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december 13, 2008

The BJP Worsted
There was no clear winner in the elections to five state assemblies but there was one definite loser.

here may have been no clear overall victor in the recent Vasundhara Raje’s government was seen to have been a
elections to five state assemblies, but there was certainly f­ailure,   hopping from one controversy to another (the handling
one clear loser, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). of the peasant movement for water in northern R­ajasthan,
The BJP having worsted the Congress in a series of state elec- the    Gujjar agitation, widespread corruption and commun­
tions over the past two years was confident that it had the latter alisation of g­overnance). The Congress benefited from this
on the mat, and saw the elections as a dress rehearsal for its strong a­ntipathy towards the BJP government, which faced
r­eturn to power in New Delhi in the Lok Sabha polls that are to c­r iticism from within the BJP as well for Vasundhara Raje’s
be held in the first half of 2009. Inflation and the year-long t­error d­isastrous leadership.
attacks across the country that culminated in the Mumbai In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had to force three changes over
h­orrors appeared to the BJP as the Congress having handed the past five years in the chief ministership of the government,
v­ictory on a platter. In the end, the BJP has had to perforce turn after a revolt by Hindutva leader Uma Bharati, who then left the
humble. It won in only two states while the Congress came on party to start her own Hindutva organisation. Intelligently shift-
top in three. (The results for a sixth state, Jammu and Kashmir, ing emphasis from Hindutva to development and giving the
will be known on 28 December.) More important, the electorate a­ppearance of (if not actual) better governance, the low profile
has wisely not f­allen for the BJP’s campaign that whipped up the Shivraj Chauhan has taken the BJP to victory. Chief Minister
i­ssue of t­errorist violence. Chauhan’s projection of an everyday and down to earth
The BJP had been in power in three of these six states and it image helped the BJP resist anti-incumbency, even as Uma
had comfortable majorities in the previous elections, while the B­harati’s party tasted heavy defeat with its leader herself
Congress was seeking a third term in Delhi. The Congress was biting the dust in the assembly elections. The Congress, divided
able to retain power in Delhi, triumphed in Mizoram and as is its wont and unable to offer a steady alternative, was
snatched victory in Rajasthan by coming ahead of an unpopular not able to narrow the huge gap in the electoral vote in the
Vasundhara Raje-led BJP. The saffron party retained power p­revious elections.
comfortably in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Chhattisgarh a populist Raman Singh-led BJP won again on
The Congress won in Mizoram by defeating the Mizo National the back of such measures as the subsidised rice scheme for the
Front (MNF), which had been in office for 10 years. The MNF’s poor. That the Congress offered no better alternative on the
unpopularity stemmed from its poor handling of the food and o­ther prominent issue – Maoism in the state – and that both the
famine situation (related to the flowering of bamboo) and the Congress and the BJP have supported the unpopular Salwa
Congress was able to win a two-thirds majority by stressing J­udum exercise ensured that the opposition party could not
widespread c­orruption and mal-­governance in the state. s­upplant the BJP.
Polling in Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh was held In many ways, the results of these elections put paid to the
a­f ter the terror attacks between 26 and 28 November in Mum- “anti-incumbency” theory, which has been the chant of com-
bai. The BJP had made terrorism and security a major plank in mentators who are unable to explain the voting out of govern-
the polls and had expected to gain leverage in at least Delhi and ments that are unpopular everywhere other than in the TV
R­ajasthan (states which had suffered terrorist violence over the s­tudios and the editorial pages of newspapers. Development and
past year). Yet, the success of the Congress in both these states grass roots work have helped ruling parties overcome the
r­evealed the failure of the BJP strategy, with the electorate o­pposition, parti­cularly when the other side is divided, does
p­ossibly seeing this as a collective problem rather than one that not    offer a credible alternative, is plainly communal or is
could be put at the doorstep of the Congress. o­pportunistic. However, voting behaviour and outcomes are far
The perception of Sheila Dikshit’s government in mostly too complex to be e­xplained even in terms of “good governance”.
m­etropolitan Delhi as focusing on development and good As the result in Madhya Pradesh shows, even an intelligent
g­overnance helped the Congress trump the BJP. In R­ajasthan, p­ackaging of a government that seems to care can swing voters
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   december 13, 2008 5

away from the opposition, even if there is no true improvement Lok Sabha polls. Exactly five years ago, in the same states, the
in people’s welfare. A better understanding is needed of how Congress was routed everywhere other than in Delhi. That
local, regional and national factors affect election outcomes e­mboldened the National Democratic Alliance to launch its
at all levels. “I­ndia Shining” campaign and call elections a few months e­arlier
The Congress and the United Progressive Alliance need not than scheduled. The assembly election results of 2003 were no
now suddenly turn over-optimistic of their chances in their 2009 harbinger of the Lok Sabha elections of 2004.

