Hazy Po­lit­i­cal Scene

As In­dia pre­pares for state elec­tions, the anti-cor­rup­tion move­ment is bound to be re­placed with iden­tity and caste as vote swingers.

Southasia - - Front page - By Rahul K. Bhon­sle

We are en­ter­ing an era where the po­lit­i­cal class is tak­ing a world­wide beat­ing. Some are wit­ness­ing the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment while oth­ers have seen the elec­tion of a non-po­lit­i­cal civil rights leader as the Mayor of Seoul in South Korea. In In­dia, the emer­gence of Anna Hazare as a sym­bol of In­dian civil so­ci­ety chal­leng­ing cen­turies of Congress Party legacy is an­other mir­a­cle to be­hold.

The po­lit­i­cal sce­nario thus ap­pears hazy but this is not odd in democra- cies. While free­dom of choice pro­vided to con­stituents de­notes lib­erty to the peo­ple to choose their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, more than of­ten this is de­ter­mined in­stead by in­ter­est groups, feu­dal oli­garchies, eth­nic­ity, caste and iden­tity. In­dia is no ex­cep­tion but in­ter­est­ingly it is now en­ter­ing a phase where all such el­e­ments seem to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously jostling for space within the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, whether at the “pan­chayat,” mu­nic­i­pal, state or national level. A process of in­ter­nal shake-up is there­fore in­evitable.

This is all the more ev­i­dent in the back­drop of the forth­com­ing elec­tions in Ut­tar Pradesh: the largest and po­lit­i­cally the most in­flu­en­tial state in the coun­try. To this mix, Gu­jarat, Ut­tarak­hand, Pun­jab, Goa and Ma­nipur also of­fer their own unique elec­toral chal­lenges. While cor­rup­tion in the wake of the Com­mon­wealth Games fi­asco in 2010 was ef­fec­tively high­lighted by civil so­ci­ety groups such as In­dia Against Cor­rup­tion (IAC), also known as Team Anna led by Anna Hazare, a po­lit­i­cal counter-of­fen­sive launched by the rul­ing Congress party is cur­rently try­ing to dif­fuse the im­pact of the cam­paign.

The move­ment also lacked the vigor of a pub­lic cam­paign and came to be seen as one con­ducted by a mot­ley group of in­di­vid­u­als with di­verse views. The aura of moral­ity that the mem­bers as­sumed by tar­nish­ing po­lit­i­cal lead­ers has now given way to ques­tion­ing of their po­lit­i­cal mo­tives as well as their per­sonal in­tegrity. Ex­po­sure of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and di­verse po­lit­i­cal views of lead­ing lights of this group such as former po­lice of­fi­cer Ki­ran Bedi, Arvind Ke­jri­wal and lawyer Prashant Bhushan has led Anna Hazare to re­view his core group. Branded as a front of the Rashtriya Swyam­se­wak Sangh (RSS), Hazare has put him­self in a cor­ner from

where he may not be able to re­trieve him­self eas­ily.

This is a sad de­vel­op­ment from the per­spec­tive of the cam­paign as pro­bity in gov­er­nance and pub­lic life may be put on the back burner and tra­di­tional is­sues such as iden­tity and caste may once again be­come key levers for votes and power in the com­ing State elec­tions. Of these, the Ut­tar Pradesh state hus­tings are likely to be the most com­bat­ive. With 80 seats in the Lok Sabha or Lower House, UP has al­ways been the de­ci­sion-maker in Delhi. Even to­day, two main blocks of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans can swing the fate of the Man­mo­han Singh govern­ment: the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party that is in power and its op­po­nent, the Sa­ma­jwadi Party. Both, de­spite be­ing out­side the govern­ment, have been us­ing their bar­gain­ing power to the fullest.

The Congress, which has an old af­fil­i­a­tion with UP be­ing a Gandhi fam­ily bor­ough with both So­nia and Rahul’s con­stituen­cies, un­for­tu­nately has not been do­ing well in the state for some years now. Last it was in power in UP was for a short pe­riod in 1998. Thus win­ning back the state is as much a ques­tion of honor for the party as a po­lit­i­cal ne­ces­sity. On the other hand, the main op­po­si­tion party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, also drew its sup­port from UP and is seek­ing a come­back.

These par­ties face a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent in Mayawati, a Dalit who comes from the grass­roots and is seen as a tri­umph of the In­dian po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that has tran­scended cen­turies old bar­ri­ers of so­cial strata. Re­ly­ing on the state and mo­ti­vated with strong am­bi­tions of be­com­ing the Prime Min­is­ter, Mayawati will be a force to reckon with. Which way the chips fall re­mains to be seen but the cam­paign­ing is likely to be gru­el­ing and caste and iden­tity may gain over anti-cor­rup­tion and de­vel­op­ment.

The other states may not be elec- torally as im­por­tant as UP purely be­cause they do not have the numbers in par­lia­ment, but with anti-in­cum­bency likely to play a ma­jor role, the Congress is hope­ful of top­pling the op­po­si­tion-led govern­ment in at least two of the three states, Pun­jab and Ut­tarak­hand. Gu­jarat with the present Chief Min­is­ter from the BJP be­ing strongly en­trenched may, how­ever, be an­other story.

Ma­nipur in the North East is a trav­esty of In­dian gov­er­nance where the state re­mained blocked for over 100 days as roads were un­der siege by ri­val eth­nic groups, Na­gas and Kukis. Here the ma­jor­ity Meitei com­mu­nity will de­cide who oc­cu­pies the hot seat of thorns with mil­i­tancy and law and or­der be­ing the main con­cerns.

While some say that the state elec­tions will be a pre­cur­sor to the gen­eral elec­tions in 2014, per­haps more im­por­tantly these will also be a man­date of the peo­ple for the rel­a­tively (in po­lit­i­cal terms) young scion of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi. A win for the Congress in UP will pitch­fork Rahul on the national hot seat in 2014. Hav­ing mis­er­ably failed in the Bi­har elec­tions last Novem­ber at the hands of Ni­tish Ku­mar, an im­pec­ca­bly hon­est and ded­i­cated leader of the Janata Dal (United), Rahul will have to pull out all stops in the trial by fire in UP. But will he be able to work the mir­a­cle against Mayawati who has as­sid­u­ously nur­tured her state through a mix of iden­tity pol­i­tics and gov­er­nance? That re­mains to be seen.

Hope­fully, in this clamor, the move­ment against cor­rup­tion started by Hazare may not be buried for that is nec­es­sary to take In­dia to the next stage of the de­vel­op­ment curve, po­lit­i­cally as well as eco­nom­i­cally. The writer is an In­dian mil­i­tary vet­eran and is Di­rec­tor, Sasia Se­cu­rity-risks.com Pvt Ltd - a re­search agency fo­cused on se­cu­rity and risk man­age­ment in South Asia.

A new con­tender.

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