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|March 5, 1998||
Democracy by calculator
At the time of writing, of the 535 Lok Sabha seats, only 3 seats are left to be declared. The BJP and its allies have 249 (+55); the Congress and its supporters, 166 (+28); the United Front, 96 (-75); and Others, 21 (-8). Another hung Parliament...
In May 1996, just before all the results had been declared, commentator Vinod Dua had hit the bull's eye by saying that the government drawn from the eleventh Lok Sabha would be given the mandate not by the ballot box, but by the calculator. I can't imagine a worse way to assume power. But that is what happened then. And that is what will happen now. Much of the pressure is on President K R Narayanan -- who is expected to wait until March 12 to explore which of the groups has the best chance of forming the government.
The last time around, I had written in one of my post-poll articles: 'Elections are maieutic -- they force one's latent suspicions into clear consciousness. The janata has never had the cerebral capacity to compute its actual gains or the fibre and eligibility of candidates. A nod from Sonia Gandhi can win any rural seat for any Congressman. Rajesh Khanna trails behind L K Advani by a mere 6,000 votes. Rajnikanth's entire fan club awaits his bidding on whom to vote for. And a bimbo is accepted as a candidate because she plays Sita Mata on television! *That* is the electorate.'
After I finished re-reading this today, I brought out the only hat I owned and proceeded to eat it with humility. I've severely under-estimated the Indian electorate. It deserves respect, for it gives chances, and it most certainly does not tolerate despotism. When Indira Gandhi lost the post-Emergency election, Sanjay had asked her to declare an Emergency again. That was when she had said, 'The collective judgement of the people must be respected' and retired from Centre-stage. The electorate *has* a mind of its own -- and uses it despite the continuous slow-poisoning from all sections of the press. I may not like their verdict, but I must accept that the people's decisions are not arbitrary: The trends in each state, excepting UP and Punjab, show that they voted with a cause -- mainly an anti-establishment one. And nothing illustrates that better than Maharashtra.
It's true: I've landed flat on my face, for I never expected the SS-BJP to lose -- and definitely not in my South Mumbai constituency. And, both parties were more confident than I was. Yesterday, a top Shiv Sainik admitted to me, "The language and the metaphors that suited, and were accepted from, only Balasaheb, had begun to be used by all Sainiks -- whether in rallies or at the naaka. We were walking a foot above the ground. We did not bother about a Dalit alliance; we became smug. And we've paid dearly for it. The outcome is a slap in our face, and we needed it."
That was when it struck me that though there's no difference in the corruption charges levelled against the Thackerays and Sharad Pawar, even today, the Great Maratha Milquetoast travels in a plain Ambassador, does not produce films or hobnob with the film industry, does not host concerts by foreign or Indian stars, and keeps a strictly political profile. Conspicuous consumption did the Thackerays in. Of course, this is all hind-sight, which has a 20/20 vision... Had Maharashtra gone saffron, the BJP would have had no problem at the Centre. But the fact is: regardless of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the people voted for Pawar since they wanted to punish the Sena -- there is no escaping that. That is the Indian electorate.
Corruption has never been an issue with Indians; for a nation which has a parallel black economy, how *can* it ever be an issue? We simply cannot react with the outrage with which a British or American would, should he hear of his representative skimming the treasury or taking bribes. We Indians have continuously been fleecing the nation, anyway... Kaala dhanda, kaale log... Our attitude towards corrupt politicians is, Take what you want, but see that you do something for us as well; but throw arrogance in our face and we'll throw you out. They did that to Mrs G, and they did the same to Balasaheb. That is the Indian electorate.
What happened in South Mumbai, in places like Malabar Hill and Nepean Sea Road where voters came out in hordes? Everybody was sure that the elite vote would go to the "upper caste" BJP as before... I can tell you my own feelings: I severely resented being stuck with the dumpy Jaywantiben Mehta; I felt we deserved a dynamic candidate. I had seen Murli Deora striking deals with Bill Gates, and moving and shaking the business community. Where was Mrs Mehta in the interim? I've no idea -- I never heard from or about her. The BJP took for granted the constituency which metes the highest income to the treasury. If I, a proselytiser for Hindutva, felt bitter, whither the others? That is the electorate.
