Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Modi hands Congress a UP-like opportunity in Bihar….

JD(U)’s formal split from the NDA has presented the Congress with an interesting UP-like opportunity in Bihar. If it gets to form the UPA-3, it is now a distinct possibility that both Laloo’s RJD and Nitish’s JD(U) will end up backing the Congress at the Center, a situation remarkably similar to how both the SP and the BSP support the UPA-2. It’s amazing that while the recent rhetoric would suggest that anti-Congressism is the over-riding factor at the moment, the reality is that it is anti-BJPism that is the stronger factor.

Nitish is facing the heat as his government has failed to live up to the expectations of his people in his second term. There are still no jobs in Bihar, the corruption is sky high, and even electricity is a problem. I have said this for at least a year now (much before this current crisis with the BJP erupted) that Nitish will have to struggle to retain power for the 3rd time or to win a large number seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014. It’s clear now that Nitish is driven by the need to acknowledge the presence of the 18% Muslims in his state. Suddenly, he realizes that secularism is what is a better and more lasting strategy in India. Suddenly, he finds the BJP communal. It’s a little kinky for Nitish to find Advani – the one who actually led his team to the Babri Masjid demolition – to be secular and Modi – who merely winked an approving eye towards his party’s mass murderers in Godhra  to be communal. Both are the same. But be that as it may, Nitish and the JD(U) have no option but to support the Congress in Parliament now and post 2014.

Laloo’s RJD is on a come-back, as his vast rallies, and the recent bypoll results have shown. It is likely then that Bihar will get cut-up 4-ways like UP traditionally has been with the biggest two (RJD and JD(U)) supporting the 4th party in the state (Congress). Neither see the Congress as a major local threat, and hence have no qualms in supporting it at the Center.

The recent overtures by the Congress also point to a re-allignment of political forces; and a concerted Congress attempt to break the back of the BJP. This is politics, Congress style! The Congress presents a moderate face – with its concomitant “weak”, “soft”, “undecisive” style notwithstanding – and becomes a natural magnet for all and sundry. The UPA may have suffered the loss of two allies – the DMK and TMC – but none of them left because of any ideological political reasons. For the DMK, it was a political statement to make on Raja; for TMC, it was mostly an economic affairs issue. The DMK for sure will return back to the UPA – if not now, then after 2014.

The BJP’s style however – since the end of the Vajpayee days – has been to remain a bit of a bully; an isolationist; and one who focuses on negatives. In many ways, the entire existence of the BJP is thanks to the Congress. Hypothetically, if the Congress didn’t exist, the BJP wouldn’t either. By making it’s politics all about anti-Congressism, the BJP has been forced to take a niche, hardline alternative, something that makes it a smaller option and works to the Congress’s advantage. The BJP succeeded only once at the center – that too, because it managed to bind Hindus into one large voting community, thanks to Ayodhya – and it is unlikely to succeed again. Look at Maharashtra, where the same story has panned out. The BJP-Shiv Sena government, for all the aggressive noise it makes, has so far ruled just once in the state. And going by what one sees on ground, it has very little chance of winning a 2nd term any time soon. The BJP really needs to re-invent itself. It needs to ask itself the existential question: What does it really stand for?

Does it stand for aggressive Hindutva? Does Modi’s elevation signify that? If so, why doesn’t it come out and say it clearly? Why doesn’t it openly embrace its saffron colors? Give prominent positions to Togadia and Singhal and co? The BJP is caught in a “half-cock” position (as in cricket); neither here nor there. In marketing lingo, its called “caught between two stools”!

The BJP’s hope that 2014 will be about corruption and governance looks misplaced. Everyone knows that corruption is a political malaise, not restricted to the Congress. People are realizing that the 2G scam was just a political scam. The CAG’s wildly exaggerated claims have been shown to be faulty. If the Congress can be accused for anything, it is of following zealously the SC prescriptions on auctions, and killing the telecom industry. The CAG’s bizarre claims on coal are even worse. It was the Congress that thought of and implemented coal auctions. How can the party be held responsible for what was going on for 20 years before? Take 2G and Coal out, and add the mining mess in Karnataka, and it becomes clear that both parties are equally corrupt. It’s the same with governance. Narendra Modi’s tall claims of better governance in Gujarat are thanks to the solid majority he has there. But governance is hardly a BJP preserve. Congress governments in Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra and AP are all doing a fine job as well.

The real truth is that 2014 will instead be about alliances. It will not be about magnetic individuals; but about magnetic alliances. It’s here that a Rahul beats a Modi hollow.

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