The electoral verdicts in last few general elections and state elections have made it amply clear that Indians opt for stability over chaos. The fractured mandate of the 1990s is a thing of the past. India suffered much during those unstable regime changes and frequent elections. The only non-Congress party that could provide stability was the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Now, we seem to be firmly in an era of a two party/alliance system. The Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA are the two choices a voter must choose from unless they want a replay of the terrible experimentation with the Third Front with precarious numbers in Parliament. Before every general election, like clockwork, regional satraps not allied with either the Congress or the BJP begin speaking about a third Front or a secular front.
Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) is proposing something called a federal front. Whatever you call it, a third front is another name for instability and confusion. The only reason it is important to consider and evaluate the option of a Third Front option before the elections is because there is a strong possibility that the Congress might prop up a raggedy tag bunch to usher in chaos and upheaval.
It is a tough exercise to determine who the worst performer of the Congress-led UPA-II government. Each minister has done his best to touch rock bottom. Finance Minister P Chidambaram oversaw the tanking of the economy, and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid famously called the Chinese incursions mere ‘acne’ on the face of India. I have no doubt that when the history of Independent India is written, the 10 years of UPA rule will be called a dark decade, a decade of lost hopes and squandered promises. Without a doubt, the star under-performer of this dark decade is Defence Minister AK Antony. His incompetence in office has cost India dearly, and defence preparedness has hit rock bottom. While everyone knows of the landmine of the ailing economy set up by the Congress for the next government to step into as soon as it assumes office, defence preparedness is at best an unknown which many suspect might be a bigger and more dangerous ticking bomb.
One would think the much touted ‘cleanest minister’ of the UPA government would be shattered by the series of unexpected and avoidable accidents that have plagued the armed forces recently. However, hours after the tragic crash of the C-130 J Hercules aircraft (the latest in a series of inexplicable accidents) in Gwalior where five air force officers were killed, Antony surfaced not to talk about the crash, but about a ‘new secular front’ to keep the BJP out of power. He was quoted by newspapers as saying, “After the elections, several parties which are not ready to join hands with the Congress will have to rethink to avoid the danger of bringing the BJP to power.” Right after the crash, the defence minister only had politics on his mind and instead of defence strategy, and could only strategise on keeping the BJP out of power.
It is important to look at what Antony said and why voters must analyse this seriously.
The Congress is certain they will not win this election, or even end up as a single largest party. All indicators suggest that the Congress is fast hurtling down to its lowest number ever in the Lok Sabha. The Congress is resigned to this reality, which is why their election campaign is insipid, lacklustre and sans enthusiasm. A tired campaign strategy led by a reluctant non-achiever will not score very high in the electoral battle.
After a decade in power, the Congress has made peace with the fact that they will not be voted into office again, but they are certainly going to fight to ensure a split verdict. A Split verdict will result in chaos, and the Congress will benefit the most from this chaos. That is why Antony’s statement is a good indicator of the Congress’ electoral strategy. The Congress is fighting the 2014 elections not to win but to ensure that on May 16, the nation sees a fractured mandate.
The Congress realises that a Narendra Modi-led BJP government, once voted in, will be here to stay. Only Modi can deliver stability and good governance in the current scenario. Armed with years of administrative experience, he will certainly hit the ground running. He is not known to rest on his laurels, nor is he known to become complacent in the face of victory.
Standing on the twin pillars of development and good governance, under Modi’s leadership, India has a good chance of recovering from the terrible Congress rule of the last decade. Anti-incumbency has rarely been a factor in any of the BJP-led state governments, and that is why most BJP chief ministers are voted twice, and even thrice, into office.
So, it may not be easy to dislodge the Modi government and the Congress will fast disappear into oblivion once the fruits of effective governance reach people. To save the party from vanishing from the political field and the minds of the people, Sonia Gandhi must ensure a weak coalition government of regional satraps who will be plagued by lack of leadership and vulnerability due to precarious numbers in the Lok Sabha. This arrangement will suit the Congress to catapult itself into the centre stage within a year or so.
The Congress would like a repeat of disastrous Janta Party experiment of 1977, which came to power riding on anti-emergency wave but could not deliver on governance. The Congress would also not mind a repeat of the VP Singh government of 1989, which came into power with a single agenda of a corruption-free government and soon realised governing a country takes a lot more than empty rhetoric and false diagnosis of issues. If this reminds you of a certain Arvind Kejriwal, don’t be surprised because history does have an uncanny ability to repeat itself.
If opinion polls are even remotely accurate, this is the first time the Congress will lose to a candidate who has decidedly better resume than their prime ministerial candidate. This did not happen in 1977 or 1989. The Congress has lost before as well because of its own gargantuan errors. The Emergency and the Bofors scam brought down Congress governments, and the parties that came into power enjoyed the fruits of negative voting. People voted against the Congress, not necessarily for better alternatives.
This is the first time the Congress will lose not only because of negative voting, but also because of an immensely positive vote for Narendra Modi. Going by the mood of the nation, first time voters are tilting towards Modi because of tangible promises like 24/7 electricity, better infrastructure, jobs, security and a better future. This positive vote for Modi is what makes the Congress very nervous.
Another reason for the Congress’ nervousness is that there is a small but significant movement towards voting for issues and not for famous last names. This is the first time phrase like “minimum government maximum governance” has been heard. Development is the buzz word. Empowerment not doles, jobs not quota are some of the big ideas being communicated to people. All this goes against the DNA of the Congress.
The Congress has traditionally benefited from keeping people poor and then passing out handouts in lieu of votes. To maintain relevance, it will have no choice but to prop up two-bit leaders and actively support the formation of an anti-BJP front in the name of secularism. The Congress has done this before and will surely do it again. A fractured mandate will give the Congress room for manipulations and backroom deals. A fractured verdict will suit the Congress but will spell disaster for India. A fractured verdict will mean a fractured and broken India.
History is not just set of dates to memorise; history is sequence of events one must learn from. The Janata Party nightmare and VP Singh’s tenure is a grim reminder that a fractured verdict has put India back several decades. After UPA-II’s misrule, split verdict will bring untold misery and dash the hopes of Indians who dream of a secure future. AK Antony may have no strategy to reboot our defence preparedness, but he has certainly made us aware of the cynical Congress strategy to keep the BJP out. It is time the people of India vote out cynicism and vote for hope and stability with decisive mandate.
Sunanda Vashisht is argumentative and a news junkie, for whom writing is both a passion and catharsis. She is community editor for “Centre Right India” and can be reached on twitter at @sunandavashisht.