Sharp turns
Troubled times lie ahead
by H.K. Dua

INDIA is caught in an unwelcome situation at present, almost in a dilemma about what it should do to come out of it. While the present is weighing heavy on its mind, the uncertainty about the future is worrying.

Until last year, an India emerging as a major power of the 21st century was being promised. The prospect of a 9 per cent growth rate, or even 10 per cent, was projected on the screen by responsible leaders who knew their economics. The nationís mood was unusually upbeat. Not any longer.

Two things have turned the nationís hopes into despair, bordering on anxiety about the future. One is the gory events of 26/11 that hurt the nationís psyche and self-esteem. The other is the economic slowdown brought about by recession abroad.

While the wounds caused by 26/11 will take time to heal, the fear of a large number of people losing jobs is bound to cause social and political tensions the governments at the Centre and in the States may be called upon to face.

While the angst about the uncertainty of the future Ė that comes naturally to most Indians Ė may be vague, what is essentially worrying most people is who will govern at the Centre after the parliamentary elections just weeks away. Essentially, what is nagging most people is the fear that the elections may throw up unstable governments.

The resultant political instability is what most Indians dread after their experience of the 1990s when governments came and went out of office in just after a few months without taking major decisions the nation needed. India was adrift, without a sense of direction, or a leadership, which could put it back on track.

There may be a few political leaders who, like the people, will not relish seeing India again go through a spell of political instability which saw Prime Ministers sworn in to find a place in the footnotes of history.

There are, however, other brands of ambitious politicians who could be preparing for the troubled times that the power brokers and wheeler-dealers of the land are waiting for. At such times, the people helplessly watch the sordid goings-on. They simply wait for the protagonists to play out their role in the vast theatre of the absurd.

Even those ignorant of the ways of Indian politics can see that in the forthcoming parliamentary elections neither the Congress, nor the BJP, will get a majority. This is clear from the fact that both national parties have lost vital bases in many parts of the country, and certainly in Uttar Pradesh with as many as 80 MPs in the Lok Sabha. The Congress won barely nine seats in the last Lok Sabha and the BJP a paltry 10 in UP. In Bihar with 40 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress won only three seats and the BJP barely five. So much for the hold of the two national parties on the votersí mind in the large Hindi-speaking chunk of India. The situation in other states does not bring any comfort to either of the two national parties.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, the Congress got less than 150 seats and the BJP 138 seats. But, they won these seats with the help of regional satraps, who chose to join either the UPA, or the NDA. Conversations with important leaders of both parties bring out the vacuous nature of their confidence in their ability to win enough seats to lead a coalition at the Centre, public claims notwithstanding.

If the Congress does well for itself by winning even 150 seats, it has another problem on its hand for forming a UPA government under its umbrella. This is mainly because some of its allies in the UPA may not do well themselves in the polls. Lalu Prasad Yadav may lose seats in Bihar and the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and others may not do better.

Also, the UPA came to power with outside help from the CPM, which fell out with the Manmohan Singh government over the nuclear deal. If this is the scenario, where will the Congress make up for the losses?

The BJP has also enormous problems. Neither its political sums are working for it, nor its health, with the party divided all along the second line and conflicting ambitions of too many leaders at full play. The partyís confidence level is indeed very low.

Several regional parties can join hands and agree to form the government, with or without the help of the Congress or the BJP. In the last elections, regional parties won as many as 260 seats, a figure far bigger than those of the Congress and the BJP.

Regional parties, based as they are on caste and narrow personal or regional mindsets, can generally think of power, but not the idea of India. There lie the roots of political instability.

No one in the Congress, or the BJP, knows which way the votersí mind will work at the polls. The voters in India do not even let the pollsters know their mind. The wise among them would need to ponder the price the country may have to pay if it opts for political instability lurking ahead.



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