A monthly column rounding up the latest news related to Indian politics in the run up to the 2019 General Elections. We’ve got you covered, with some laughs in between.
For our final roundup while in the midst of the largest democratic exercise in the world, it is about time we analysed each political party and its leaders and bring forth a picture that could only be visible from a democracy as vibrant as ours. I thought I’d analyse what the nation seems to be looking for, through each state, as we go and exercise our franchise, and the numbers game as each party tries to inch its way to that magical 272+ number. Anyone well acquainted with politics may already know these facts, so I recommend that they could let their attention wander for a while, maybe wash their car or feed the dog, while I get the newcomers abreast of the current situation of Indian polity.
Since Indian elections are parliamentary in nature, and we vote for a party which fields a candidate, the candidate cannot actually leave his party, or vote against their whip as under the anti-defection law. In fact, “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram” was a phrase that became popular in Indian politics after a Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day in 1967. The anti-defection law sought to prevent such political defections. This means that when we go to cast our vote on the polling day, we’re not voting for an individual Member of Parliament but the party for which he stands. A lot of the times, you may not see your favoured political party when you go to vote. This is because there are pre-poll seat sharing arrangements wherein parties that have alliances field only one candidate from either party to avoid a vote split. While voting, we see the names of all the political parties and the independent candidates, as well as one very important vote which is a protest vote at the bottom of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) called None of the Above (NOTA).
Of the parties that have been the longest in power, none can be mentioned before the Congress. The Congress party is India’s version of the Grand Old Party. It was founded in 1885 and it was the principal leader of India’s independence movement against the British. The Congress is the primary left-wing party in India’s democracy, and it is evidenced by the symbol of a hand. Once ruled by stalwarts like Dadabhai Naoroji and Dinshaw Wacha, post-independence it became a breeding ground for familial rule: the Gandhi-Nehru family have historically held positions of power in the Congress post-independence. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi with 414 Seats had the highest majority government in the history of the country. While Congress boasts of a progressive social front, claiming to uplift minorities and a secular front, most people criticise the party for pandering to the downtrodden for votes by populist schemes that do not benefit the nation. The Congress today is led by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, with her daughter Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra recently joining their ranks. On the economic front, many call the party a disaster even though a seasoned economist in the shape of Dr. Manmohan Singh led the country from the Congress party for ten years. The leaders of the Congress have been accused of multiple money laundering schemes, some of which are the Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G Spectrum Scam, the Bofors scam, the Agustawestland scam etc. The leaders of the party, themselves, are out on bail in the National Herald scandal. The Congress has many well respected leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Shashi Tharoor, and having been decimated to just 44 Seats in the last Lok Sabha election, the party led by the Gandhi scion will be rearing to make amends. The Congress has formed many more pre-poll alliances and it is to be seen how well they fare on D-Day.
Born out of the ashes of a revamped Jana Sangh after the fall of the Janata Party 1980, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is the counterpunch to the Congress, a party that has historically been in the opposition. The BJP is India’s right-wing organisation, they take pride in Hindutva, a Hindu way of life. Represented by a lotus, one that claims to be pure in a cesspool, the BJP boasts of being the world’s largest party in terms of primary membership, indeed a lot of its members are associated with an organisation called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was formed in 1925 by Keshav Hedgewar, who was a political protege of B. S. Moonje, interestingly a Tilakite Congressman. Hedgewar is said to be highly influenced by a book written by Vir Savarkar in 1923 called Hindutva. The RSS was formed to promulgate Hindutva ideology. Today, the RSS is a massive organisation having its cadres (pracharaks) at various locations in various units called shakhas. The BJP has risen from beyond politicians like Mr. LK Advani who headed it in the ’90s, and today the party is led by the current Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi and his second in command, Mr. Amit Shah. Mr. Modi happens to be an ex member of the RSS, indeed he became a pracharak at the age of 8. The BJP rose to power in 2014 with a massive majority, the first single party majority since Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. The BJP won 282 seats, the extended alliance (called the National Democratic Alliance or the NDA) getting a whopping 336 seats. Their rule has been fraught with social mess-ups, whether it be controversial measures like the beef ban, or the less than stellar law and order handling of the beef-lynchings. The introduction of the NRC (National Register of Citizens) also drew flak across quarters. Mr. Modi has also been accused of having dictatorial tendencies. Economically, the BJP has been a mixed bag, introducing heavily criticised measures like demonetisation, measures which were implemented poorly like the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and those which were greatly appreciated like the Highways Act. The Modi government has also been accused of favouring certain houses like the Ambanis and the Adanis, and of botching up a deal in the Rafale case. However, on the whole, a reduction in the percentage of national debt, and a better balance of payments regime have ensured that the people by large remain pro-BJP. However, their influence in the South and East of India remains limited at best, where regional satraps rule the roost. The electoral behemoth of Modi-Shah will be hoping to maintain their seat share in 2019, if not increase it. Pre-poll alliances with traditional allies with the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal ensure a stronger fight. It is to be seen whether the BJP can continue their Blitzkrieg and take over another election.
The Regional Satraps are vital kingmakers, and have wielded enough power to get a man of theirs to win the game of thrones, indeed a multi-party coalition has been responsible for multiple governments in the 20th century. However the turn of the century saw an era of more stable politics, third fronts historically tending to be volatile. However, the regional parties hold a lot of power together, and most of them seem to be against the Modi-Shah duo. Parties like the Nationalist Congress Party headed by Sharad Pawar (part of an alliance with the Congress, called the UPA) and the Shiv Sena headed by Uddhav Thackerey (part of the NDA) wield great influence in the interiors of Maharashtra. Indeed, Maharashtra historically votes four ways. Other major players are parties headed by leaders like Mamata Bannerjee who heads the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) having influence in West Bengal, the Uttar Pradesh based Bahujan Samajwadi Party, headed by Mayawati, the Samajwadi Party led by the Yadav father-son duo also having its sphere of influence in Uttar Pradesh, the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party headed by Arvind Kejriwal who seems to have temporarily restricted himself to Punjab and Delhi, Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) headed by Sitaram Yechury and various other regional parties. An interesting mention goes to the party which received the third most seats in 2014, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) that was headed by their erstwhile leader, the late Jayalalitha. They have a majority chunk of the vote in Tamil Nadu.
Whereas each legislator is elected from their constituency, the eventual gain goes to the party at the top, indeed leaders have been known to pay little more than fleeting visits to their constituencies after being elected. What is to be seen is whether strong grassroots leaders appeal to the general masses, or whether a national level charisma is what the janta prefers.
While each individual looks to gain something different from each leader, or whether they just go out and register a protest vote, I would urge every individual of this nation to exercise their franchise — we cannot complain about the state of our polity until we make a conscious decision to change it. 23rd May will show us where the nation has leaned.
Shubham Morarka is a Volunteer at One Future Collective.
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