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'Indian politics has a new star'

March 06, 2012 20:22 IST

The fact that 200 million people have shown the willpower and 'national identity' to hand down -- on two successive occasions in the past five years -- such cohesive mandates to two regional parties to lead their government in Lucknow shows the powerful yearning for federalism in our country, notes M K Bhadrakumar.

The Uttar Pradesh state assembly election results presage a tectonic shift in Indian politics. The Samajwadi Party has done extraordinarily well to return to power in Lucknow after a stint in the political wilderness.

All other protagonists -- the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress respectively -- have ended up as losers, either losing heavily, or marginally and barely saving face to live for another day.

The single biggest loser, politically, is Rahul Gandhi. No matter the spin that is surely going to be given by the Congress party's ringleaders, the hard reality is that the UP electorate point-blank refused to buy into Rahul Gandhi's narrative.

In sum, what comes out is the complete disconnect that exists between him and the Indian political reality. Many would have suspected that there was such a disconnect; on March 6, 2012, it sailed into view. A huge credibility problem is arising about Rahul Gandhi's leadership qualities, which all the King's men and all the King's horses can no longer hide.

What is doubly stunning for the Congress Party is that this is a setback not only for Rahul Gandhi but for his entire family. Lock, stock and barrel, he, his sister, his brother-in-law and his mother have been rejected; this rejection also comes from the party's historic strongholds of Rae Bareli and Amethi. It is a veritable rejection of the family by the people of Uttar Pradesh.

On the other hand, the facts and figures show that there was a level playing field. It has been a comprehensive victory for the SP. Its mandate goes far beyond its traditional Yadav constituency -- it is no longer vulnerable to the vagaries of the so-called 'Muslim support' -- and it cast a spell all over the vast regions of UP.

Most important, it has successfully shed its controversial baggage and regenerated as a political party with a progressive outlook that is appealing to various social strata, especially the youth and the professionals. A star has risen in Indian politics -- and he's a star we are going to see for a long time as a national figure -- Akhilesh Yadav. His towering presence throws into relief the gravity of Rahul Gandhi's failure.

The UP political alignments are going to have a profound impact on national politics. The absolute majority that the Samajwadi Party has secured means that it can dispense with the Congress's support in government formation in Lucknow. This means the Congress's dependence on the SP in bolstering the UPA government's strength in Delhi is going to be a one-sided affair in the coming months. The implications of this are quite serious.

Notwithstanding the electoral posturing through the recent weeks and months, it stands to reason that Congress will be desperately keen under these circumstances to 'co-habitate' with the SP. The SP's support can make all the difference between predictability and the lack of it in the UPA government's fortunes.

Clearly, the UPA government at the Centre would be more stable if some sort of equilibrium can be worked out in the Congress-SP equations. In such an alignment, the Congress stands to gain, considering the imperatives of the political calendar ahead -- Parliament's budget session, the Presidential election, the state of the economy, a host of important legislation in the pipeline, etc.

Again, the UPA government's dependence on the mercurial Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee becomes far less critical if the Congress has a partner in the SP.

However, politics is hardball. And Mulayam Singh Yadav is a seasoned player. He will size up the fact that he has the upper hand in his future dealings with the UPA leadership. Also, given the imperatives of the 2014 general election and his agenda to carve out a big presence for the SP in the next Lok Sabha, he has a political urge to differentiate himself from the Congress.

Actually, he has little to gain out of bonhomie with the Congress at this late juncture, when the UPA has lost its shine and is bogged down in the quagmire of so many scams.

Therefore, the Congress party's vulnerability to the pressure tactic by Mamata Banerjee is only going to increase in the coming period. Of course, one is not foreseeing the prospect of the UPA government being unseated before it completes its term, but in all probability it is going to be a government that somehow muddles through.

The UPA government is highly unlikely to be able to push ahead with any major legislation without first painstakingly working out a broad political consensus behind it. As recent experiences have shown, nothing can be taken for granted anymore and consensus-building is going to prove even harder.

In sum, the UPA government is likely entering a period of drift and may drag the country too into a period of instability.

Equally, the BJP's dismal performance in the UP election takes the wind out of its sails, so to speak. There has been a lot of media hype lately that the BJP is on an upward curve. Apparently, that is far from the reality on the ground.

The management of the party's election campaign and its inadequacies will be coming into focus in the coming days and weeks and it will, in turn, accentuate the frictions at the leadership level within the party.

Some people are certainly going to ask why Narendra Modi had to kept away from UP. The sub-soil rivalries among the pack of half-a-dozen leaders at the BJP's national level may strain to well up to the surface.

Evidently, the Indian electorate is becoming more and more fastidious. On the whole, therefore, the BJP needs to do a lot of homework and define its identity. In the meanwhile, its capacity to mount a challenge to the UPA government becomes doubtful.

Arguably, the BJP comes out looking better than the Congress in its overall performance in UP, Uttarkhand and Goa, but the prospect of the BJP leading another NDA formation and coasting to victory in the 2014 parliamentary election seems a long shot as things stand.

On the other hand, the Congress too has hardly anything to celebrate. If this is all Rahul Gandhi could produce after years of toil and of living in humble huts and eating roti and dal and drinking from village wells, the Congress indeed has a long distance to cover before estimating it is on a surge. The party has just about managed to retain its 2007 tally in the UP assembly.

Alongside, the party's performance in the other states that went to poll -- Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa -- has been dismal through and through. It failed to win in Punjab and Uttarkhand despite whatever anti-incumbency there would have been against the non-Congress governments in those states. It lost Goa to the BJP.

Most certainly, there are no signs on the horizon of any 'revival' in the Congress's standing. The plain truth is that the magic of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is no longer working in the Hindi heartland. Decades of corruption and sycophancy have virtually destroyed the party machinery at the regional and local level.

Another phase of coalition politics in India is set to begin. The Congress has somehow managed to rule as a single-party government during the past eight-year period despite the apparel of coalition politics. That phase is ending. The alchemy of partnership within the coalition governments is transforming.

The Congress will need to adjust to the new reality. This is bound to reflect in regional politics as well in states such as Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

The decline of the Congress and the BJP opens up other possibilities in coalition politics. A realignment of political parties is most likely on the cards.

On a fundamental plane, the UP election results remind us all over again that a new template is appearing in Indian politics. It is possible to say that the Congress party's rejection in UP may well hasten the rewriting of the ground rules of Indian federalism itself, which is already happening visibly to some extent in episodes like the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

The UPA government has often shown signs of irritation that strong state leaderships are increasingly asserting their specific interests and prerogatives. But a new situation is arising when the Congress and the central government -- and indeed all our political parties -- would have to learn to live with the expanding horizons of India's federalism.

The fact that 200 million people inhabiting such a vast political space have shown the willpower and 'national identity' to hand down -- on two successive occasions in the past five years -- such cohesive mandates to two regional parties to lead their government in Lucknow only goes to show the powerful yearning for federalism in our country.

This is a process that cannot be held back anymore and, in any case, it is untenable to try to stop it in the present era of globalisation.

The maturity of Indian democracy is coming up for trial here.

M K Bhadrakumar