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Elections are around the corner and the political climate is really heating up in India. The current Congress led government has been a disappointment on many fronts including the economic one. People seem to be desperate to have a leader that seems decisive and unfaltering. Unfortunately none in the Congress seem to be fitting the bill. I think this vacuum was sensed well by BJP in portraying Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate. For this the political strategists from BJP have to be lauded. As expected media is all over Modi’s credentials as a leader and has trudged up his role in the Godhra riots as a major factor in discrediting him. And I think it has only helped the BJP to stoke anti Muslim sentiments furthering its agenda of divisive politics. As a person who supported the saffron coalition once upon a time, I always wondered how much truth is it to the story of Hindu-muslim animosity. The more I read and thought, the more it was obvious that it was more of a political ploy than reality.  I think many people actually see that, which might include even the senior leaders of BJP. So why go by such divisive agenda?

One reason is the politics of Congress. Congress’s political strategy has always involved wooing the swing voters who came in various forms. At times they were migrant communities or slum dwellers in cities like Bombay and yet at other times they were communities with lack of access to affirmative action or any kind of government support. All these groups lacked any political influence and hence made very good candidates for political machinations or sometimes plain simple exchange of votes for economic benefits. Unfortunately, Muslim community in various states forms the biggest of such swing voter communities that does not have access to any kind of affirmative action in spite of its socio-economic backwardness. So is Congress really secular- I think not! It is just playing the election game and has done so successfully for many years.

Now given that Congress caters to Muslims for political reasons, highlighting it becomes a really obvious and easiest political platform for an opposing party to contest elections on. That is where BJP’s politics comes into picture. Except briefly, in the post emergency period, Congress never had a real opposition till BJP shot to prominence after Lalkrishna Advani’s rathayatra in 1992. So whether we like it or not, polarization on communal lines seems to be the only way we could produce a viable opposition to Congress in the post independence period. This is as much of a reflection on Congress’s minority pandering politics as much it is on BJP’s divisive communal strategies. In reality, both of them are basically two sides of the same coin- they both engage in vote bank politics, rather than fighting on substantive election platforms.

The communal politics that both Congress and BJP excel in is also an acute reflection on the inability of the Indian polity to produce an alternative election platform that addressed the socioeconomic inequities. Unfortunately, in there also lies the failure of the Indian Left. Assuming that they truly understand and follow the Marxian philosophy, they should have brought the emptiness of Congress’s secular politics to people’s notice. But instead, in deciding to side with Congress to thwart BJP’s growth, the Left has done a big disservice by not allowing genuine societal reform to be an election platform. The philosophical void in the post cold war world has only added to its ineffectiveness. Even though there is lot to be desired of economic systems in delivering prosperity to common man, there does seem to be an overwhelming evidence in support of markets as an effective way of organizing economic activity.  But as a party that stands against capitalism, the Left is not able to provide an alternative election platform that delivered both on economic and social justice.

So that leaves us saddled with the communal parties of India. As a stop-gap arrangement I do hope that at least they are not be able to form a government on their own. Coalitions seems to be the Indian way of providing checks and balances in a political climate devoid of any vision for social and economic progress. However, that cannot really be a long term solution to the problem. We do need substantive political platforms and not just ones based on communal lines. For example, we need political parties debating the best way of achieving socio-economic justice for all or ways to improve the laggard and in some cases nonexistent public education system or whether the current public distribution system is the best way to ensure food security, or how do we ensure equal access to credit or to consistent electric supply or just simply to effective governance. These are the problems that are plaguing the Indian economy and society and holding the progress back or keeping it in the hands of few. Who is going to float a election platform based on these issues? I guess we will have to wait and see!