When the 2014 election verdict was out, it was beyond all imagination and prediction. BJP victory was sweeping and beyond belief, leaving Congress strategists stunned. The Congress-led UPA and its campaign managers, hailing from top technology and management institutes such as IIT, IIM and prestigious international educational institutes were complacent in the belief that the Congress-led alliance would make it this time as well. Each time Congress strategists expressed confidence in this regard, voters decided to ensure that it should not happen. Moreover, they sealed remote possibilities of a UPA come back by defeating all ‘probable UPA outside supporters’ as well.
In Kerala, with many voters in the Pathanamthitta Loksabha constituency with whom I spoke, decided not to vote this time. Even the staunchest of congress voters were riled by rising prices of essential commodities, a move which Prime Minister kept justifying. In fact, UPA policies had become so much of a hindrance to the everyday life of the common man, that every little thing they saw and dealt with each day made them seethe in anger. For instance, when people passed through petrol pumps, their anger against ruling party went up. A voter told me that he had to waste almost thousand Rupees for the entire Aadhar card process alone, apart from the cost incurred on visits to the LPG gas agency and the bank thereafter to link Aadhar with the bank account . He went thrice to the nearest Aadhar card center in a hired auto-taxi for getting it done. When the card finally arrived, he found the details on it wrong, so had to visit the Aadhar authorities again to correct the mistakes.Finally, when the government withheld Aadhar requirement for subsidy, he became angry and boycotted the polls together with his family! He said, if he had known about the lack of clarity in Aadhar, he would not have wasted precious time, money and energy.
Fact is, people are disgusted with bureaucracy. Their worst nightmare is when visiting government offices where the smug looking babus make excuses for getting work done. All the anger against inefficient governance mechanism and corruption of the post-independence era went against UPA government led by a babu-friendly prime minister.
People were angry with the way in which public policies were enacted without proper study, consultation and consensus! They doubted the methodology adopted in preparing Gadgil Committee (Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel) report, an issue with far reaching consequences on people and their livelihood, was dealt with a shoddy manner. The study, many people feel, was based on an unsound and unacceptable methodology. There was an attempt to enforce this without needed discussions, consensus and corrections. On the same pattern, Congress successfully divided Andhra into two. Before that, the MGNREGA already antagonized Indian middle classes substantially. It altered and created a disequilibrium in the labor market, impacting productive job sectors, labor intensive manufacturing jobs and small scale industries.
At last came the food security offer. Already disillusioned with the supply of rotten food stuffs from the public distribution system, the common man had a real laugh. The aspirations of the youth and their parents go beyond subsidized rotten food stuff, food security and MGNREGA jobs. All these would have been meaningful, if there was a simultaneous successful initiative to create modern food go-downs in the country.
The BJP campaign offered options for a much more dignified living for India’s poor. A tea vendor is a representative of India’s vast majority of entrepreneurs. Millions of the entrepreneurial classes could identify themselves with a tea vendor. Political parties never bothered to speak for them or represent them. This silent majority found in Narendra Modi, someone who empathized with their life and problems. And this was the BJPs strength. They realized what the Congress couldn’t: that India’s poor prefer to live independently and in a dignified manner rather than be recipients of benefits under some schemes named after any of the Gandhis. Congressl leaders did not understand this psychological transition and that proved to be their undoing.
To add insult to injury, Manmohan Singh successfully implemented the sixth pay commission recommendations, and prior to the election, a seventh pay commission was promised. This was at a time when the common man in the private sector, such as small industry workers, professionals, youth, women and entrepreneurs from different sectors were suffering the ill effects of low income, low salaries, high inflation, declining wages, job losses and the like.
The 2014 election was all about a tussle between an entrepreneur friendly party and a welfare and subsidy focused agenda. Tea vendors, millions of other informal entrepreneurs, small entrepreneurs and middle classes wanted dignity and not charity from the government. They wanted an end to the inspector and the commissioner Raj, which became more pronounced during the UPA regime. On the other hand, one of the statements by BJP during elections regarding reforms in the taxation system and tax laws, including abolition of some of the unwanted taxes, is being looked upon with lots of hope.
Then again, Congress campaigners projected BJP’s communal image. BJP talked about development. Looked at in that light, one cannot help but wonder who is more communal and dangerous. A very senior Congress advisor, close to Rahul, once questioned a Christian dress code adopted in convocations in Indian Universities. His language and use of words were very strong, like “barbaric colonial relics……of medieval vicars and popes.” To me, this is suggestive of a much more powerful and venomous communalism.
Ironically, the pro-poor policies of the Congress only backfired against them. For instance, when the policy approach was against providing subsidy to State Road Transport Corporations, most public sector bus operators suffered, as diesel was not made available to them at a subsidized rate. This went against the poor. And Rahul Gandhi wanted reservation for socially backward classes in the private sector. Is it really practical?
But for the poor tea vendors, street hawkers, and other millions of entrepreneurs, there is no security and support. And Chidambaram and his boys (tax collectors) were very aggressive in their job, introducing, designing and retaining a taxation system and administrative mechanism in order to facilitate corruption and business losses.
Rahul Gandhi could successfully hide the misdeeds of Congress and protect Dr. Singh from blame. Instead of admitting the mistakes of the past, Rahul tried to hide Singh government’s shortcomings, which further aggravated people’s anger.
UPA had completely forgotten the principle of collective leadership. Showcasing its array of leaders at all levels would have made a lot of difference. But the campaign managers were so sure that the young Gandhi would ensure a victory for them. Some of them even commented that those who are above a certain age should leave politics. “People unfortunately in India don't know when to exit. They hang on and on……”, said one advisor.
Who was his target, whether AK Antony or someone else, not sure. A statement of this sort during the time of an important campaign was certainly not a good idea. What was the intention behind that statement? The person who made it should explain.
The advisors, it would seem,was concerned about the presence and involvement of too many old people like A K Antony, who could very well spoil their chances and opportunities. Some of them, it seems that, have even expected an opportunity to become prime minister in the event Congress forming a government and Rahul declining the PM post.They have ensured that ownership of Congress victory won’t go out of hand. So collective leadership was out of question. If it was a Congress victory, Jairam and his team would have been the architects of that victory!
But the reality is that Rahul Gandhi is leading the party in the right direction. He is doing it in a systematic and scientific manner. This is to be continued. Revival will happen when they admit the mistakes committed while in government. Most importantly, expelling very intelligent management graduates and technocrats from his shadow advisory board is crucial. Let him have congress workers as his advisors. Let him be ready to listen to the voices from rural India, that is not really the voice of urban based NGO leaders and returned overseas graduates.
People will be happy when there is a party that can make babus work. It is important to instill fear in the minds of babus, at this juncture, by the government in power. People have suffered too much at the hands of bureaucrats in the post independence era and are really looking ahead to liberation from inefficiency and red-tapism. New Indians are looking ahead to hear news about measures that cut bureaucracy and its discretionary powers down to size with more smart, transparent e-governance system, with no need for them to pay bribes!