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HVK Archives: Triumph of democracy

Triumph of democracy - The Daily

M V Kamath ()
March 17, 1998

Title: Triumph of democracy
Author: M V Kamath
Publication: The Daily
Date: March 17, 1998

The election which nobody wanted are over. Nobody but
nobody wants another election for a long time. Tiredness as
set in and it is a sage bet that the government now in
power can hope to have a longer tenure than the United
Front government that has now passed into history.
Meanwhile, it is salutary to have a quick look at recent
events. One outstanding feature of the elections is that
they have shown that the Bharatiya Janata Party has now
graduated into a truly national party with a presence in
practically every state. At one time it was dismissed as of
no consequence in the states south of the Vindhyas.
Now it has opened accounts in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and
has a much larger presence in Karnataka. No one imagined that
the TMCDMK combination in Tamil Nadu would get such a
thrashing. All exit polls predicted that this combination
would sweep the polls. That has been belied. Next time
around it is doubtful whether exit polls will be heeded.
There is general agreement that the socalled incumbency
factor has gone against the party in power. This has been
especially true in Tamil Nadu where the DMK has received a
drubbing, in Maharashtra where the SS-BJP candidates have
been badly mauled, in Rajasthan where even a senior BJP
leader like Jaswant Singh fell to popular displeasure and
in Gujarat where Vaghela's supporters could not make much
headway.
Even in West Bengal where the Left forces have held sway for
over two decades, the BJP found that is could leave its
visiting card. True, it had the support of Mamata Banerjee
but the fact remains that a dent had been made in a Communist
stronghold. The myth of Leftist invincibility has been
demonstratably broken. The only success that the Congress
could show has been in Maharashtra. This has been
attributed, surprisingly enough, not to Sonia Gandhi, but to
the seat-sharing deals that Sharad Pawar made with the
Samajwadi Party and the Republican Party of India. In past
elections Dalit leaders had contested elections on their own
and invariably came out cropper. This time around the
Scheduled Caste vote went to Congress.
The Muslims, too, came to the congress rescue. The
Samajwadi Party is a misnomer. It is the party of
Muslims and the understanding between the Congress and the
SP was that they would not fight each other. There was no
magic involved here but just hard-headed bargaining. In
constituency after constituency, the Muslim-Dalit vote gave
the Congress the boost it so greatly needed. This did not
work that way either in Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh where
the BJP did very well indeed. The Congress was practically
wiped out in Uttar Pradesh where the battle-line was clearly
drawn between the SP and the BJP. The Bahujan Samaj Party
which decided to fight on its own also got its come-uppance.
What lessons can we draw from these events? Can we write off
the Congress? No, not yet. The received wisdom is that the
Congress was in a state of dissolution and was only saved by
the timely intervention of Sonia Gandhi. That may be a bit
of exaggeration of her role. Her intervention did not help
the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. If anything the Congress
performance was worse than in 1996. Tamil Nadu gave her the
cold shoulder. So, in a sense did Karnataka. congress success
in Maharashtra can be attributed more to political alliances
than to Sonia Gandhi's charisma. So where does that leave the
Congress?
Cynics believe that congress is terminally ill and nothing
that
Sonia can do will revive it. That, however, is arguable. It
has won a respectable number of seats but not because it
had a magnetic leader to lead it. Sharad Pawar may be a
master of manipulative politics but is hardly the kind to
enthuse large number of followers. To whom, then, does
the future belong? Certainly not to regional parties or the
Leftists who, too, are on the decline. Jyoti Basu may have
kept the CPM together in West Bengal but the attraction of
Communism as a force to mould social justice is slowly
fading away. And once the ageing Jyoti Basu leaves the
scene, it is anybody's guess how the CPM will then fare.
Now there are only two parties left that may be called
national: the Congress and the BJP and there is every
reason to believe that the future belongs to the latter.
And this for several reasons. In the first place the BJP is
cadre-based and is structurally sound. In the second place,
it is in the process of shedding some of its negative
feature and is learning to be accommodative. In the third
place, no matter what abuse that that the Leftists and
others may hurl at it, it represents in a much more profound
sense than anyone is willing to concede, the ethos of the
land, like the Leftists one may sneer at the BJP, but the
latter represents values which the leftists neither
understand nor can appreciate. That is their misfortune.
Regional parties have their relevance in a particular time
frame and cannot possibly last. The Tamil Manila Congress
came into being under a particular set of circumstances as
did Ramakrishna Hegde's Lok Shakti. It is inconceivable that
they will last with the passing away of Moopanar and Hegde.
Even the BSP and SP are one-man shows as are Laloo Prasad
Yadav's RJD or Vaghela's RJP. In the end they can only
vanish from the scene. But the BJP will last because it has
to last, if for no other reason than that India needs a two-
party system.
The received wisdom is that India futurely will be governed
by a coalition of parties there being two coalitions each
vying with the other for power. The presumption is that
even if there are many parties of a provincial nature,
meeting specific provincial needs, they will inevitably
have to coalesce to govern at the Centre. That is a
possibility that cannot be arbitrarily wished away.
Regional parties, breakaway parties as also new parties
will ever be present, but in the end they will have to
rally round strong national parties such as the Congress and
the BJP.
As the years pass one can expect them to shed some of
their angularities and begin to look more like clones with
very little really distinguish one from the other. This is a
sign of maturity and that is the fate of all parties in a
democracy. That has been the fate of the Republican
and Democratic parties in the US, the Labour and Conservative
parties in a United Kingdom and the Christian Democratic
Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Germany. As
it is, in India one can observe the gradual evolution of
the twoparty system. That indeed is going to be the
political shape of things to come whatever be current
predilections.

Meanwhile, one can only wait and watch as the process
of government formation proceeds on its painful way.
The most heartening part of it all is the triumph of
democracy in the country. What counts in the end is the
nation, not the fate of a party.

(The author is a former editor of The Illustrated Weekly
of India)


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