Thursday, October 6, 2011

More common than different between BJP and Congress….

Any article I write on politics – especially one that ends up comparing the BJP with the Congress – elicits impassioned responses from the readers. This is not surprising given the deep impact politics makes on its followers. BJP supporters cannot stand Congress worshippers and vice-versa. I have myself been accused of being pro-Congress in my write-ups; something I deny vehemently. Yet, I cannot deny that I am no great fan of the BJP either. A break in breaking political news today (much has been written about Steve Jobs already) allows me to do an analysis of the commonalities and differences between these two national parties.

First the common points. It’s a surprisingly large list really! Let’s look at the core issue of corruption. Both the Congress (2G, CWG….now maybe Goa) and the BJP (Karnataka, Uttarakhand) have enough skeletons in their respective cupboards. The Congress has been forced to sack one Chief Minister (Ashok Chavan) for alleged corruption; the BJP two (Yeddy and Pokhriyal) for the same. If it looks like the Congress is enmeshed in corruption at the center right now, so was the BJP in its days in power at the center (Coffin-gate being only one of them). In the crucial 2G scam, it was the BJP which first changed the policy of telecom license fees from “fixed license fees” to “revenue sharing license fees” – a move that grew the telecom sector dramatically by lowering the prices for consumers. Undoubtedly the government lost in terms of license fees – but the change revolutionized the telecom sector. It did the same thing again by giving away licenses in 2003 at 2001 prices. The same policy was followed by the Congress when they gave away licenses in 2005, 2007 and 2008 at 2001 prices. One can argue about whether giving away licenses in 2008 at 2001 prices is comparable with giving away licenses in 2003 at those same prices – but the indisputable fact is that on neither occasion did either party apply indexation to the 2001 rates; nor did anyone suggest an e-auction ever. The more one looks at the two parties, the less the differences between the two. The amounts of corruption may appear to be lower during the BJP’s rule – but that’s because ten years back, the country’s economic size was much smaller. In today’s times, the scam in Karnataka is supposed to run into many tens of thousands of crores – the highest for any state ever.

Both parties have similar kinds of leaders. For every savvy lawyer in the Congress (Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khursheed), there are enough in the BJP (Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad). For every acerbic spokesperson in the Congress (Manish Tewari), there are enough in the BJP (Prakash Javdekar; Jai Narayan Vyas). For every MP with criminal charges in the Congress (41 in the current Lok Sabha), there are an equal number in the BJP (42). For every MP with a serious criminal charge in the Congress (12), there are more in the BJP (17). For every crorepati in the Congress, there are enough in the BJP. For every septuagenarian in the Congress, there is one in the BJP and for every youthful young icon in the Congress, there is one in the BJP.

Here’s a complete shocker though. The BJP accuses the Congress of having a dual power structure. Sonia Gandhi runs the Congress party as President; while MMS is the PM. But what about the BJP? It’s the exact same structure that they follow. The leaders of opposition in the two houses are Sushma Swaraj (LS) and Arun Jaitley (RS) – both of whom are front-runners for the PM’s post if the BJP comes to power. But the BJP President is a different man, Nitin Gadkari! On dynastic politics, the BJP accuses the Congress of running a battery of dynasties. True indeed. The Gandhis, Pilots, Reddys, Chavans are all Congress dynasties. But the problem of dynasties is not unique to the Congress. In fact, Indian politics has always been driven by dynasties. Whether it is the SP (Akhilesh Yadav; father Mulayam Singh Yadav), RJD (Rabri Devi; husband Laloo), National Conference (Omar Abdullah; father Farokh and grand father Sheikh Abdullah), DMK (Alagiri, Stalin, Kanimozhi; father Karunanidhi), NCP (Supriya Sule; father Sharad Pawar), Shiromani Akali Dal (Sukhbir Singh Badal; father Prakash Singh Badal), Rashtriya Lok Dal (Ajit Singh; father Chaudhary Charan Singh), Janata Dal (S) (HD Kumaraswamy and HD Revanna; father HD Deve Gowda), Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray; father; Bal Thackeray), TDP (Chandrababu Naidu; father-in-law NTR) and the BJD (Naveen Patnaik; father Biju Patnaik), dynastic politics is common across all political parties. Why, the BJP itself has its own dynasties – the Scindias (Vijayraje Scindia; daughters Yashodhara Raje Scindia and Vasundhara Raje Scindia – grand-son Dushyant Singh etc with the other members belonging to the Congress), the Singhs (Pankaj Singh; father Rajnath Singh), the other Singhs (Manvendra Singh; father Jaswant Singh). In fact, Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and his niece Karuna Shukla were also fielded for elections by the party. While it is true that there are no high-profile dynastic leaders in the BJP, its not as if the party has principally opposed the issue.

Even on terrorism, the two parties are similar in reality. For every act of indecisiveness shown by the Congress towards proven terrorists (Kasab; Afzal Guru), there are examples of the BJP’s own weak responses (Kandahar terrorist swap). For every allegation that the BJP makes against the Congress for not hanging those given the death penalty, there is a similar charge that the BJP did nothing during its time at the center. Even when it comes to mass genocides, there is little to choose between the two parties. While the BJP cannot answer for the Godhra riots, the Congress cannot for the anti-Sikh pogrom carried out in Delhi.

It’s amazing really how similar the parties are in so many ways! SO, if there are so many commonalities, what really separates the two parties and makes them such sworn opponents of each other?

I think the core difference between the two is on the plank of secularism v/s Hindutva. Congress supporters call the BJP a party of Hindu zealots; the BJP accusese the Congress of pseudo-secularism. At the core of the BJP’s support base are people who feel that Hindus in India have yielded too much ground to the minorities (Muslims in particular). Their beliefs are fuelled by stories such as the higher population growth rates in Muslims being a strategy to increase their shares. The biggest two defining moments of the BJP were the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Godhra riots. Its biggest political icon at the moment is Narendra Modi – a politician accused by the Congress of being anti-muslim. For the Congress supporters, the fact that there are so many non-Hindus in power is indicative of its secularism. There is of course a charge that the Congress has always pampered the minorities to get their support during the elections. Who is the more divisive of the two – the BJP or the Congress? Take your pick, but clearly…..this is the core difference between the two parties.

There is also a relatively smaller difference between the two on economic policies. Both are pro-US; both are pro-capitalism; both are pro-business. However, the Congress has latched on to the politically successful bandwagon of the “aam aadmi” – giving it a socialistic hue. The aam aadmi is not the urban middle class; he is the rural poor. For the BJP, the core constituency remains the urban middle-class – more specifically the urban trader class. It was a surprise then that the BJP lost so many of the urban seats the last time around……I would expect them to regain them this time around. The Congress on the other hand tends to win in the rural areas most of the times.

If one were to choose between the two parties on grounds of corruption, terrorism, dynastic policies, economic policies, there is very little to choose from.

Apart from these two differences, I really cannot think of anything that separates the two. Apart from these two, there are the Left (totally opposite in economic policies) and the regional parties (focused on regional issues). In many ways, the commonalities of the BJP and the Congress have helped this country follow largely similar economic policies – a fact that has helped reassure the business fraternity of continuity of economic policies.

The real truth is that its Hindutva v/s secularism is the only platform that decides which party you support; which party you vote for. That’s the one single point that separates BJP supporters from Congress supporters…..

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