Saturday, July 9, 2011

A political revolution brewing in UP.....politics of “unity” rather than politics of “divide and rule” taking center stage.

The cynics may dismiss Rahul Gandhi’s focus on UP as being opportunistic. The Congress badly needs to win a big state if it has to strengthen its position in the center and what better state to capture than UP. It also needs to balance the effects of almost certainly losing AP in the next elections. Again, UP can provide – and more than make good – the requisite protection against an AP debacle. UP can make or break a party’s chances at the center. No wonder, all eyes are glued on Rahul Gandhi’s tours of this most important state in India’s politics.

Almost all PMs have come after fighting their elections in UP. Starting from Nehru to Lal Bahadur Shastri to Charan Singh to Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi to VP Singh to Chandra Shekhar to simply cannot over-emphasize the importance of UP. With 82 seats in Parliament, UP carries with it the power to shape the country’s governance and politics. With its massive population, and proximity to Delhi, its voice is heard loud and clear. With parts of the state (Noida, Ghaziabad) just a stone’s throw from Parliament – and considered part of the larger NCR – there is no way that UP can be ignored. Winning UP is the formula for winning the country. Winning UP is the formula for overcoming the problems of coalition politics....

The problem is that over the last twenty years, anyone who could have has abused UP in extreme ways. Just look at the role that the major political parties have played in UP. Every single political party has done what the British did best – divide and rule. The Samajwadi Party divided the state on the basis of caste (Yadavs) and religion (Muslims). The Bahujan Samaj Party did it on the basis of caste (dalits and now surprisingly, Brahmins) and the BJP did it on the basis of religion (Hinduism). Every single political party took the state back a hundred years every time it came to power. Today, though UP is full of talented and entrepreneurial people, it doesn’t feature in the pantheon of top performers in the state on any count. Its best known for its violence, rapes, murders, poverty, illiteracy, old fashioned muslim extremism, assembly violence, gun-running, university frauds, ultimate corruption etc. Very little stands out in UP that one can showcase to the world – except of course the Taj Mahal – which also the politicians would have destroyed if they had been allowed to.

It’s in this light that I look at Rahul Gandhi’s forays into UP as being extremely signficant. And let’s be clear – he’s creating a massive impact. The proof of that: Media coverage of his yatras into the interiors of UP are incessant. Some of the coverage may be cynical.....but the fact is that media has sensed the importance of covering these visits. Whether he sleeps at an Adivasi home or eats food with them, Rahul makes his presence amply felt. Let’s give it to him – he is young and charismatic. And he is an astute politician to the core. I think the Congress has been dominated by too many economists and lawyers and intellectuals and hardly has any mass leaders left in its party. Clearly, Rahul is filling that space in the party.

What should the Congress do to steal the thunder from the divide-and-rule parties? It’s really very simple. The Congress stands for economic growth. During its last 20 years, India has seen the most economic growth happen in the country. In this period of time, per capita GDP has risen from some $350 to some $1500. And it’s not as if the poor have been left out. As Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar pointed out in one of his articles recently, actual farm wages have doubled in many states across the country. Even in the poor states, the wage hikes have been more than 60%. Even assuming that half of this is taken away by inflation (actually inflation for the poor is less – because of various government subsidies).....there is still a lot of real economic prosperity. Whether it is the NREGA, or the now proposed Right to Food Security Act, the Congress has stood for economic growth......and to some extent......inclusive growth. The word “aam aadmi” irks the opposition a lot.....which itself is an indication that it has some currency in the minds of the people.

Apart from stepping on the economic growth front, the Congress must act as the uniting force in this fragmented state. It’s positioning should be one that smothers divisions of caste and religion. Its appeal should be crafted in such a way that all sections of the state look up to it. That’s why Rahul’s focus on farmers is so relevant. Farmers come from all sections of society – from all religions and from all castes. The issues that farmers face are common. Land grab, minimum support prices, usurious interest rates, subsidies, poverty – are common amongst all farmers. By farmers here, I am obviously referring to small and marginal farmers. The big farmers have already ruled the politics so far. By appealing to the small farmers, and not targeting religion or caste, Rahul Gandhi can unite the state.

If the Congress can win the UP, it will do the country a lot of good. I am a big supporter of only national parties being allowed to rule the central government. I think the BJP should rule Bihar – the other massive state from a political standpoint. They have done a good job there and they have a right to represent that state in Parliament. But the likes of SP and BSP have to be contained within their own state boundaries at best. They represent divisive and parochial politics. They couldn’t care if their demands hurt the fortunes of other states. Their objectives are clear – secure and preserve their positions even if the country suffers in the process. A Congress win in UP and a BJP win in Bihar will give the country stable politics. The two parties are ideologically different (representing plurality of views) and present in several parts of the country (hence are unlikely to act parochially). From this limited perspective, even the Left has a role to play at the national level. But beyond these three, no one else should be allowed to rule Delhi. The regional parties may of course, choose to join any of these three national groupings.....but they shouldn’t be allowed to rule by themselves.....or act as king makers at the national level.

The real truth is that it is Rahul Gandhi who is making the news in UP. Of course, Mayawati is....but for all the wrong reasons. And when is the last time we heard from Mulayam Singh Yadav? Or for that matter, what news did Uma Bharati make after she took over the BJP’s reins in UP? Almost none. In fact, I have a feeling that Uma Bharati will take BJP down in UP. The times for divisive politics is least in UP. The time for inclusive and uniting politics is here.....let’s see who understands this and grabs the opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment