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What is the difference between Congress and BJP? Not much!

October 27, 2012 23:09 IST

There is this sudden silence after the cacophony following scam disclosures, with both the BJP and the Congress reeling under the impact. Seema Mustafa listens in
Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari does not seem to have convinced anyone, let alone leaders in his own party, of his innocence. He is likely to face the heat when it comes to getting a second term in office, with even his supporters not being particularly vocal in his defense.
After a period when both the Congress and the BJP sniggered over allegations of graft against regional leaders like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav and other worthies, it seems to be their turn to laugh at the national leaders now.

The two political parties, which have lost their nationwide base with great rapidity, are at the receiving end now, with the top leaders and their relatives coming under the corruption scanner. 

Their respective responses reinforce the 'two sides of a coin' motif insofar as the BJP and the Congress are concerned.
There are many urban Indians who like to propound the two-party theory as the ideal answer to all the nation's ailments. In other words, they would like the electoral choices to be limited to just the Congress and the BJP so that the two parties can rule India turn by turn.

So, if the voters of this huge country are upset with the Congress in one term, they can vote it out and choose the BJP as the only other option, without really having to exercise their lazy minds. And, as they argue, they will then have stable Parliament sessions without "this coalition business" that the right-wing of India has always held responsible for the chaos and the turmoil within.
This is false reasoning based on assumptions and illusions entirely. To begin with, the electorate of India has by and large rejected the Congress and the BJP as their sole representatives at the Centre. It has preferred to repose its trust and confidence in a host of regional parties that mushroomed across India after the period of Emergency.

During the 1980s and after, people felt that regional leaders were more in tune with their aspirations and the ambitions of the Congress and later the BJP needed to be put on a leash. Currently, the Congress is in a minority in Parliament and cannot survive a vote of confidence without the support of its coalition allies.
Secondly, the impoverished rural voter was far more astute than his middle-class urban counterpart in detecting the fact that there was little difference between the Congress and the BJP on the ground. Both parties were capable -- in the voter's view -- of extreme violence of the kind that left secular India shocked and traumatised in 1984 (during the anti-Sikh riots) and again in 2002 (the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat). The distinction about the parties' viewpoint on secularism was getting more blurred with the passage of time.

The rural voter also realised that there was little difference in the economic policies of the two political parties with both supporting reckless reforms of a kind that took away from the poor to feed the rich. The discerning voter also understood that the Congress and the BJP agreed over foreign policies that brought India closer to Israel than the Palestinians, where pragmatism replaced principles, and where economics overrode values and friendships that had once stood the country in good stead.
And now the voter has also realised that allegations about the regional parties being more corrupt than the two so-called national parties is little more than a canard; and that the BJP and the Congress are one insofar as corruption is concerned, with the scales of graft being mind-boggling.

So there is this sudden silence after the cacophony following scam disclosures, with both the BJP and the Congress reeling under the impact. The allegations against Gadkari have had a great impact, taking the wind out of the BJP's sails on the issue of corruption.

The fear on Congress leaders' faces has been replaced with smiles, while the BJP is shamefacedly grappling with the uphill task of protecting its president, whose lengthy interviews and comments on the issue are making it all that much more difficult.
Corruption was not a major issue with the Indian electorate till a few years ago, as the poor lived with it on a daily basis and preferred to vote for leaders and political parties despite this restraining clause.

The situation has changed and this will be more evident in the general elections as corruption has been effectively linked in the voters' mind with spiralling prices and a decline and denial of basic amenities and facilities.

The 'they' and 'us' syndrome is fast acquiring a class dimension, with the large number of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh recently becoming a testimony to the politicians' unease about this. The violence is thus aimed to restore the religious and caste based 'they' and 'us' so that poor voters in UP do not unite in voting out parties which, they feel, are not meeting their expectations on the basis of  scarce development, corruption, high prices and other such sound economic reasons.
However, this will not succeed beyond a point as the people's struggle to survive has assumed larger than life dimensions. The exploitation is also being felt by those whose land has been acquired by governments and real estate exploiters at throwaway prices, who find nuclear plants coming up on their land, next to their villages, who fish in contaminated seas and are harassed and imprisoned by neighbouring countries, and who are barely able to make ends meet because of burgeoning debts and prices.

All castes and religions are covered by these helpless masses who have started questioning their governments and their political parties with greater unity and stridency, and who are now able to sustain protests for days and weeks and months as they have little left to lose.
Cabinet and party reshuffles will not work as these are usually just old sour wine poured back into new but cheaper and more fragile bottles. The need is for a drastic change in policies so that the poor are brought back on the map of development and the rich given a highly monitored and regulated backseat to make real growth for the people of India possible.

Image: BJP president Nitin Gadkari's contortions over corruption have brought the smile back on Congress leaders' faces

Seema Mustafa