- Let me start with the positives first (positive reinforcement and all that!). The Left has been decimated. As that astute sage Rajaji said long back, the communists are the number 1 enemy. Growing up in Calcutta in the 1970s and 1980s, I remember how the left used to rail against dynastic politics. Back then the Congress was the enemy number 1 for the left. It is amazing how the Left was willing to support the same dynastic Congress to tackle the current perceived enemy number 1--the BJP. The frog made a deal with the snake. Well now, the snake is reaching out to your own family member. The Left got a shellacking in its impregnable Bengal bastion. Actually the Bengal results point to a broader pattern (more on that later). The left lost all the border states except Cooch Behar. Now, those are incidentally the states that have the highest Muslim presence. Essentially, the Left has been left holding the Bengali Hindu votes. Nandigram was ostensibly the trigger behind the Muslim desertion of the Left. But somehow I doubt that. Those votes are not coming back. There is a lesson in this for the Bengali Hindu bhadralok as well.
- The BJP did NOT lose because of Varun or Modi. On Modi, the last time I checked , the BJP won 15 seats out of 26, more than it did in 2004. BTW, Gujarat has been heavily hit by the global recession--diamond cutting in Surat, textile exports. So, some loss was expected. But Modi held ground. In fact, the BJP did well in all its bastions where there was no infighting. If people are put off by polarization, then BJP should have lost in Karnataka. BJP's loss in Rajasthan reflects infighting as well its Achilles heel--the problem of caste. The Gujjar reservation fiasco is still fresh. In UP, the BJP has no leader worth his salt. MM Joshi, Rajnath Singh are all washed up old geezers. Actually Varun's success amid this ruin, points to the potential for Hindu consolidation.
- Mayawati and Mulayam did not exactly get wiped out. But like the Left in Bengal they lost the Muslim vote. Muslims recognize that Congress is now their best bulwark. From mayawati's statement it appears that she is still trying woo Muslims back. it may work at the state level. However, it will not work at the national level. The OBC-muslim alliance is not workable going forward. OBCs have been the rising force. They are an upwardly mobile group, seeking to assert their place in the sun. Muslims essentially act out of a defensive mindset (in some ways like the Left). With the Brahmin-Bania no longer in power, the OBCs in the North have nothing against Hindutva per se. In fact, most of the ascendant BJP leaders in the North are from OBC background (Swapan Dasgupta has made the point that BJP is now an OBC party). In that sense, the recent elections were a setback to the rising OBC aspirations. Narendra Modi is an OBC. Kalyan Singh is an OBC. BJPs future lies with the OBC.
- BJP should quit trying to woo the mythical urban middle class that somehow can't stand Varun's polarizing remarks. The urban middle class did not come out to vote. The turnout in Bombay was shameful. if after 26/11, BJP can't win in Bombay, it will NEVER win in Bombay.
- Just as with the Republicans in the US, the minorities will NEVER vote for BJP. In fact, they actively set aside their difference to vote against the BJP--Exhibit Kanyakumari. I have always suspected that there are many more Christians (especially in TN) than the official 2% figures. I distinctly remember having classmates in IITM who were christians but availed of the SC quota (which legally is not available to Dalit Christians). I think the entire 22;5% SC+ST will eventually become Christians --too much global and domestic money working toward that goal. This has clearly had some effect in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Orissa. Like the Left in Bengal, Laloo in Bihar, Mulayam and Behenji in UP, the Dravidianist Tamils (non-Christian ones) are eventually going to get their comeuppance. Their brethren in Sri Lanka were left to hang dry by a DMK that did nothing and yet was never punished. The wily coot Karunanidhi played this game well tactically but this may turn out to be the beginning of the end of the middle caste hegemony in Tamil Nadu.
- The industry seems to be relieved that the Congress will now not have the Left holding back on reforms. This is poppycock. The Congress under the Gandhis has never been for reforms. For the record Manmohan Singh is a puppet and was always a puppet. Manmohan Singh the reformer title was gained under Rao, who was the reformer behind the facade. Manmohan Singh was the apolitical face put on reforms. The Congress inherited a sound economic foundation in 2004 and the global economy was soaring for the next four years. That papered over atrocious economic policy (save the exemplary job done by the RBI under sagacious YV Reddy). The fiscal deficit is now soaring and for a developing country, India has one of the highest debt-to GDP ratios. India is turning Latin America when Brazil and Mexico are decidedly turning their back to the failed policies of the past. Nonetheless, the immediate future is not bleak. The fall in oil and other commodity prices is a boon for India, which is a net commodity importer. Besides, India, unlike China is driven by domestic demand. The long-term future is however bleak. Argentina's experience is instructive. Argentina was the 6th richest country in the world in 1900. Then it started voting in the Perons (equivalent to the Gandhi family in India). Decades later, it is a middle income country and a pariah in the international financial markets.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Notes on India's Elections
I am an economist and usually don't comment on politics. However, remember that economics started as political economy.
The results of the recently concluded elections have shocked some and thrown the supporters of BJP into despondency. In despair, the wrong lessons are being learned and (foisted upon by those who would like the BJP disappear). Here are my quick thoughts: