Elections done in India, the surprise has worn off; but please, please let me list two of the joys they gave us, savor them a little longer.
First, a gang of self-righteous empty drums is out on its collective ear. Yes, I do mean the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its political friends: Vajpayee, Advani, Joshis M. and M.M., Fernandes, Swaraj, Mahajan, Jaitley, Shourie, on and on. Now as far as I’m concerned, all of them had plenty of faults. But most laughable of all, if laughable is the word I want, was their constant attempt to fit halos on their heads, no matter how many times they (the halos) fell off. Thus, the phrases they used to describe themselves, almost frantic in their longing to be believed: nationalists, patriots, party with a difference, selfless, riots never happen under BJP rule, disciplined and cadre-based (whatever that means), clean.
Yet the halos slipped with each word like these: Tehelka, Gujarat, Judeo, coffins, Kargil, saris, Bangaru, Srikrishna. Plenty of us knew the halos were undeserved anyway, but the frenzied attempts to wear them continued.
I’m thinking: thank you, voters, for sparing us another several years of this hypocrisy.
Second, the rhetoric from benumbed supporters of this halo-obsessed dispensation. One, who appears elsewhere in these very pages, found nearly poetic expression for his election dismay:
“All of us … need to keep fighting the good fight. We who care about that great nation, we who understand the greatness of that civilization, we whose hearts are as one, like red earth and pouring rain, with the very soil of that Holy Land.”
The arrogance is breathtaking, the blindness hilarious. (The poetry? Maybe we should consult that other poet, Vajpayee.) For those who are willing to see it one lesson of these elections was how uncaring of this great nation the BJP and its supporters are. Not how their “hearts are as one” with its soil, but instead, how utterly out of tune with it they are. Take just the numbers: The BJP got just under 86 million votes, about 22 percent of those who voted. (Congress figures: 103 million and 27 percent respectively. Source for these statistics: Election Commission of India (http://eci.gov.in/ElectionAnalysis/PerformanceofNationalPartiesVis-a-VisOthers.pdf)
I’m thinking, thank you, you unwitting comics, for giving us such hilarity.
But let me admit, the savoring only lasts so long. Because while I’m thrilled the BJP got biffed on its smug nose, the Congress coming to power is hardly reason to celebrate. After all, the Congress saddled us with many of the ills that made us turn to the BJP in the first place: from poverty to the Emergency, from corruption to the massacre of turbaned Indians in 1984. Which is why an activist friend, a tireless campaigner against the BJP’s politics for years, wrote to several of us the day after the results were declared: Today we celebrate! Tomorrow we resume the struggle!
Wise move, because sure enough, the new government has installed as ministers men charged with serious crimes, from rioting to robbery to murder. Question: Given this, should the country have stuck with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime? No, because there’s an adage every voter must keep in mind: the prospect of a crummy alternative is no reason to persist with a crummy government. Non-performing governments, like Vajpayee’s, deserve to be thrown out and good riddance. If Manmohan Singh’s government proves it is as unwilling to perform, it too will be thrown out, and it will be good riddance again.
Yet, that brings up one major reason many of us see hope in the new Indian government. Not because the BJP is gone, not because the Congress is in power, and despite minister-ships conferred on Tytlers and Taslimuddins.
That reason is Manmohan Singh.
After far too long, we have a man of unquestioned integrity and intellect as prime minister. Certainly, he is subject to the compulsions of politics, especially coalition politics. But from all that we know about the man, he is keenly aware how much Indians are crying out for accountability and governance, aware of the realities of India. To a degree I think no previous politician has been, he empathizes with our frustrations and aspirations. After all, that’s just why he started us on reforms in the early 1990s.
This is the hope, and this is our opportunity.
If we can find ways to keep Singh’s government on its toes, alert to and willing to respond to our concerns, the criminals who are ministers will cease to matter. Because good governance comes not from wishful thinking or merely moaning about criminals in power—tactics that have, arguably, only put and kept them in power anyway. It comes from regular and wide-eyed vigilance. This is the challenge before India and Indians as Manmohan Singh takes charge—almost because it is him, and not a usual politician, taking charge.
One more point. The striking thing about this election was the masterful campaign that Sonia Gandhi ran for the Congress. She knew just what issues to hit on, and she did so relentlessly, traveling and campaigning hard.
The bitter truth for the BJP is that she beat their good old boys at their own political game. And she reserved her trump card for the very end. By refusing to become prime minister, she yanked the rug cleanly out from under the Pramods and Sushmas, showing them up as the hollow gasbags they are. By asking Manmohan Singh to become prime minister, she gave India hope again; hope in integrity, that quality too few of our leaders have had much time for.
Now I see no sainthood in Gandhi; I’m too cynical to treat that word with any seriousness, and she has several strikes against her anyway. But in this election, she proved she is a skillful, wily politician. Which is, actually, one more reason to hope. I can’t predict if Singh’s government will last its term. But with his integrity and Sonia Gandhi’s political savvy, I believe the country is in safer hands than it has been for years.
I’ll take that.
A computer scientist by training, Dilip D’Souza now writes for his supper in Bombay. His main interests are social and political issues in India.