S P E C I A L    E D I T O R I A L

The big change
by H. K. Dua

The ability to change a government and choose another by simply exercising the right to vote is the ultimate test of a democracy. The people of India have once again proved that we are one.

Because of their innate wisdom, they have thrown out the BJP-led NDA government even if it was headed by an outstanding leader like Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had provided stability at a difficult time and led the country with much-needed resilience and statesmanship. In his own way he did his best, but the people found it was not enough.

While the expectations were rising across the country—in cities, towns and villages—the BJP thought of launching the India Shining and Feel Good campaign without realising that both slogans were a gift of the Ad people who specialise in selling dreams. For most people, the reality on the ground was different.

Mr Vajpayee led the NDA with skill and sagacity and tried to win the confidence of the minorities — an essential requirement of a plural society and polity. What stood in the way of the BJP’s belated attempt to establish its credentials with the minorities was the Gujarat riots and the arrogance which the men like Mr Narendra Modi and his party apologists displayed.

Mr Vajpayee understood the compulsions of coalition politics and succeeded in widening his constituency beyond that of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. The hardcore in the Parivar never understood the rationale behind it: That a workable ideology cannot be divorced from the nature of India’s plural society.

The BJP, which had been wanting to come to power on its own, was so sure of itself that it allowed as many as eight smaller parties to leave the NDA. So smug were the BJP leaders that they even parted company with the DMK and chose Ms J. Jayalalithaa for an ally. The results were disastrous for the NDA in Tamil Nadu.

While the BJP always looked down upon smaller parties, the Congress, on the other hand, came down from the high pedestal it used to occupy and formed alliances that have now helped it to return to power after it has spent eight long years in the wilderness.

Political pundits and psephologists had also not figured out that so much ground had slipped from under the BJP’s feet and Mrs Sonia Gandhi would be able to become the Prime Minister of this nation of over a billion people as a result of this election.

Despite the reservations of many about her foreign origin, the verdict of the people will be cited hereafter as the final blow to the question whether her Italian origin debarred her from becoming the Prime Minister of India. This itself symbolises, what is somewhat rare even in the democratic world, a liberal tradition and tolerance that makes the Indian psyche.

The Congress party has reasons to celebrate its return to power. Analysts will continue to debate what has helped it—Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s campaign, the alliances the party forged, the position it has taken on many issues, or is it a mere gift of the BJP which did not realise that it had distanced itself from the people it was supposed to govern?

What policies Mrs Gandhi’s government follows remains to be seen. The economic policy will perhaps require careful handling, but it should not be beyond the ingenuity of the Congress and its allies to evolve one. In what way the Sonia Gandhi government ensures economic growth and picks up the thread from Dr Manmohan Singh’s liberalisation of the 1990s will be known in the Budget Session.

Essential will be how the government restores the confidence of the business shaken by the exit polls during the last few weeks. Mrs Sonia Gandhi may, however, have to take into account the sensibilities of the Left which would not want to rock her boat, but would like the economic policy to focus on the needs of the people and not those of the Big Business.

On foreign policy, there is unlikely to be any change. Mr Vajpayee’s policy of seeking rapprochement with Pakistan broadly enjoyed the support of the Congress and the Left during the last two years. They also know it will be popular with the people if they continue dialogue with Pakistan.Back

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