The much awaited results on 16 May 2014 are now out. For the nation the results have brought a lot of hope. For the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) the results have brought fulfillment of a dream beyond their expectations but with loads of responsibilities. The Congress party feels it has been hit with a ton of bricks and their very existence seems to have been reduced to a laughable presence in the parliament where they cannot even claim to be the main opposition. Some regional political parties have been shown the door by the electorate while a few parties have reaffirmed their regional supremacy despite the BJP & NaMo tsunami that hit the nation. The Indian voter has once again shown that he cannot be taken for granted nor can his behavior be predicted or stereotyped. This speaks volume for the democratic credentials of the nation. This is even more remarkable when one realizes that a large percentage of the Indian voter is either uneducated or poorly educated. This implies an inherent hope that if education and awareness can be spread in every nook and corner of the nation, the Indian democracy will be even more vibrant and will ensure accountability from its elected leaders at all times. No wonder then that a vast majority of political and community leaders in India would rather see their people continue to remain uneducated and backward since that suits their own vested interests. Education, rural development and breaking the shackles of caste and religion have never been on the agenda of most leaders (and governments) for decades in our country.
Winning and losing will always be part of politics. Hitting out at political rivals and organisations, sometimes in a most unsavory manner, too is an acceptable part of an election campaign. Maligning individuals and casting aspersions on personal lives of adversaries too is quite the norm even though it is debatable for its correctness. Such campaigning is not novel to India since it happens in most democracies across the world. It is also true that a vicious political campaign does not necessarily mean that the participants are devoid of courtesy, humility and other social graces. At the best for most leaders one can safely assume that they deliberately tend to place these attributes on the back burner for a short period of time during campaigning since nowhere in the world can one play the political game in a very gentlemanly way. By and large the voters tend to accept such posturing by their political candidates. However, what is of note here is that such behavior can neither be carried too far nor tolerated once the elections are over. The public does expect the winner to be humble in his win and the loser to be gracious in his defeat.
The Congress party seems to have shunned all propriety and grace in their post results behavior. Elections are fought by individuals but under the umbrella of their respective parties. Therefore winning and losing has to be seen in totality rather than focused on any individual. It is incumbent on part of the outgoing political party and its leaders to offer their congratulations and best wishes to the incoming party and its leaders. The Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Vice President in charge of poll campaign Mr Rahul Gandhi and outgoing Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh showed utter disregard in the respect. By not congratulating the BJP and Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister designate, directly in their post poll statements to the nation, all three have shown a marked lack of grace, courteousness and maturity. Mrs Gandhi and Mr Manmohan Singh displayed an indifferent approach by stating that they wished the new government well. One can understand the hurt and disappointment in Congress camp after the results, but then true character of a leader emerges under adverse conditions rather than under favorable conditions. One could even stretch this argument further and say that they have shown disrespect to the verdict of the nation and to the highest elected office in the country. Unfortunately the reaction of all three congress leaders left a lot to be desired and smacks of misplaced arrogance. To top it all, the silly smile on Mr Rahul Gandhi’s face, when he spoke to the media, clearly showed his hollow and conceited persona. If the Congress party still wants Rahul to lead them, which they do from whatever indications have come so far, then it is their funeral and they will only hasten the demise of the party as a serious national contender instead of rebuilding its credibility in the future. Unfortunately for them, they do not have any strong specific regional presence too, so one cannot even foresee a meaningful regional role for the party in the days ahead.
Most Congress leaders and others are charging the BJP of polarising and communalising the votes and attributing their poor show to this phenomenon. This indeed is as silly as it can get. When Muslims vote in large numbers (or as a block) for Congress, BSP or SP in some areas, that is neither communal nor polarisation of votes but termed as an example of secular approach in voting by the Congress. However, if the Hindus vote for BJP in large numbers then Congress is quick to term it as polarisation of votes. The logic here is that while the vote of minority communities can be concentrated for a specific candidate or party, the vote of the majority community cannot follow the same route. In a country where the majority vote accounts for over 80% of the total voter base, this is not only a flawed but highly misplaced logic to say the least. As a corollary to the polarisation charge by the Congress, one wonders if the Congress will press the same charge on AIDMK in Tamilnadu for polarising Tamil votes or TMC in Bengal for Bengali votes. Also it goes without saying that as long as Congress gets most of Hindu vote, as it did in 1984, which is certainly not polarisation of votes.
Given the meagre numbers in the Lok Sabha, mood of the Congress party and the conduct of its leaders post results; it is difficult to expect them to perform any constructive role as a responsible opposition in the new national government. This is indeed a very serious concern and something that is not likely to be in the best interests of the nation. The obvious option for Congress is to try and forge an alliance within the opposition and act as a unified body, however given the lack of leadership within the elected Congress members, one cannot expect the AIDMK or TMC or BJD to allow leadership role to Congress. All these regional parties would have their regional interests at stake and their conduct will be dictated by those interests. The Congress on the other hand has no regional interests to protect. Therefore at the best it may be able to bring other minor parties like JD (U), SP and RJD together since they all have one basic commonality in their approach that is based on dislike of BJP. But given the quality of members from these parties, the end result of such an alliance would only be excessive noise pollution in the parliament and nothing else. On the other hand it may be more prudent for the Congress, in the interest of the nation, to sit in the parliament in a responsible manner that implies going along with the government on issues that are in the interest of the nation while marking their opposition on record to those that they feel are not. But then this will require maturity, understanding and a formidable leadership within the parliament that can carry all its 44 members together. This as things stand today is highly unlikely.
The need of the hour for the Congress is to introspect and reinvent itself. There is a need for some its leaders, those few who still matter, not only to assess the reasons for the debacle in the elections but also to discuss the role and need of the Gandhi family at the helm of the party. Tough times call for tough and unpleasant decisions. The question is does the Congress have any leader or leaders who can call a spade a spade? Will anyone get up and take the responsibility of belling the cat? Do they have the courage to be candid and forthright in the larger interests of the party? Last but not the least, do they have the self belief to emerge as a potent alternative at the national level once again in the interest of the nation? The increasing decibel level of some leaders calling for Priyanka Gandhi to play a larger role in the party does give the impression that the Congress party is not ready to give up its sycophantic ways. Still Congress must take heart from the fact that politics and unpredictability are strange bed fellows. Who knows they may still bounce back but for next few years it will indeed be hard to be a Congressman in this country.
Author: Saroj Chadha
[Saroj Chadha is an engineering professional who served in the Indian Army for over 23 years till 1991. Since then he has worked in the Indian corporate sector and specializes in Marketing & Project Management. He worked with a leading electrical switchgear company and as a Consultant with a US MNC as their representative in India to facilitate their entry in Indian market. He has worked as a Marketing and Project management consultant with various electrical companies in India subsequently. Today he successfully runs a joint venture company in partnership with the French principals. Apart from his professional work, he has a deep interest in current affairs and other subjects of national interest. He occasionally writes as a free lance writer on some of these subjects. ]