By S. Sivathasan –
Phase of Predictability
Narendra Modi has been making a proud assertion that even as elections were announced, results too were announced on the same day. This phenomenon obtained from 1951 to 1971 at 5 elections. In all five, vote share ranged from 40.8% to 47.8%, for the same winning party – Conngress – led by Nehru and later by Indira Gandhi. At 4 of the 5, seat strength reached 371 from 352. Congress rule stretched from 1947 to 1977. So for a quarter century which party will win, how much will popular support be and who the Prime Minister will be were accurately predictable. For all 30 years Nehru and Indira had their commanding presence. Congress credentials had their alluring appeal. Fortunes which changed to an unbelievable low in 1977 were restored to an incredible high in 1984 and it remained so till 1989.
Since then for 25 years, no party obtained an absolute majority at no less than 7 consecutive elections. Seat strength for a single national party, the Congress varied from 114 to 244. Popular vote for the Congress in the writer’s estimate is estimated to decline from 50% in 1984 to 20% in 2014. Seats for the BJP at 2 in 1984 are escalating to a predicted 280 in 2014.
This phenomenal contrast in a mere 30 years conveys the agility with which the Indian electorate can change its stance. The voting millions of varied ethnicities, religious persuasions and political hues, taken as a composite whole have displayed a remarkable unity in their consciousness and reaction. In the first quarter century after independence when the Congress was the very epitome of dedication and commitment to making India great, to who else could they have voted? Was there anyone to match Nehru and Indira to be Prime Minister and to lead the nation?
What is most striking is Indians thinking alike and supporting effusively the same persona till 1971. Iceberg like movement en masse was the feature of electoral behavior in 1977 and 1984. From 1989 when successive governments failed them and belied their expectations there were long spells of disillusionment. What followed were unstable governments made weaker still by sectarian alliance partners.
To the writer, the 2014 election in very simple terms is a choice between Indecisiveness and Resoluteness. As of now today, 64% of the voters shall have delivered their decision.
Watershed Election 1984
The 1984 election was record breaking in voter support, seat strength and the aftermath. Electoral responses expressed since 1989 showed explicitly a nation straining at the leash to get away from tardy progress. Yet India lacked forward movement and remained mired in stagnation. Even as impatience was overwhelming, BJP with a clear economic philosophy reemerged. Behind it stood the lustrous performance of Vajpayee. Ahead of it now is the promise of a strong minded leader in Modi whose three term achievement in Gujarat is inspiring. To the people the appointed hour has come and the hour has produced the man.
When a new era seemed to dawn, the people had to seize the opportunity. To do that what they needed most was political acumen. It had to derive from collective intelligence which they had in good measure. Unfailingly did they exercise it at all elections from independence to now. What was the voting pattern from 1951? For the Congress, 45% in ’51; 48% in ’57; 45% in 1962. The seats were, 364; 371 & 361. What explains this colossal performance? A Congress that was impeccable and a colossus of a leader in Nehru. With the demise of Nehru fortunes changed. In 1967 voting declined to 41% and seats decreased to 283. The Congress was losing its sheen and the new leader Indira had only one year to show her mettle. India discerned it and expressed itself accordingly. Was it not a mark of wisdom?
In 1971 after four more years of stewardship and Bangladesh victory to her credit, voting increased to 44% and seats to 352. In acknowledging success the people had brought to bear their collective judgment quite correctly. The same people with six more years of additional votes drew down their votes to 34 % and deprived Indira Gandhi of 199 seats. This was their democratic reaction in 1977 to emergency rule smacking of dictatorial flavor. Don’ the above display political acumen?
After experiencing non-governance for three years a mature electorate restored to her 198 seats giving a total of 351 out of 543. In 1984 when her life was snuffed out, the people paid their tribute with a 50% vote and gave her son 414 seats. This is the highest voter endorsement in India’s polling history. To what purpose are all these details? Yes, to prove a point. What is it?
To explain electoral behavior and the violent changes in mood seldom is a study seriously made. Neither is a rational analysis ever offered. Nor is the maturity or otherwise of the electorate considered. The influence of economic success or government’s failing, the handling of sensitive issues like ethnic anxieties or political undercurrents assailing the very core of human emotions are left out of account. It is to the surprise and chagrin of some that for decades on end factors of marginal relevance are urged as the determinants of politics and of history. In print and now in the electronic media one is exposed only to shallow explanations blithely advanced.
Very mechanistically they are listed out as the motive forces setting the Indian political machine moving. What are they? Responsiveness to only ethnically sensitive issues, emotive religious propensities, caste concerns irreversibly set in concrete, regional diversities, state rivalries, ubiquitous play of money power and the oven fresh invention ‘incumbency factor’.
The writer contests the above viewpoints absolutely. If they be true and all of them were riveted in cast iron, then how come the dramatic changes in voting pattern? Were not governments dislodged? Were not new ones installed? How is rejection ruthlessly meted out otherwise than as a reaction to failure? Haven’t they happened successively since 1947 as pointed out earlier? What they convey are clear enough.
The Indian electors are intelligent. Their intelligence is seen in the discernment with which Nehru was elevated thrice. The alacrity with which Patel was accepted as a man of steel and of action. Their political acumen is of a high order. Lukewarm acceptance of Indira Gandhi and endorsement with reservation in 1967. Handsome confirmation in 1971 with lustrous performance culminating in victory in the Indo – Pakistan war. When moving en masse they do not drift off course. Success is endorsed. When governance contract (Social Compact) is violated, rejection is merciless. Thorough defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977 bespeaks. Where were thoughts of dynasty?
For belying expectations there is uncompromising punishment. Total rejection of Morarji Desai and Janatha Party in 1980. There was a mix of intelligence, emotion and sentiment in 1984. After ’84 single party governance ceased to be. The slide of the Congress started after 1991. There was a free fall thereafter, but an upward reversal in 2009 due to the success of Man Mohan Singh – Sonia – Congress in their first term. This was a reflection of electoral intelligence.
The very same intelligence is working out the undoing of the Congress in 2014. If this perception is shared, then it may be conceded that it is such intelligence that is on the threshold of unfolding a new era for India and those around. Sri Lanka’s new diplomatic postings in Delhi and Washington signal a change of mood and may presage a change of stance. In tandem when cerebral activity gets spurred in Jaffna, there can be a more meaningful engagement with Colombo. As mentioned in an earlier article, an axis can develop among Washington, Delhi, Colombo and Jaffna. In such a scenario, Delhi becoming more assertive in this region and commanding greater deference internationally will take but a brief duration.
Centre Unbalanced by States
The year 1984 marked a watershed in democratic governance in India. Subsequent to this election no party got an absolute majority. At the 7 elections that followed, a two party system was developing. But a dismal feature too was growing alongside, that of coalition governments. Worse still was weightage shifting from national parties to regional and state parties from 1991. More inimical to health of governance was pre poll alliances being overshadowed by post poll coalitions. Worst of all was coalitions getting formed as post-election horse deals, subserving national interests to parochial, sectarian considerations, much to the detriment of national progress. Who is guilty of these misdemeanours, voting public or party leaderships?
Second Watershed 2014
For once in 30 years a prospect appears for a single party with an absolute majority or a stable government with a pre-poll alliance. It is in this context that Modi is exhorting the electorate to install a strong government commanding 300 seats. This seems a possibility now and when that happens, the year 2014 will be a watershed in India’s democratic process. More importantly a government installed in Delhi vested with greater strength and imbued with a mission, can spell desirable changes in the South Asian Region.