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Is the Congress ready to look away from the politics of dynasty?

March 08, 2012 18:06 IST
If there is one lesson that should be heard by every political party it is that both candidates and campaigners need something more than a famous surname to push them over the winning line.

T V R Shenoy lists the lessons of Election 2012.

Question: What is common to the Samajwadi Party's Ram Lal Akela, Surendra Vikram Singh, Devendra Pratap Singh, and Manoj Kumar Pandey as well as the Peace Party's Akhilesh Kumar Singh?

Answer: They have just entered the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha from Bachhrawan, Harchandpur, Sareni, Unchahar, and Rae Bareli respectively. In other words, the Congress could not win even one of the five assembly seats that constitute Sonia Gandhi's Lok Sabha seat of Rae Bareli. (Bar Harchandpur, no Congress candidate managed to win even the second spot in these seats!)

Question: What is common to the Samajwadi Party's Rakesh Pratap Singh, Gayatri Prasad, and Ashakishore?

Answer: They are the victors from Gauriganj, Amethi, and Salon, three of the five Vidhan Sabha seats that make up Rahul Gandhi's Lok Sabha seat of Amethi.

Amethi and Rae Bareli are the ultimate family boroughs, a fact underlined when Priyanka Vadra came to campaign, family in tow. Robert Vadra, indiscreetly, mused aloud about joining politics. Did he believe that the sole qualification for high office is to marry into Rajiv Gandhi's family? The voters disagreed.

If there is one lesson that should be heard by every political party it is that both candidates and campaigners need something more than a famous surname to push them over the winning line. It didn't work for Priyanka Vadra in Amethi and Rae Bareli, nor for her brother elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh.

But is the Congress truly ready to look away from the politics of dynasty? The Nehru-Gandhis make easy targets, but they are scarcely alone.

Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma's son Rakesh Kumar Verma was given the Congress ticket for Dariyabad. He came third, behind both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party nominees.

Coming third was better than what Poonam Kishor managed in Balha; the Bahraich Lok Sabha MP Kamal Kishor's wife was beaten by the BJP, the BSP, and the Samajwadi Party nominees. As was her sister in distress Supriya Aron in the Bareilly Cantt constituency, whose husband is the local MP, Praveen Singh Aron.

What could be worse? Ask Louise Khurshid, wife of Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid, who came not fourth,but fifth in Farrukhabad (which is, not so incidentally, part of her husband's parliamentary seat). She was outpaced not just by the BJP, the BSP, and the Samajwadi Party, but by an Independent too.

But why single out the Congress? What of that other national party, the BJP?

Ashutosh Tandon ('Gopalji'), was the BJP candidate for Lucknow North. The fact that his father, Lalji Tandon, is the MP from Lucknow, did not play a part in this, did it? In any case, he was beaten by the Samajwadi Party and Congress candidates.

Professor Ramji Singh's son, Arijit Singh, was the BJP nominee from Mau. He stood fourth when the votes were counted, with the Quami Ekta Dal winning the seat.

Much has been made of Sukhbir Singh Badal and of Akhilesh Yadav. Yes, they too are scions of political dynasties, but there is some solid work behind their success.

The Samajwadi Party had 36 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha; the fifteenth general election reduced this to 22. Eight Akali Dal MPs were elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004; in 2009 the party won just four. It took more than a well-known surname to virtually rebuild their respective parties. (Doubly so as there was dissent within the families of each.)

This is the first thing that makes me happy about the current election results, that voters chose rationally between candidates, unswayed either by surname or party tickets.

The second is that corruption was, in my opinion, an issue in this election.

Much has been made of the alleged corruption of the BSP, but what of the others? The BJP in Uttarakhand and the Congress in Goa were riding for a fall, and they got it.

General B C Khanduri had an excellent innings in Delhi as a member of the Vajpayee ministry, and his shepherding of the National Highways Development Project -- particularly the Golden Quadrilateral -- was one of the major achievements of that government. In 2007 he led the BJP to power in Uttarakhand. In June 2009, after the BJP lost every Lok Sabha seat in Uttarakhand, Ramesh Pokhriyal replaced him. That ministry proved so prone to scandal that his embarrassed party recalled General Khanduri in September 2011, fewer than six months before the Vidhan Sabha polls.

At the time it was said the BJP would be lucky to win 15 seats in the 70-strong assembly. General Khanduri gave his party a fighting chance, but it is common talk that his own defeat in the Kotdwara seat was due to party rivals.

The BJP seemed quick to boot out an honest and efficient man, seemed slow to recall him, and seemed happy to cause his downfall. I have no idea who might form the next ministry in Dehradun, but, quite frankly, the BJP of Uttarakhand deserves to sit in the Opposition.

That is equally true of the Congress in Panaji. The mining scams received the most attention, but they were not the only plagues to hit Goa. Small wonder then, that, the BJP-MGP alliance stormed into power, the BJP actually winning a majority of its own in the assembly (21 in the 40-strong House).

Anna Hazare is out of fashion with the media, but can we give him some credit? Whatever you think of the Lokpal Bill, you cannot deny that Anna Hazare did much to bring the focus back on corruption in 2011, and that paid off in 2012.

Third, these were arguably the least communally-charged set of elections in decades.

Those of us with long memories can remember the dark days in Punjab, about a decade-and-a- half that began in the early 1980s. A tapestry of Hindu-Sikh relations woven over five centuries seemed irreparably damaged at the time. It is to the eternal credit of the leaders of both the Akali Dal and of the BJP -- Parkash Singh Badal in particular -- that restored the harmony of old.

Rather to the surprise of many, the BJP seems to have gone some way toward winning votes from non-Hindus. Could it have swept Goa without support from at least a section of Catholic voters? Even more surprisingly, some 15 of the 47 seats that it won in Uttar Pradesh were from places with a 35% Muslim electorate; at least some Muslims must have voted for the party.

The biggest surprise is from Nagpur, home of the RSS and of BJP President Nitin Gadkari. The BJP emerged as the frontrunner after the recent local body polls, but failed to win a majority in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation. It then formed a coalition, the Nagpur Vikas Aghadi. Believe it or not, this new front includes two Muslim League members, Ishrat Ansari and Aslam Khan.

Call it a sign of harmony or of politics trumping ideology, it is a refreshing change of pace, isn't it?

The sole sour note was struck by the Congress, with its talk of reservations for Muslims. There is a huge question-mark over whether any such thing will pass muster with the Supreme Court; be that as it may, it brought no dividends from the voters.

The stench of horse-trading is already polluting Dehradun. There are already fears of 'Goonda Raj' returning in Uttar Pradesh, with violence in Jhansi, Agra, and Ferozabad. But there will be time enough to deplore these follies.

All you can ask of an election is that voters make intelligent choices, that corruption is punished, and that communal harmony prevails.

Just for today, let us concentrate on the nectar rather than the poison thrown up by the electoral churning.

Please click here to read more columns by Mr T V R Shenoy.

T V R Shenoy