Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- The Second Coming; W.B. Yeats
The heat is on, meteorologically and politically, as the democratic exercise to elect the 16th Lok Sabha picks up momentum along with the summer of 2014. Candidates and campaigners are literally sweating it out in the battle for the minds of about 82 crore voters spread across 543 constituencies in 28 States and seven Union Territories. The heat wave is more evident than any political wave and prediction is proving to be injurious to the health of psephology. Even the front runners are kept in suspense by the increasingly inscrutable voters of India who have successfully put an end to the political monopoly of the Congress and and are yet to recognise any single party as an all-India alternative to it. Highly fragmented verdicts have been the hallmark of the electoral mandate in neoliberal India, a reflection of the people’s anger against and disenchantment with the polity that has repeatedly failed to address their basic existential concerns. Popular disenchantment is expressed in diverse ways, reflecting the plurality of the country, in the absence of a coherent political programme or an organisational network giving expression to the social, political and economic aspirations of people, most of them clinging to politics built around their caste, communal, linguistic and regional identities.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, with its strings attached firmly, and now openly, to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, is making an all-out attempt to make a second coming, pretending to softpedal its core Hindutva agenda and foregrounding a development dialogue that is essentially not different from the Congress-led UPA government’s neoliberal scripture. Nor does it mark a departure from the disastrous economic policies of the National Democratic Alliance government that was thrown out of power by people who could not find a place even on the margins of the India that was shining under its rule. The Modi mask conceals not only the horrors of the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 but also the holes in his “development model”.
Then, is the choice before the voter only between a scam-tainted enforcer of neoliberalism and a saffron-tinted enforcer of neoliberalism? Election surveys, which have to be read with not only margins of error but with scepticism of the media’s role, have been giving significant numbers for “the others”. In this undifferentiated omnibus category, they include, with a tinge of impatience and condescension, the regional, identity-based parties, the Left and the nascent Aam Aadmi Party. Parties in the first two categories have been playing a crucial role in the coalition era of politics in different, often contrasting ways. While the Left leveraged its position to influence, in a limited but effective way, the government’s policy decisions in a positive, pro-people direction, some others used power to extract plum portfolios and the maximum share of the spoils consistently betraying the trust of the constituencies they claim to represent. The AAP, with its declared goal of fighting both the Congress and the BJP, is an untested factor as far as national politics is concerned. Most of “the others”, with the honourable exception of the Left, are united in their support for neoliberalism and have been opportunistic in their opposition to the BJP’s communal politics.
Indications are that after May 16, the day of judgment for political India, “the others” will have a crucial role to play in government formation. For this reason, Frontline’s Election Special 1 focusses on these “Significant Others” giving the readers a glimpse of their track record and their tactics and strategy for the general election. The next issue, Election Special 2, will focus on the two big parties—the incumbent Congress and the potential gainer Bharatiya Janata Party.
R. Vijaya Sankar