Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why some political parties lost the plot

Why some political parties lost the plot
By M J Akbar

Defeat is the distance between a bedtime story and a wake-up call. The former starts with ‘Once upon a time...’ and lulls the voter to sleep. The second is an energiser that addresses a fresh dawn.

Three political parties have become victims of their own success: their narrative has run its course, and they have not been able to find a further chapter to their saga.

The BJP story is the simplest: the fairies have abandoned its fairy tale. It began as the party of refugees from Pakistan. The robust economic and social resettlement of the dispossessed, evident by the 70s, paradoxically, liberated them from the party which helped them. After the high-drama blip of the Emergency and Janata Party phase, the BJP reinvented itself as a champion of a psychological rather than an economic need.

The temple movement brought great rewards, culminating, albeit through a parabola enhanced by the charisma of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in six years of power at the Centre. But within this time, the Indian mood turned. Economic aspirations took primacy over psychological needs, particularly since the temple movement was made irrelevant by the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya. A functioning temple has come up on the site, a fact that seems to escape the attention of those writing the BJP manifesto, which keeps promising to build a temple.

Every political party has colluded in this change; even though self-proclaimed secular parties encourage Muslims to indulge in the self-delusion that a dispute exists. In truth, all that the BJP can offer is to build a bigger temple, which does not quite have the same emotive force as ‘Mandir yahin banayenge!’ The BJP’s cousins, the Senas of Maharashtra, have regional chauvinism to fall back upon. If the BJP wants to reclaim national space, it will have to establish another horizon.

When socialism became passe, Mulayam Singh Yadav resurrected himself brilliantly as the anti-thesis of the BJP, blending it with a distinctive element of Lohia socialism, empowerment of the backward castes. However, when the thesis is faltering, the anti-thesis cannot be robust. That is the Samajwadi Party’s problem vis-a-vis the Muslim vote. As for the Backwards: Mandal has been milked dry. Mandal has delivered for those whose prayers were answered in 1990. A new generation of Backwards needs solutions for the 21st century.

The last time the Left had anything original to say was more than three decades ago; and it had remarkable staying power in Bengal. But Bengali Muslims, critical to any democratic algebra, are now tired of the Left’s soft secularism, a formula in which their lives were secure from communal violence but their livelihood was left to the wolves. The subalterns of Bengal, across the religious divide, have adopted an interesting strategy: they have become, to a great extent, a non-partisan opposition. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is merely expanding its elasticity to contain voter anger to the extent it can.

There are no internal structures, nor is there any serious thinking being done by Mamata on how to fashion an alternative delivery system when she assumes power in the state. It is now a question of when the Left will be driven out, not whether. But in the current turmoil also lies an opportunity for 2016, if there is anyone left with the imagination to think ahead.

Mayawati survives in Uttar Pradesh, despite setbacks, because she is still waking up her support base. The Dalit deliverance is far from over; and her cross-ethnic alliances are still in infancy. Mayawati was out of her depth at the national level because she could not promise stability. In regional waters, she is still an Olympian. Her personality may be her biggest obstacle, but her agenda is intact.

The key to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s future will lie in his ability to unlock the next dimension of Muslim demands, and spearhead it. There is a transparent anger, leavened by confusion, among Muslims which is provoking a drift to the most familiar port, the Congress. But the Congress has nothing new to offer.

What the Muslims of UP are looking for, but have been unable to articulate, is a defined political space within which they can find food-and-faith security. Given the passions that such a demand could arouse, this quest might surface obliquely rather than directly. On the table is Ajit Singh’s dream of a Harit Desh in western UP. Such a state will have a substantive Muslim population, as well as a string of important Muslim educational institutions, from Aligarh to Deoband. It will become a natural socio-economic magnet for Muslims of the north. The idea is still in an embryonic stage. Whoever articulates it, will have rung a wake-up call.

Appeared in Times of India - November 15, 2009

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