Little to choose

President in India is only a constitutional head. He or she draws authority from the elected Parliament and state Assemblies. Yet the office became a point of contest because both the Congress and the BJP, the two main political parties, wanted to test the waters before the 2014 general elections.

The Congress has proved that its support, including that of allies, is intact. Its candidate Pranab Mukherjee, former finance minister, has become India’s 13th President. The BJP showed, however, chinks in its armour and balloted only half of the polled votes. P A Sangma, a northeast tribal leader, was its candidate.

Yet the results of presidential election should not be the basis of assessment for next parliamentary polls because elections to the Lok Sabha are 22 months away. True, the Congress has lost a lot of ground since the 2009 elections in which it secured 207 seats and formed the government. The party’s image has been tarnished by several corrupt deals which have come to light in the last couple of years. The Congress has also been hit by the adverse fallout of sliding economy and the rising living cost.

If the Congress could improve economy and bring down prices, it might be in the reckoning. Public memory is short and therefore the voters can be influenced by the atmosphere obtaining at that time. It might be indeed difficult for the party to repair numerous dents on its machinery. Were the Manmohan Singh government to give a sense of direction and shed indolence which has crept in governance, the Congress would count. The party’s advantage is that its rival, the BJP, has not benefited from the Congress loss.

BJP leader L K Advani has been frank enough to admit that his party too has not endeared itself with the people. The problem with the BJP has been that it has reacted to the situation created but failed to take the bull by its horns. The party has looked more negative than positive. It has been willing to strike but afraid to wound, probably realising that it is no position to replace the government.

People reeling under the rigorous conditions have wanted relief, not mere statements analysing how the nation went wrong without the party offering any concrete proposal for improvement. The argument that the BJP is not in the government to make the difference is only a lame excuse which does not impress the electorate.

And all the time the party lives in the shadow of the RSS which speaks too often to emphasise that the power lies with it. By appointing a bumbling Nitin Gadkari as party chief and then persisting with him for the second term may have satisfied the ego of Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, but it has not gone down well, either with the BJP followers or the party’s well wishers. They have, in fact, taken to heart the humiliation heaped on Advani who has built the BJP from the scratch.

Parties of yesterday

Since both the Congress and the BJP look like the parties of yesterday, engrossed in their petty quarrels and pettier politics, they may not improve upon their present strength in the Lok Sabha. The BJP may, however, do slightly better. But even this may not happen if there is any truth in the news that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who is always on his ego trip, is the BJP candidate for the post of prime minister in 2014 elections. It is not because of the Muslims’ opposition to him, but because India cannot hold its head high in the comity of nations if its prime minister is a person whose hands are soaked with blood. Modi did not have even an iota of sensitivity to say sorry or apologise for his complicity in the killing of Muslims.

With Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, no political party will touch the BJP. With this being the case, the party may well be all by itself in the next Parliament which looks like a hung house. Even the present complexion of the BJP-led front, the National Democratic Alliance, may collapse. Let the BJP be not under any illusion. Modi’s candidature is like blowing the bugle of Hindutva which a secular India cannot accept.

When it comes to the Congress, its leading allies are with it because of the government’s handouts. It is not a secret that both Mualayam Singh’s UP and Nitish Kumar’s Bihar have come around after huge financial packages that the Manmohan Singh government has promised. Worse is the use of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to threaten some chief ministers who were not toeing the line on the presidential election. One specific example is that of Nagaland’s chief minister.

Even the age-old ally of the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by central minister Sharad Pawar, has been found asking a price. He does not want inquiry into the NCP-held portfolios of irrigation in Maharashtra. The Congress has unabashedly done everything to placate Pawar. It is no surprise to see that the Manmohan Singh government is cajoling other allies to keep the coalition going.

Acts of omission and commission by both Congress and the BJP have made the regional parties larger than their size. They too are increasingly conscious of their importance.

The 2014 elections may be fought regionally. Both the Congress and the BJP will have to look for regional leaders in their ranks. Regrettably, the country is short of leaders. This is its tragedy.

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