Despite the media hype and ‘excitement’ generated by Manmohan Singh’s uncharacteristic assertions on L.K. Advani’s remarks on the former’s prime ministerial tenure, it is clear that the main issues preoccupying the minds of voters are those concerned with their livelihood. The impact of the global recession continues to intensify with large-scale job losses, all the more alarming in the unorganised sector. Compounding misery is the relentless rise in the prices of essential commodities. Official declaration of a six-year low inflation rate notwithstanding, the prices of cereals are up by 11 per cent, pulses (13 per cent), sugar (23 per cent) and those of vegetables, spices, milk and fruits are close to double digits, compared to last year.
The only way to provide relief to the people, and to ensure that India itself does not slide into a recession, is by massively increasing public investments that will generate jobs, increasing purchasing power and enlarging domestic demand. The measures announced by the UPA government are woefully inadequate to address the gravity of the crisis. The Left’s assertions on this score have now been confirmed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), G-20 meeting this February, which showed that the stimulus offered by the Indian government would contribute a mere 0.5 per cent growth in GDP. Worse is that it would result in a contraction of the GDP next year unless there is a quantum leap in public spending. There is an urgent need for a new government, following these elections, to reverse this trend.
A non-Congress, non-BJP political alternative that can affect such a change is the need of the hour. A careful examination of the results in the last round of Assembly elections shows that such parties polled a significant percentage of votes. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP formed the government with 37.8 per cent votes, the others polled 21.6 per cent. In Rajasthan, the Congress formed the government with 36.8 per cent, the others polled 29 per cent. In Delhi, the Congress formed the government with 40.5 per cent, the others polled 23 per cent. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP formed the government with 40.6 per cent, the others polled 20.6 per cent. In Mizoram as well, the share of the others is 30.1 per cent while the Congress formed the government with 38.9 per cent votes.
The political message is, thus, clear. The people see very little difference between the policies pursued by the BJP and the Congress in redressing the issues of their livelihood. Thus, a political alternative based on sound alternative policies can muster people’s confidence at the hustings.
The efforts for forging such an alternative have set in motion a churning process. The rumblings in both the UPA and the NDA — superficially ascribed to political opportunism — are mainly due to the popular pressure being mounted by the mass support of many regional parties on their leadership for a shift in policy direction that will provide relief. This can explain why many longstanding allies of both the BJP and the Congress have chosen to part ways.
It is often argued that the efforts towards such a political alternative would divide the secular votes, helping the communal forces. On the contrary, it is precisely because of the successes of forging such an alternative that many erstwhile allies of the BJP have deserted the NDA. Further, the allegation that the Left has helped the communal forces in the past by forging such alternatives is negated by facts. The United Front (UF) in 1996 had unseated the Vajpayee government in a mere 13 days. Had the Congress not withdrawn its support, the BJP would never have been able to retrieve lost ground as the UF government would have continued till 2001. The boot, indeed, is on the other foot.
The experience of the last two decades of coalition governments shows that all have been forged post elections. The UF was formed after the 1996 elections. The NDA was formed post 1998 elections. The UPA was formed following the 2004 elections. So shall it be, post 2009 elections.
In the 2004 elections, both the Congress and the BJP lost exactly 1.6 per cent of vote share, the former being 26.7 per cent and the latter 22.2 per cent. Yet, the BJP’s tally of seats dropped to 138 in 2004 from 182 in 1999, while Congress’s increased from 114 to 145. The secret behind such a disproportion lies in the logic of alliances.
In 1999, the BJP’s allies in the NDA brought 118 seats while they brought in only 51 seats in 2004. On the contrary, Congress allies in the UPA brought 74 seats apart from the outside support of 61 Left MPs. Thus, it is perfectly possible, this time around, for a non-Congress, anti-communal combine to garner enough support for an alternative.
The need is for an alternative policy trajectory that contains and weakens the communal forces; that follows economic policies where people come before profits; and one that protects and strengthens our economic and political sovereignty by pursuing an independent foreign policy defining a place of pride for India in the world.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP.