Saturday, November 27, 2010

Revenge of Hema's cheeks

Revenge of Hema's cheeks
by M J Akbar

Third Eye - India Today column

For 15 years BJP leader Hema Malini's filmstar cheeks have felt the laceration of Lalu Prasad Yadav's electoral sarcasm. On November 24, those patient cheeks took their revenge. Lalu has lost to Nitish Kumar before. This time he was demolished by the BJP as well. Within minutes of the start of the counting process Lalu looked so 19th century, a relic adrift of a Bihar weary of puerile jokes and self-loathing, eager to edge its way into the mainstream of the Indian dream.

Every election offers a surprise, or it would be a carbon copy of the previous poll. Flux is the essence of democracy just as static is the sting of autocracy. The re-election of NDA in Bihar hid a shock for those commentators who determine the contours of conventional wisdom from the safety of a potato couch. The BJP won 91 out of the 102 seats it contested, a strike rate that is so unique that it could unnerve friend as it easily as it might enrage a foe.

Neither rage nor bragging make for good politics, because the first is not a rational answer to a problem, and the second is puerile. The Congress is not going to collapse and disappear just because it has won only four seats this time. Lalu may be depressed but he is not dead. His vote has declined by 9 per cent from 2005, but it is still more than 25 per cent, sufficient as a foundation for restructuring. Politicians do not come to an end, until the end comes to them.

What should worry the Congress is a political displacement that just might overflow into adjacent territory. Rising prices and a repeated whirl of corruption charges have dented Congress support when the party expected that victory in 2009 would lead to rejuvenation in the Gangetic belt. In Bihar it expected an alliance of upper castes and Muslims to provide the boost. Upper castes went to the BJP and Muslims shifted to Lalu, Nitish and, to a small extent, the BJP. The third is clearly remarkable and could be called the Ayodhya dividend. The BJP's decision to accept the Allahabad High Court verdict, irrespective of its outcome, and its stricture to spokesmen against provocative comment or behaviour, sent a positive signal. BJP leaders are pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm of the younger voter. They should not be. The young, of any faith, want peace and a route map to jobs.

Nitish Kumar's vote added up because he did his arithmetic soon after coming to power five years ago. When development is a word and an objective, its political benefits are not always apparent. In Bihar development had a face, and the face was that of a woman. There was a 10 per cent rise in the turnout of women, and all of it went as reward to a ruling alliance that had delivered by giving women security and empowerment. Bihar is the only state that has given women 50 per cent reservation in panchayats, which have a budget of Rs 8,000 crore. Do the math. Gender bias in public-or indeed private-life is a primary symptom of stupidity, and Lalu might have paid a price for his overly aggressive objections to women's reservations in parliamentary elections.

Will the Bihar results have any impact on Delhi? For starters, the NDA is back in business after an extended spell of bankruptcy. There is a sudden spell of nationwide instability that makes you wonder if all political columns should be left in the expert hands of astrologers. Chief ministers have been placed on rocking chairs; on the day Nitish Kumar returned to power, a Congress chief minister lost it in Andhra Pradesh and a BJP chief minister teetered at the edge in Karnataka. You might consider this pedantic, but on November 22 the Government of Dr Manmohan Singh lost the support of Mamata Banerjee and the DMK on the key issue of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G scam. Even the DMK, which is the target, thought a confrontation was not worth the effort. These parties have smelt the street and sniffed the odour of putrefaction around the carcass of old politics.

The old politics of caste and corruption has been buried in Patna as well by the Nitish avalanche. Its ghost might hover for a while, but if it is dead in Bihar it can't really survive anywhere else.


I-Ore Trading said...

Dear Mr. Akbar,

We have reached the same conclusion as you, however none can match in articulation and that is why it is a pleasure to read your articles.

Wonder if after this write up you also be clubbed with us as an Internet Hindu by some verbose personality of mainstream English channel,who feel it is their duty to target those who have a positive word for BJP/NDA.

We are happy for the state of Bihar and see this spreading to other states as they go into election, those who present positive formulations for growth will definitely stand a chance of winning the mandate of the people of that state.

All is not lost as yet.

Anil Kohli

Anoop Verma said...

Being from Bihar, I am very pleased to see Nitish Kumar win in these elections. If Lalu had won, it would have been back to Jungle raj for Bihar. Most Biharis were frightened at the prospect of Lalu winning the elections; in fact, during the pre-election season it was usual to hear people express their grave apprehension that the Lalu-Rabri duo will be back in power and then even God won’t be able to help Bihar. It is mainly the fear of jungle raj that drove people to vote for Nitish led NDA in a massive manner.

This huge victory is also a challenge for Nitish. Now he has no room to make any excuse. He has to deliver on his promise of development. But I am not quite sure that Nitish can fulfil the aspirations of the people of his state. After all, he is a socialist. Since winning the election he has not said a word about encouraging private sector in the state. There is limit to what the government can do. If the quality of life in Bihar has to really improve, then we need private investment.

That means cutting down on bureaucratic red tape. People should be allowed to start small enterprises without having to go through the license-quota headaches. There is no way a big investment by some major industrial house can succeed in Bihar, unless the ground work is first done by small Bihari investors and entrepreneurs. Does Nitish Kumar have any plans to encourage Bihari entrepreneurs? The biggest problem with Bihar is that there is too much governance.

Almost everyone who has job in Bihar is working for the state government. The state can never succeed when there are so many government employees. Many government departments need to be shut down and people should be encouraged to find jobs in private sector.

Charan said...

What is heartening is to see that the process of providing law and order and development existed in Bihar, despite the misuse by the past political leadership and the institutions responded to leadership which was determined and focused to bring development.

There is still hope for India, if Bihar can be turned around, can others be far behind? Hopefully BJP will learn and move forward and look forward rather than to the past.

naresh sewani said...

Dear Mr. Akbar

I always wait eagerly for your articles, there are very few journlists who have the ability and guts to write in a neutral way as you do. I wish you host a show on the lines of fareed Zakarias GPS.

As far as the outcome of Bihar elections is concerned, it is a very positive sign for future. Everybody should understand that talking time is over now its time to deliver. Ones who seem to be honest and deliver on the development (Shiela, Shivraj, Nitish, Raman and Narendra) will win the second mandate without any dificulty whereas others who are perceived to be corrupt (Vasundra raje, eventhough she had a good record on development)will loose.

Writing is on the wall for everybody.


mahesh gupta said...

Awesome article sir...We want more Bihar type results in India which will send strong signal to these politicians that common man now only care about Development..Do it sincerely and we will reward you like anything( e.g. 206 o/o 243 to Nitish in Bihar).