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Lessons for all from Election 2012

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“The one-eyed mollusc on the ocean floor and I have the same knowledge of the universe.” – Aldous Huxley (This could only be a rough approximation of what the great scientist had said of his knowledge of the universe as it is quoted from memory and may not be an exact reproduction.)

If Huxley had the humility to confess the limitations of his knowledge of the universe, our psephologists and television presenters should be humbled by hubris – at least in hindsight – for getting half of it wrong in their predictions of Election 2012. After all the number crunching, panel discussions and marathon debates, for most of them it was a story of hits and misses. TheCongress (Indian National Congress) did not surge as predicted and the BJP was not relegated to the fourth position although it may have to rue some of its decisions. Whether it was due to the scientific accuracy of its calculations or by a fluke, the CNN-IBN team got it right for theSamajwadi Party. Be that as it may, what lessons do we draw from this election?

DON’T FRAGMENT POLITY FOR TEMPORARY GAINS

Firstly, the major lesson the Congress needs to learn from this election is the Muslim voters are not as gullible as they might appear to the party. Instead of focusing on good governance and development, the party concentrated on to holding out a poisonous carrot to them. A national party, a party which boasts India’s independence is its achievement, should have had better ideas. It was only sixty years ago the nation was divided based on religion and the nation cannot stare at another fragmentation for purely electoral gains of one party. A truly national party would have advised a religious group – any religious or other group – to partake the national pie by empowering it. It would have invested in providing educational and employment opportunities and enhancing the size of the pie so that everyone could have a share of it. If the Muslims felt that reservations were a panacea for their backwardness they would rather vote the Samajwadi Party which offered twice the reservation pie than the Congress, irrespective of whether it is practical or not.

The second lesson that the Congress should learn – although it has not learnt it in sixty years – is its mistake in treating the Muslims as aliens. If the party treated Muslims as a part of the Indian nation it should have educated them that their best interests are in the security and progress of the Indian nation. If the nation has to take an international political stance for augmenting national interest they should understand and cooperate with it. For example if the best interest of the nation is in aligning with Israel in the ‘Israel – Palestine’ conflict they should be persuaded to go along with it. A strong India would serve the interests of Indian Muslims better rather than a rhetorical Palestine. Aren’t jobs, education and infrastructure in Azamgarh more relevant to the lives of Muslims in Azamgarh than a Palestine with or without East Jerusalem as its capital? How does India aiding democracy in Iraq and other Muslim nations harm the interests Indian Muslims? How does providing special status to Muslims in Kashmir advance the cause of Muslims in the rest of India? Would it not be in the interests of all – Muslims included – if Kashmir is integrated into the national mainstream?

The third and most important lesson for the Congress – whether it will learn it at all is a moot point – is the imperative need to decouple Muslims from the international terror matrix. It might seem surprising but the party does exactly the opposite every time it rushes to defend Azamgarh after every terror incident or use the phantom of Hindu terror as a counter-weight. Instead it should let the law enforcement agencies to do their work without political interference. Except a microscopic minority, the majority of Indian Muslims is as interested as the rest in ordinary things as pursuit of a family, education and jobs to eke out a livelihood – the components of a normal social life. They look up to the state to provide an atmosphere that empowers them to pursue these seemingly mundane interests. It is the microscopic minority, with a vested interest in keeping the community backward, that is holding the larger Muslim community and the rest of the Indian polity to ransom. Of course this is a feature it shares with the rest of identity politics but the Congress as a national party should have shunned the microscopic minority instead of pandering to it for temporary political gains.

DON’T HIDE ASSETS

The ‘perceptual reality’ of ‘Rahul Gandhi as a youth icon’ or ‘Narendra Modi as communal politician’ is perhaps a creation of the media; a blatantly partisan English language media at that. The Congress fell for the self-reinforcing myth which spiralled upwards to deliver it a mammothgoldbrick. As the party lays great store by its dynastic assets it is not going to learn any lesson from its shattered fantasies, at least not in the near term. It is however the BJP that should rue its decision to keep Narendra Modi out of its election campaign. He is the party’s most valuable – if controversial – asset. He is a great orator. He could have explained to the electorate in UP (and other states) the kind of developmental activities that he is undertaking in his state. The electorate would have easily seen the inescapable comparison. As he has been repeatedly stressing in all his public addresses, the fruits of development are not just for the benefit of one section of society. They are for everyone. This would sink in sooner or later.

Finally, it is not clear why the BJP did not bring in on board the JD (U), its alliance partner in Bihar to contest the elections together. If the party thought that UP was its prized real estate and hence could not be shared, that was in the 1990s. The JD (U)’s social justice plank and the governance record of the duo in the neighbouring state could have convinced the electorate of what the combine could deliver. In such a scenario the JD (U) being the junior partner would have been less prone to objecting for a campaign by Narendra Modi. It would then be difficult for the JD (U) to disagree to extending this arrangement to Bihar later

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