Arun Jaitley, suave and urbane to some, glib-tongued to others, has never been short of words.
In an interview to Rediff.com, he speaks about BJP's loss and the probable reasons behind the defeat that took the party by surprise.
While I do not agree with some of the reasons he gives to explain the defeat, I do think some of the points he raises are valid. One such point is the one about 'campaign of negativism'.
In Indian elections, when you conduct a campaign, you invariably succeed on a campaign of negativism. The [A B] Vajpayee campaign in Delhi, the (Chandrababu) Naidu campaign in Andhra, and the [S M] Krishna campaign in Karnataka were identical. All three campaigns claimed that we have done a good job. All three campaigns said our leaders have a positive image and they presented a vision of India. All three campaigns were positive.If you consider it for a moment, this campaign of negativism is nothing but the concept of anti-incumbency! And as I've maintained all along, the biggest factor in Indian elections is the crucial factor of anti-incumbency!
As against this, if you conduct a campaign with an element of negativism, as it happened in 1977 and 1984, it clicks. In 1977, post-Emergency, when Mrs (Indira) Gandhi's decline started, there was an element of negativism, people voted against the Emergency. In 1984, people voted against the killing of Mrs Gandhi.
KPS Gill makes a mention of this anti-incumbency in one of his articles before the election results were out...
All this does not augur well for Indian democracy, or for India’s future. The present elections will install a new coalition at the Centre, and new governments in some of the States, most of which, like the majority of recent regimes, will prove to be non-performers, and will fail to come to grips with the basic problems that confront the nation. The new incumbents – whatever their structure and constitution – will start with heady propaganda about the grand transformations they plan for the nation; but will fail to effectively implement most of what they promise. Nevertheless, they will project a false propaganda of fictional achievements, which they will eventually begin to believe themselves. Till the acid test of the next election brings transient disillusionment.Coming back to Arun Jaitley, he explains why only Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, etc. witnessed this anti-incumbency effect but not Bihar or UP.
In India, when the BJP and the Congress party contest an election after remaining in power, they need a major political performance to get back into power. Not so for regional parties. So if Digvijay [Singh] or Krishna doesn't perform, they will be shown the door.He makes a very important point here which politicians often tend to explain with various labels such as charisma, magic, etc. I mean, the continued reign of Laloo in Bihar is put down to his rustic charm and the charisma he posesses!
But Bihar, UP and West Bengal are exceptions. In UP and Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, and Bahujan Samaj Party have caste as a fallback even though they don't perform. Even when they don't do their jobs well, their caste remains consolidated. Caste-based voting is not performance-centric.
The Left Front has cadres, which has helped them to de-link the election and government performance in West Bengal. Also, the Congress party, BJP and Trinamool Congress divide votes and benefit the Leftists. These three parties can't unite against the Leftists. Kerala is a revolving door where two groups are keeping power alternatively.
A similar point is also made by KPS Gill in the article mentioned above.
On the other hand we have leaders like Laloo Prasad Yadav, whose party does not even pretend to make an offer of governance or development to the people of Bihar, but whose manipulation of the lowest common denominators of social mobilization – caste and communal polarities – have guaranteed his repeated success. Worse still, parties with great pretensions to nationalism and noble political lineage have not only failed altogether to create a credible alternative to Bihar’s current anarchy, but have in fact been eager to forge the most unprincipled alliances with the party that has brought the State to its present condition as the epitome of the most abject misery and lawlessness.One of Gill's points is something that I have always belived...
The general population of flatterers and self-servers among the political classes has grown so greatly, moreover, that politicians have lost all grips over grassroots reality. No single leader relies on party cadres, even in the rare cases where these still exist. It is petty coteries that invent false realities that are the source of all ‘political intelligence’ – till the harsh realities of an election bring fruitless disillusionment. Unreliable though the recent exit polls may be, they have shocked the ruling coalition into the realization that India is somewhat larger than the little pools of light where it appears to be ‘shining’.Parties, today, do not take up people's issues and use them as an ideological base. What they do is in fact the opposite of this. They create issues and ideologies that have little or no support among the populace. Then they go around the country trying to build up public opinion in support of these ideologies. This 'top-down' approach is fatal when it comes to elections. Usually this happens to the parties in power since it is during the time a party is power that it loses contact with the grassroots. The self-serving sycophants run off to the power centres leaving their constituencies high and dry. Without any real contact with the ground realities, these parties have to invent issues!
Ok... once again back to Jaitley...
He says about the India Shining campaign,
"Even now I think that campaign gave a sense of confidence in the [growing] economy. It helped build an image outside India about India."I wonder what good is a good image outside the country if you are fighting elections within it! Perhaps in their eagerness to make an impact on the world stage, the BJP spin doctors forgot that the elections are fought in the villages and towns of India!
Then Jaitley raises perhaps one of the most important points in his interview. Something that the Congress will have to grapple with in the days and months to come.
The turning point has already arrived. Now, what I'll hate to see is a debate -- are reforms politically costly? Is there a cost to reform because it will have political fallout? Shall we make the whole of India a Bihar? Shall we create caste issues or any such fallback systems to win elections, but not performance? I think it's not desirable for India if this debate will decide that since reforms are costly you abandon them. We will go the Bihar way.Already the Left parties, with a meagre 61 seats in the new Lok Sabha, have been trying to impose their will on the economic policies of the Government. The issue before the PM and the FM would be to decide if they want to make the reform process run its own course or let it be strangled by the populist rants of the Left!
While the whole country is speaking about the renewed strength of the Congress, Jaitley says this of the Congress...
I have not the least hesitation in saying that the Congress party from an ideological movement has reduced itself to a crowd around the Gandhi family. This happened 30 years ago. To a proud Indian it's not a matter of glory; it is a matter for soul-searching.And I tend to agree with his views on this!
The BJP will overcome its problems. We will stay on. But the fact is that when the Gandhi family delivers, the Congress is on top, and when the family doesn't deliver, as has happened several times in the past, the Congress party refuses to come to terms with itself.
And if you feel confused by the point of this post, let me assure you that I'm the one who's more confused! ;-)