Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Battle for the Ruins

The Indian general elections are coming. And, during such times, I always remember the most spectacular loss that a political party had to endure, during recent times.

In 1989, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, cobbled together an uneasy coalition of partners, with some inside and some outside of his government, to become India's prime minister. This was the second election, in which, the Congress party had to be outside the corridors of power in New Delhi. Although most people viewed these elections as a spectacular victory for V.P. Singh, and his anti-corruption crusade, a lot, including Desi Babu, also appreciated the fact that it was a spectacular loss for the Congress.

Rajiv Gandhi, had led his party to a massive victory in 1984, while the embers of his mother's funeral pyre were still cooling. This "sympathy wave", that gave his Congress party more than a four fifths majority, was completely absent in 1989, and Mr. Gandhi, and his political party, were routed. During those days, I remember someone saying with a lot of authority, that the days of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, were finally over. Mr. Gandhi's party did come back to power in 1991, again, partially riding a sympathy wave, that was present due to the assassination of another "Nehru-Gandhi". This time, unfortunately for Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, it had to be him.

Many wonder, what would have happened to the Congress, had Mr. Gandhi been alive. Desi Babu believes that Mr. Gandhi would have led it to oblivion, as he simply did not have it in him. In death, perhaps, he helped the Congress party much more than he was capable of ever helping it, in life.

Most people in India today are discussing the upcoming electoral victory of Mr. Narendra Modi. Many, are planning his agenda, or his cabinet for him, and the rest, are speculating about the number of seats that he might win. Just like in 1989, Desi Babu is trying to figure out what will happen to India's oldest political party after the upcoming elections.

Never before in the past, has the Congress party gone through such a "life and death" situation.

After the elections, it will become very clear to the Congress mandarins that Mr. Rahul Gandhi is not really someone who can take them to electoral victories. After all, he has tried hard and failed so many times that 2014 will be a mere affirmation of a fact that they already know. They will also come to the realization that the Indian people, specially the young voters, have outgrown the "dynasty". The "family" does not hold a special place in their hearts, and they would really like to move on.

Another rude shock that will await them at that time, will be that the "left of center" political discourse, with a Gandhian flavor,  will no longer be owned by them. The "Aam Aadmi Party", a recent entrant to India's political space, is both left-of-center, and Gandhian. The Congress, being heavily invested in one political family, will be quite sore, when they find that the current heirs are not very competent at running the family business, and that the competition has a better product, which sells well.  The other leaders of the past, that they could possibly lay claims on, will have been usurped by the opposition. The coins of legacy, would have been exhausted.

When a citadel crumbles, first, there are the ruins. And then, there is a battle for the ruins.

Desi Babu believes that after the massive loss that the Congress will go through, there will be a rebellion in the party. Some will leave for greener pastures, and those who stay, will have to assert themselves as alternatives to the "Nehru-Gandhi" family. And Desi Babu also believes that this process has already started.

Mr. Kapil Sibal and Mr. Chidambaram, the two most recognized faces of the Congress party, will start positioning themselves for the leadership of the party in the coming months. As they realize that the Congress is headed for a big loss, and the family is headed into oblivion, they will become more assertive. It is also possible that they will start clandestine talks with people like Mr. Sharad Pawar, Ms. Mamata Banerjee and Mr. Jagan Reddy -- to bring back the prodigal sons and daughters that left -- since the "family" will not matter any more.

In 2014, the right of center, will probably win. It remains to be seen if the Congress will stay the dominant player in the space to the left of center. And if it does, who, outside the Nehru-Gandhi family will make that possible. 

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