The political churning in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha (LS) elections continues to deepen as was reflected in the outcome of the recent elections to the five assemblies. These results vindicate the assessment that people are crying out for relief from the growing economic burdens.
It is natural that these burdens are viewed as a consequence of the policies being pursued by the Centre and, hence, the Congress was held, correctly so, as being mainly responsible. It, hence, bore the brunt of the people’s anger. This explains why state-level performance or anti-incumbency was of little consequence in determining the people’s electoral choice.
It would, however, be a mistake to conclude that these results represent a wave in favour of the BJP. AB Vajpayee made such a mistake in 2003 following the BJP’s victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The 2004 general elections were advanced and all of us know the result of the much-hyped campaign of ‘India Shining’ and ‘feel good’ factor.
Further, to extrapolate the impact of these results on the Lok Sabha outcome would also be erroneous. First, these four states, including Delhi, represent only 72 Lok Sabha seats, ie, a mere 13%. Second, in the 2004 general elections, the BJP had won 57 of these 72 and, yet, the NDA lost the majority in the Lok Sabha. Further, unlike these states, in a majority of others, regional parties dominate negating the Congress-BJP bipolarity.
That this experience continues to be relevant has been demonstrated by the results in Delhi. The rejection of the Congress did not lead to a BJP victory in the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that mounted a challenge to form the government by contesting in all seats and its leader Arvind Kejriwal challenging and defeating incumbent chief minister Sheila Dikshit. Such an alternative, however inadequate it may have been in terms of an alternative policy direction was preferred. The reason is not far to see. People perceive little difference between the Congress and the BJP as far as economic policies or corruption is concerned.
That there is little difference between the two is confirmed by parliamentary experience. Often, on issues of corruption like the 2G spectrum or the coal block allocation scams, in-depth discussion was disrupted lest skeletons stumble out of the previous Vajpayee-led NDA government’s cupboards as well. This led to credible allegations of ‘match-fixing’.
On the score of neo-liberal economic policies, whether on measures like permitting FDI in pension funds is jeopardising the economic security of crores of employees or undoing bank nationalisation through privatisation and permitting foreign financial institution’s unfettered entry, making India vulnerable to international financial speculation, the Congress and BJP were on the same side.
Given this track record, wherever an electoral alternative was available it received people’s support. Such a support had a strong element of the urge of the middle class to realise an ‘ideal’ democratic secular and corruption-free State. Riding on such a desire and feeding on the popular discontent that was addressed through a sprinkling of promises like 700 litres of free water for every household or halving the electricity charges (with no convincing economic reasoning), the AAP rode to its electoral success.
However, this desire for such an ‘ideal State’ is unrealisable since the ills like corruption and economic burdens are systemic to the policies that are being pursued by the ruling dispensation be it the Congress or the BJP-led coalitions. The realisation of such an ‘ideal State’ can only be possible with alternative policies. The AAP is silent on such crucial areas like economic policies, attitude towards the communal forces (an opinion poll showed that a majority of its supporters preferred the BJP prime ministerial aspirant), or the country’s foreign policy and relations with our neighbours. The absence of this will only buttress the current trend of crony capitalist corruption imposing greater burdens on the people to maximise profits.
An alternative policy trajectory that ensures universal rights and not entitlements (smacking of charity) to food security, free healthcare, universal free education, right to employment or adequate unemployment allowance, and universal schemes for the care of the elderly and differently abled, at least, must form the core of such an alternative. This trajectory is preferable not only in humanitarian terms but makes eminent economic sense as well. By thus empowering the people, their purchasing power will substantially increase generating the much-needed additional aggregate domestic demand which, in turn, will provide the impetus for manufacturing growth and, hence, employment. This would set in motion sustainable and more equitable growth trajectory.
That there are resources to sustain such a strategy is obvious if the humongous corruption scams are prevented and the massive tax concessions to the rich are instead used for public investments to build our much-needed infrastructure generating substantial new employment. What the country needs is a political alternative that can put in place such an alternative policy trajectory.
The Anna Hazare movement for the Lokpal Bill and the consequent emergence of the AAP has often been compared to the Tahrir Square movements. Recollect that in Egypt and Tunisia, religious fundamentalists won free elections following the overthrow of dictatorships. In Egypt, the middle classes’ desire for the ‘ideal State’ revolted against the Muslim Brotherhood’s imposition of religious fundamentalism. This provided the opportunity for the army to move against an elected government and the later developments have effectively negated the democratic gains that came in the wake of the overthrow of the dictatorship.
Thus what we need is not merely an electoral alternative but a policy alternative. India awaits such a Left democratic secular alternative in 2014.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal