Politics in India

By Raman, As | Contemporary Review, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Politics in India


Raman, As, Contemporary Review


THE number 13 has played a crucial role in the rise and fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP for short, which rules India today. This right-wing nationalist party, committed self-confessedly to pro-Hindu activist agenda, is in the unenviable position of being one against all other parties, with secular pretensions. Sensibly the BJP has temporarily put its ideology on the shelf to be able to function smoothly as the dominant partner in the 24-ruling-party coalition.

In 1996 the BJP-led coalition headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee remained in power only for 13 days. Again, in 1998, it came to power, but exactly after 13 months, was voted out by the slenderest margin on record: just one vote. In 1999 it fought the 13th General Election, entered the 13th Parliament (Lok Sabha) triumphantly and formed the Government on October 13. Will the alchemy of 13 keep the party in power for 13 years? Apparently yes, with the Congress, its main rival, out of its way. It is indeed tragic that the 115-year-old party, once the most popular and respected, now electorally decimated and politically discredited, lies irredeemably low.

The BJP with 182 seats in Parliament has a total tally of 300 plus, its coalition partners contributing the balance. The rise of the BJP has been phenomenal, not because of its growing strength, but because of the declining popularity of the Congress which in public perception is the captive of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. The BJP had only two seats in the 1984 Parliament. Today its strength has gone up to 182. In contrast, the Congress which ruled India unchallenged for 45 out of 52 years since Independence has been fading out dismally since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Even while he was in the thick of the campaign, there were pointers to his party's rout in the 1991 General Election. His assassination triggered a pro-Congress wave on compassionate grounds. Even so, the Party did not have a working majority in the 1991 Parliament. How PV Narasimha Rao, the new Congress Prime Minister, survived for the full-five year term is a sordid and despicable chapter in India's parliamentary history. In his ti me, among the political parties, the Congress had the lowest moral rating. Since 1996 it has been sliding downhill. Its tally in the present parliament is the lowest ever: 112.

The Congress sadly has not learnt its lesson, nor will it ever. It has a future only when it sheds its atrophying Nehru-Gandhi cult which the voters have demolished. The Congress has tasted power for so long that, out of office, it feels it has no role to play. Indeed it is a pity that the party which was once a haloed symbol of democratic culture and which had such a stunning track record during the freedom struggle has reduced itself to such a miserable state. Apparently it is mightily pleased with itself playing the humiliating role of a feudal relic of the court culture of the Nehru-Gandhi royalty. There can be no other explanation of its abject submission to the arrogant and authoritarian overlordship of Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv's Italian widow, and her two children, daughter Priyanka, and son Rahul, all being projected as Prime Ministers-in-waiting. Given an opportunity, the Congress will waste no time installing her and her two children as not only its leaders for life but as leaders of the nation and the Government. How sad that the party which was once the voice of the nation is today too tightly controlled by the central authority of the Nehru-Gandhis to articulate whatever is left of its democratic and Nationalist ethos. However, one of the most significant post-poll developments is the political polarisation into the democratic, cadre-based BJP and the dynastic, leader-based Congress. The so-called Third Front, in the absence of support from parties other than its sponsors, those two noisy anachronisms, the pro-Moscow Communist Party of India and the pro-Beijing Communist Party of India (Marxist), will remain a non-starter. …

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