Today's outcome could change the course of politics in India
The verdict due out today could shift the tectonic plates of Indian politics in a momentous way.
Every election symbolises the triumph of hope over experience. People vote in the belief that their vote makes a difference, even if history tells another, rather more cynical narrative. And this time, going by the high turnouts in the five States that went to the polls – a record high in four of the States – voters have signalled that their faith in the democratic process stands undiminished.
Such a heightened sense of hope ought to place an enormous burden of responsibility on whoever comes to power. But even before the results are out, parties and their leaders have begun, with their public pronouncements and their political posturing, to validate everything that brings out the cynic in voters.
Thus, for instance, we already see a Congress leader and Union Minister, no less, make a pitch for an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, rather than the Samajwadi Party, in the event that the elections there throw up a hung Assembly.
Given that the Congress’ entire election campaign in UP revolved around Rahul Gandhi’s stuck-record stump speech about the “elephant” in Lucknow that ate up Central funds intended for the poor, such an alliance – if it were ever to come about – would mean that when it comes right down to it, the Congress ‘hand’ will have no qualms about feeding the corrupt ‘elephant’.
As it turns out, going by exit poll results and the findings of post-election surveys, the Congress may yet be spared that ignominy. Although the final verdict must await a few hours, everything points to an overwhelming victory or a first-place finish for the Samajwadi Party, leaving the Congress to wrestle with the BJP for a third-place finish. But if the Samajwadi Party falls short of a majority, and must secure Congress support to form a government, you can be sure that the contortionists in both parties will come up with a reason to account for why they should team up - in the people’s interest.
No party is above criticism on this count. The BJP too fed the cycle of cynical politics when it embraced Babu Singh Khushwaha, who was too corrupt even for Mayawati to bear; the party’s political pundits, of course, justified it as a masterstroke to get him to squeal on Mayawati’s corruption – and for the party to secure the votes of the Most Backward Classes community that he represents. In the end, it’s all about winning, and parties have shown that they will do whatever it takes.
Although these were Assembly elections, contested largely on issues that resonate at the provincial level, the outcomes will hold enormous significance for the fate of the UPA government at the Centre. A poor performance by the Congress in UP, the heartland of Indian politics, will reduce the Manmohan Singh government to even more of a lame duck arrangement than it is, fated to remain hobbled for the rest of its term – and susceptible to the political blackmail of its recalcitrant allies.
Above all else, of course, the outcome in UP will be seen as a referendum on Rahul Gandhi, despite all the Congress’ attempt to firewall him from the political consequences of a failure.
As economist and commentator Surjit Bhalla notes in the Indian Express, no matter who wins in UP, the election represents a turning point for Indian democracy.
“If the exit polls turn out to be broadly correct, then the UP election might mark the beginning of the end of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in Indian politics,” reasons Bhalla. “While the debacle in Bihar could be written off as a necessary aberration in a rebuilding exercise, the defeat in UP would not be that easy to explain.”
In his estimation, a Congress flop-show in UP (if it does come about) would render it difficult to challenge the impression that the Congress “does not have a Gandhi leader capable of rallying India and winning elections.”
If such an impression gains traction, it could have enormous consequences in national politics. Yesterday’s earthquake in Delhi and surrounding areas may be a forewarning of the tectonic shifts that will likely be triggered in Indian politics by the outcome of these elections.
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