by Ajay Chacko
There has been much brouhaha over several themes that have emerged in the last few months — be it governance or corruption — but will these really be able to take Indian politics and parties beyond the deadly triad of religion, caste and regionalism? Will these broader themes translate into votes, and more importantly, seats in an election?
Let’s take a look at arithmetic. The Congress, with 206 seats, counts amongst its traditional voters a Muslim population (roughly 13.4 percent of the country), besides the economically backward and rural India. On the face of it, it looks like the most middle-of-the-road party, but its ‘votebank politics’ is the stuff of legends.
The BJP, with 114 seats, and with allies like the Akalis (four seats) and Shiv Sena (11 seats), flirts with governance and development on the agenda every now and then, but then falls back to its core Hindutva ideology in times of crisis or elections.
The SP (23 seats), BSP (21 seats), AIADMK (9 seats), and DMK (18 seats), all have, in some way or the other, come up on the basis of caste equations. Newer challengers, like MNS, are again building cadres based on regionalism. Or for that matter the likes of TRS in Telengana (with two seats).
Strangely, parties like the NCP (which has only nine seats as compared to even a Shiv Sena, which has 11 seats), TMC (19 seats) and CPI(M) (20 seats) are actually amongst the few that don’t seem to be built purely on the basis of identity politics (at least on the basis of religion, region or caste). As for the JD(U), which has more than 20 seats, one is not sure where exactly it fits in. Issues of caste are not entirely out of play here.
Essentially, the point of these numbers is that without any one of the elements of the triad, very few parties have managed to get 20 seats or more, which is not even 5 percent, the minimum required to have a meaningful impact on the country’s political equations.
So where does that leave India and the emergence of so-called alternatives? For India to get a tangible political alternative, there needs to be a sustainable and effective thematic connect, which can translate into votes that can seriously challenge religion, regionalism or caste at the most fundamental level.
But there are no answers visible on the horizon. Stray demonstrations around corruption and movements built around this theme catch some people’s attention (read: mostly urban), but it really doesn’t make the arithmetic count or translate into sustainable vote gatherers.
So is the case with development and governance. The development plank is mostly a retrofitting exercise or an issue that tries to camouflage anti-incumbency. The exception here may be someone like Nitish Kumar (and not Narendra Modi, in my view).
There is also the fact that ‘strong, decisive leadership’ at the state level is getting rewarded. But the counter-argument to that is Maharashtra, where you see little of that, but we have still had a government in power for more than a decade.
So where does that leave us? Maybe we will find the first glimmers of an answer after the next general elections.