As most Indians and India watchers look fowrard to 2014 general elections, here is an excellent analysis of previous elections in 2009. The authors are Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar. Prof. Yadav is a pretty famous face and analyses elections and its outcome on TV channels/media etc.
The authors discredit the widely held view that Congress/UP won the election because of some strategic planning etc. It was a combination of several things: bit of planning by UPA, BJP’s inability to hold both some planning and some luck which went Cong/UPA way:
Election 2009 saw a comprehensive triumph for the United Progressive Alliance. But the initial impression of an overwhelming mandate for the Congress needs to be corrected. A close scrutiny of the outcome shows that the Congress “victory” was ambiguous and owed a lot to movements that were not of its making. Shifts in the “third electoral system” worked against the politics of identity and made the quality of government an issue.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s inability to hold on to its new social bloc resulted in a depolarisation that benefited the Congress. The victory of the Congress also came about because the voters had a mildly positive image of its governance record and welfare measures. Yet in the end this verdict was more about politics than chance. A shrinking of the National Democratic Alliance, a positive image of the upa government and its leadership gave the ruling coalition a decisive lead before the campaign formally began.
The duo give an interesting perspective:
Political thinking in a small princely state of Italy in the 16th century is not the most obvious place to look for insights into political practice in the democratic republic of India in the 21st century. Italian connection could mean various things in contemporary India, but it is unlikely that the reference would bring Machiavelli or his contemporaries to mind. Yet a central theme of “mirror-for-prince” literature in the civic humanist tradition of Florentine renaissance1 can throw light on some aspects of politics in contemporary India for which the professional understanding of politics does not have a fully developed language.
Or so we hope to argue in this article. The fortuna-virtu duality can teach two simple yet profound lessons to students of contemporary politics. One, it serves to remind us that much of the play of power takes place in conditions that are not of the making of or amenable to change by anyone, that a good deal of what happens in politics is given, pre-determined or just accidental – fortuna. Two, this realisation does not make political action irrelevant; on the contrary it reminds us of the centrality of political skills, prowess and wisdom in modern politics – virtu. Both these lessons are relevant for making sense of contemporary Indian politics, particularly for understanding the causes and consequences of the electoral verdict of 2009, which is the subject matter of the present essay.
What follows is an amazing analysis of elections in 2009 and how each party fared in terms of seats, vote share, gender. castes, age group etc etc. I am not going into all the discussions as have no real idea about all this. To sum up:
Lenin introduced a vital distinction between strategy and tactics in politics. Strategy was the higher domain of analysing social classes and identifying class allies and enemies, so as to chart out the approach to revolutionary action. Tactics was the specific application of this strategy to concrete situations, events and organisations. Something of this distinction is relevant to understanding what was right and wrong for major players in this election. On balance, the Congress did get its political strategy about right even though its political tactics were often off the mark or not in sync with its own strategic objectives. This combination of good planning and poor execution on the ground meant that the Congress could not do full justice to the opportunity that presented itself.
The BJP, on the other hand, did not get its tactics as horribly wrong as it is made out to be now; on balance its campaign tactics were smarter than those of the Congress. Yet its basic political strategy was not in line with the shifting structure of opportunities that history presented it with. The same could be said about the left and the BSP. With the partial exception of Kerala, the CPI(M) did not get its tactics wrong. The real problem lay in its overall political strategy of aligning the establishment that it presided over with the revolutionary objectives that it espoused. The BSP had all the tactics but virtually no strategy for retaining and expanding its newly found non-dalit voters and to take itself beyond UP. In this context, the Congress leadership’s capacity to ensure that the party was not fundamentally misaligned with the opportunity space available to it and a couple of correct tactical decisions turned out to be more of a virtu than it would in any other time.
As UPA won elections without the left, experts were excited. Most believed nothing will now stop Indian economy from growing etc:
In the first flush of analytical excitement Meghnad Desai (2009) claimed: “The 2009 election results are a milestone and will shape the politics of India for the next generation”. While it is too early to rule out such a possibility, the reading offered in this essay makes this a much less plausible possibility.
If the Congress were to use this historic opportunity and if others were to miss it altogether, then this could well be a transformative moment in Indian politics. If that happens, in retrospect the verdict of 2009 would surely look like a milestone that marked the end of the third electoral system. On the other hand, if the BJP or more than one of the parties contending for the third or fourth space grasp the challenge of expansion, the Congress victory could prove to be a short-lived electoral fluke, leaving the party with a lot of leisure to reflect upon the chances missed. At this stage, both these possibilities appear unlikely.
Neither the Congress nor the leading opposition parties have shown the capacity to learn from this verdict. On the one hand, the rise of the third electoral system has multiplied the arenas of political competition; raised the complexity of democratic politics; and increased manifold the demands on the skills of political leaders. On the other hand, a generational transition in politics and the absence of ideological renewal have led to a shrinkage of political imagination and deterioration in the quality of political judgment. This historical paradox creates conditions for a closure of political possibilities or at least a narrowing of possibilities of politics as the most dynamic force of social transformation that India witnessed in the 20th century.
Bang on the money. It really seems no party really learnt anything. Clearly a case of great chance being missed.