good perspective on the cause for the state of matters in bengal. I will love to discuss and read more on this topic. you can reach me at sourasis.roy@gmail.com.

  46. “The maisntream media though, as expected, is doing its best to keep BJP down.”

    Wow where have I heard that before? Oh right – from Rush Limbaugh and a thousand other extreme right wing Republicans!

  47. “Narendra Modi should be a great PM too…I feel he is more talented than Barrack Obama.”

    Hahahahahahahahahahahhaahahaha

  48. @ Shan
    If one goes by the nature of rhetoric,
    Prakash Karat in the Indian context is closer to Rush Limbaugh than any body else.

  49. Regarding Varun Gandhi….I quote:

    “…the media and the Congress have been much more severe with Mr Varun Gandhi than Kasab (the former didn’t say anything provocative while the latter went on a shooting spree).”

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