Battle for survival of the fittest unfolds
By M J Akbar
In a year when the rest of the country has forgotten him, Indian politicians are paying due homage to Darwin on the 200th anniversary of his birth.This general election has turned into a ferocious display of the survival of the fittest. As Darwin told us there is neither emotion nor kinship nor morality as the strong proceed to decimate the weaker of the species. The processes of the laws of political nature are a marvel to behold.
Loyalty is an imbecile’s begging bowl. Those who ask for it do not deserve it. The only measure of a relationship is strength. Where there is a conflict in assessment, the dispute is being put to test without reference to yesterday’s commitments. New alliances are impervious to anything but the calculation of a temporary bargain. Every duel is a cold battle, untouched by past dalliance, or the lure of future romance. Divorce terms are being negotiated without the door being shut on the option of remarriage.
Deals are being made, and abandoned at the first prospect of a higher bid. Trust has been abandoned with impunity in states as diverse in their politics as Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu. Shall we just say that the last tea party of the season has not been held at Jayalalitha’s Poes Gardens. The kettle will keep boiling across the country till the final moment of nomination.
In an exalted tribute to Darwin, we should probably rename the Election Commission and call it the Selection Commission. The survival of the fittest is the law out there as well.
The conventional tools of democratic appeal have faded in the culture of self-preservation as the highest good. There is no point bemoaning the collapse of ideology. Convictions cannot survive in a junkyard auction. Ideology is too far a horizon. This election is shorn of even a new idea. Can you cite a single speech that has floated a new thought?
The irrelevance of every manifesto is obvious in the absurdity of its content. Parties are offering so many things free that we might as well do away with currency. There is insanity in the competition for handouts. How will any future government pay for what is on offer? Who cares? A ruling party’s promises beg the obvious question: why weren’t these offers implemented when the party was in power?
Politicians know that no one is gullible in their tribe. Every election is a Russian roulette: someone will end up with a brain injury if not worse. But their manifestos and speeches imply that they consider the voter to be a gull. But the glitter of the packaging cannot really hide the fact that there is nothing in the package. When the minorities hear that they will get reservations this time around they do not break out in joyous dance. The choice before them is not for the best on offer but the least worst. Their vote will scatter in the fog of uncertainty.
There is only one prominent politician who is not making any deal with any other party. Mayawati has clearly decided that the moment for deals is after the strength of every species has been revealed in the ballot. She is courteous to friends, offering them a decent dinner when they come calling. But she is utterly indifferent to any suggestion on seat adjustments. She wants no kindness and offers no generosity. She is contesting more seats than either the Congress or the BJP. There is a BSP candidate in nearly every constituency. Is this chutzpah? But there just might be a plan beneath the expensive bravado.
A set of statistics might give us a hint of her plan. In 1989 she got 9.41 % of the vote in UP and Congress 27.9. She had 13 seats and Congress 94. Follow the graph through the elections of 1991, 1993, 1996, 2002 and 2007: 9.44 and 17.32; 11.12 and 15.08; 19.64 and 8.35; 23.06 and 8.96; 30.4 and 8.84. She moved from 13 seats to 206; Congress slipped from 94 to 22. It took six elections for the chip effect to hit critical mass.
The obvious contenders are hoping to become prime minister in 2009. But there are three politicians who have time on their side: Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Mayawati. Each would like to do well in 2009 but this is not the year of their dreams. Their objective is to sow the seeds this time around and wait for the next elections which, in their estimate, are less than five years away. Age is with them now. They have to find a way of getting the country behind them.
Evolution, as Darwin pointed out, needs time of course, but human beings did not become the supreme species without intelligence.
Appeared in Times of India - March 29, 2009