Does the Sonia Gandhi factor figure in the Congress's victory at all? Rubbish. If the Congress could not win in the backyard of the Nehrus -- Rae Bareili and Amethi -- where's the chance of Sonia's having an effect on other states? Hers was always just a travelling circus: People came to see the star and the clowns -- and then quietly went and voted for a real politician in the fray of things. That is the Indian electorate.
In Tamil Nadu, I had this straight from an influential Thevar: his entire community had decided to go the BJP and Jayalalitha way -- even before the Coimbatore bomb blasts. The blasts only pulled in some undecided voters. No amount of pleas from the Karunanidhi- endorsing Rajnikanth swung the people towards the DMK in that state. It is impossible to ascertain whether Tamilians voted for the BJP or for the AIADMK. All we can say is, it was another anti- establishment vote. A thought-out decision. That is the Indian electorate.
I have been glued to the idiot box since days, surfing between TVI, Metro, Doordarshan and the 24-hour STAR News. Right from the beginning, I've been much impressed by Congress spokesman Jairam Ramesh. But yesterday, he pulled the rug from under my feet. He actually said that it would be morally wrong for the Congress and the UF to form a government if the BJP crosses the 250-seat mark... A Congresssman talking morals? He actually did!
The cobbling up of the seats has started... the Congress is patching up with the UF -- both of which have NO moral right to rule, considering that the percentage of Congress votes has dropped and that the UF has lost 75 seats since the last election. It is clear: though the people want a coalition government, it is not one in which the UF pulls the strings. And yet, the efforts to hoodwink the people will continue and be lauded by the "secular."
Intense negotiations are going on right now, with the BJP in closed-door meetings with the TDP in Hyderabad; and from Delhi, Renuka Chowdhary has been engaging in curious double-talk about the nature of secularism.... Then, TN's Madam has refused to partake in the government; she says she will support it from the outside -- like the Congress did with the UF. So also, Bengal's Didi. It does not bode well. This would place them in a position where they can take the kudos but not the blame -- and blackmail the government just as the Bihari Bandicoot did.
But as I'd expected, my favourite community did not let me down: the Shiromani Akali Dal's Parkash Singh Badal clarified that his party will stand by the BJP through thick and thin, saying, "Our first aim is to get the BJP government installed at the Centre and we will do whatever is required in this regard." While Surjeet Singh Barnala said in a television interview, "We support the BJP government as a matter of principle. There are no preconditions." How I wish I were in Punjab...
After delivering Maharashtra to the Congress, there's no doubt that Sharad Pawar has become a prime prime ministerial candidate. But Kamal Nath, after attending a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, told television anchor Karan Thapar that there is a feeling that the BJP should be given a chance to form the government. Too, Congress spokesman V N Gadgil said that the overall feeling within the Congress is that "we should not go out of our way to form the government. We will wait for the BJP government to fall on the weight of its own contradictions and then we could come back on a thumping majority." I heard Madhavrao Scindia echo just these sentiments on STAR. It looks like more and more Congressmen are now of the view that they should sit in the Opposition.
Meanwhile, former telecommunications minister and Rs 12 billion- scamster Sukh Ram, who has won from Himachal Pradesh as an Independent, has supported the BJP. Which could help some Independents move over to the BJP... Why? For what? For whom? I don't think I understand at all...
To hold on to my sanity, there is just one small bit of statistics that's been largely ignored and which I'm concentrating on: The majority of the Congress's voters are those around and over 55 years of age. And the majority of the BJP's voters are those up to 30 years old. Shaayad, kal subah hogi... Or, as Scarlet said, Tomorrow is another day...
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