After the Attack
Tragically, it does not seem that even a beginning will be made to get to the root of the problem of terror.

he kind of organised violence that Mumbai was subjected levels. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US have
to over 59 hours from the night of 26 November needs to to be seen in the context of that country propping up reactionary
be banished from the face of this earth. The challenge is regimes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, its supporting and
how to go about doing this. It is the diagnosis of a disease that bankrolling Israeli repression of the Palestinians, the Gulf
determines how it is to be treated and cured. But, given existing War against Iraq in 1991, and so on, all part of its imperialist
class and power structures, in the main, it is ruling class-power thrust in west Asia. Washington has since been engaged in a
elite understanding of the phenomena that will guide what g­lobal “war on terror” with the invasion and occupation of
kind  of purposeful action is deemed necessary. And, given that A­fghanistan and Iraq and the threatening of Iran. And now,
class-power elite’s identification of “the terrorists” with the i­nstead of distancing itself from this blatant violator of inter­
forces of darkness in Manichaean conflict with those of light national law, New Delhi has c­emented a strategic alliance with
(the self-­appointed protectors of “democracy”, “freedom”, and Washington and built a special relationship with Israel, all this
“justice” on a global scale and all who are with them), the whole at a time when the epicentre of the “war on terror” has moved
discourse invariably gets confined to ways of meeting the eastward from Iraq to the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan
terrorist threat, which in practice boils down to “necessary” and Pakistan.
counter-terrorism. Understandably, there is a deep sense of public anger and
The new Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, at his first r­evulsion across all communities over the terrorist attack
press conference after assuming office painted a rather unoriginal in  Mumbai. But why was this same sense of rage and disgust
picture of recent terrorist attacks, including the Mumbai one, pos- not as widespread when the Babri Masjid was demolished
ing “a threat to the very idea of India, a threat to the soul of India even as the security forces, under official instruction,
that we know, this is secular, plural, open and tolerant”. He went remained mere b­ystanders when the demolition was on? Or,
on to say that “we will respond with all the determination and when it was clear that gangs of Hindutva marauders had
r­esolve to the grave threats posed to the Indian nation”. Are we swiftly gone about executing a  pogrom against Muslims in
then in for expanded central powers in the maintenance of i­nternal Mumbai in January 1993 or in G­ujarat in 2002 (in the latter,
security? From all the talk so far, there are proposals to station the Hindutva mobs had the b­lessings of those in power in
wings of the National Security Guard in major cities, set up a the state)? Why has there been no  public outrage in the rest
f­ederal investigation agency on the lines of the US F­ederal Bureau of India at the tens of thousands of deaths of Kashmiris
of Investigation (the latter is already involved in the investigation following the post-1988 armed resistance to the military
of the Mumbai attack), upgrade the Research and Analysis Wing in Kashmir.
and the Intelligence Bureau, and enhance coastal security. Of course, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the pogroms
But will the spending of hundreds of crores of rupees on inter- against Muslims, the deaths of tens of thousands of Kashmiris or
nal security – with essentially the same set of higher-ups and indeed, India joining what Al Qaida dubs the “Crusader-Zionist
their political godfathers, whether of the BJP or the Congress, alliance”, in no way justifies what the terrorists have done in
who have failed repeatedly to stop the spate of terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Nevertheless, it is time to pose the question as to why
the recent past – solve the problem? The BJP is insisting that the young men choose to carry out senseless acts of violence know-
new national agency be backed by a strong Prevention of Terror- ing fully well that, as a consequence, a macabre death awaits
ism Act, 2002-like law to make it effective. Will India then w­itness them. Upon an honest a­nswer to this question by the ruling
a further shift in the balance of power between the judiciary and groups rests the prospect of beginning the process of banishing
the police in favour of the latter? Washington has already made such terror from the face of the earth. Tragically, given the
an offer to provide New Delhi with expertise in setting up “effec- present structure of class power at the national and international
tive homeland security architecture” on the lines of what was levels, even a beginning will, in all probability, not be made.
done in the US following the 9/11 attack. Meanwhile, the cost to humanity – especially in the most
All the recent acts of terrorism have arisen within the existing wretched and deeply exploited regions of the world – will
structure of power and politics at the national and international c­ontinue to escalate.
6 december 13, 2008  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly