Signs of change

Published : Jun 19, 2009 00:00 IST

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. His grip on the State was reputed to be so complete that it seemed the Congress would be blown away. But that did not happen.-PTI

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. His grip on the State was reputed to be so complete that it seemed the Congress would be blown away. But that did not happen.-PTI

WITH elections now over the electronic voting machines having been put away and the new Members of Parliament having taken their seats in the Lok Sabha ones interest was more on how the electorate voted than on the number of seats the different political parties won. It may be early to jump to any conclusion, but the numerous expert analyses on this subject in the coming days will deserve consideration as real indicators or so it seems to this observer from the sidelines of the way in which the people voted. More correctly, why the people voted the way they did.

The majority of the people did not vote, for a variety of reasons. If some chose not to vote, others could not because their names were missing from the voters list. Is it fair, then, to make assumptions based on figures relating to a part of the population? Well, the answer is yes. The principle is recognised in the Constitution, which, in many Articles, refers to members present and voting as being conclusive.

Given that, the way people voted, irrespective of the seats won by political parties, offers valuable insight into what they actually wanted or did not want. In this, for someone watching from the sidelines, it seems that while the voting percentage is important, even more significant is any change in the number of votes for the different parties in terms of what that could mean.

This became clear from the figures for Gujarat, where the formidable Narendra Modi holds sway; indeed, his grip on the State was reputed to be so complete that it seemed the Congress would be blown away. But that did not happen. Of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party won more seats than the Congress, but a report in the news portal Oneindia indicated that the Congress got 28.6 per cent of the votes. The BJP got only 18.8 per cent.

Significantly, these figures indicated that the vote share of the Congress had gone up by 2 per cent, and that of the BJP had declined by 3.5 per cent. It seemed to me, then, that it would be fair to conclude that more people voted for the Congress than for the BJP in Gujarat, and that the numbers who did so were more than those who had voted for the Congress five years ago.

It is generally said in the media and by most experts that under Narendra Modi Gujarat has developed more than it has done before; industries have come up, roads have been built, and so on. Is it that the Congress campaign was more effective? Hardly. There was, and is, no one in the Congress in Gujarat who can match Narendra Modis charisma and oratory. Buoyed by that the BJPs campaign must have had more energy and flourish; it was in its own State, after all, its own backyard.

Well, it does not seem like their backyard anymore, if the figures one has mentioned here are to be believed. Of course, it could well be that many BJP voters did not bother to vote, and relatively more Congress voters did. But why would they do that? Was it because they were confident that their candidates would win?

Why, then, are the figures for Delhi so different? One could well say that the Congress had every reason to consider Delhi its backyard, except that, in its case, it seemed to be right. So, the result had little to do with over-confident voters lazing at home, sure of the outcome.

If ones look at Rajasthan, the picture is no different. The State was a BJP bastion until recently when the Congress won just about enough seats in the Assembly elections and later secured a majority. In the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won 47.2 per cent of the votes polled and the BJP 36.6 per cent. The percentage increase in Congress voters is 5.8, and the percentage decrease for the BJP is 12.4.

On the other hand, Karnataka shows a sharp increase in number of BJP voters over that in 2004; the percentage increase is around 5. But reports say that even though the Congress vote share is less than the BJPs it has increased, even if not by much.

There are other States, such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJPs vote share has been substantial, except that in Madhya Pradesh the Congress gave the BJP a run for its money. The point is evident enough: more people voted for the Congress than for the BJP on the whole, with State-level variations factored in.

One other factor seems to be emerging from all this: that the country is indeed moving towards a two-party system, or a system where there will be two large all-India parties and other smaller parties that reflect some regional interest or the other.

The first indicator seems to be related to the nature of perceived development, for that appears to be the one factor that has cut across caste and community lines. Among others, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the loan waiver to farmers appeared to have had an impact. There is a role played by television channels and that needs to be looked at separately.

The second, the emergence of two large all-India parties, is the more disconcerting one. Disconcerting because in a country as varied as India, and one now shorn of the giant figures of the freedom struggle, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and C. Rajagopalachari, one would expect to see a trend of strong regional parties. There certainly are regional parties, but one is talking here of discernible trends, not the situation on the ground.

Should we bring out the bells and whistles? Perhaps not. It is just a trend right now, and may well change over time. The next round of elections may see a resurgence of regional parties all over the country, who knows. But for now that does not seem to be happening. And, if the two big parties retain their inner strengths and structures, and learn to adapt to local urges and problems, the country may well be moving to a different stage in its evolution.

What the present results must make very clear to the BJP is that strident communalism will no longer work. It has not worked in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, to mention the main areas where it considers itself strong. It will need to re-think its values and face up to what the voters appear to be saying: Look at our problems, do not preach. We know what our religion is and do not need you to give us your florid and theatrical version of it. Look at our problems and do something about them.

In general, the voters seem to have said, this time anyway, that the Congress has been looking at these problems. If the Congress is seen to waver in this, it will certainly show up in the next elections.

The move towards a two-party system of our own, then, is in the hands of these two parties. If they make a mess of it we will most certainly be looking at more fragmented verdicts in the future.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment