28 Dec India: (Almost) Wild Political Speculation
By Ibn-e Eusuf
A month before the elections in Delhi, Congress, by its own admission, did not even have AAP on its radar, which suggests that the former must still be in a deep sense of shock. So must the other political parties since all had been equally blindsided. Which raises the interesting question: What is going to happen between now and the coming national elections? How are the various parties likely to adjust and adapt to the shock results in Delhi?
The thing to do for an analyst in such a situation is to travel around the country, talk to people, get a sense of the sentiments, and piece the findings together in some kind of a convincing narrative. That door is closed to us Pakistanis who nonetheless wish to figure out what may be in the works in India. And why not – India after all is our big neighbor and despite the fact that some Indians would like us to mind our own business we are not willing to concede our right to stay interested. We don’t need anyone’s permission for our curiosity, more so because we are quite obviously affected by developments across a border that is such an aggravation in our lives.
So all the Pakistani analyst can do is to speculate and, if one were speculating, why not speculate wildly. There are many downsides to not being paid for what one writes and not being read by many either, but by virtue of the same there is the advantage of being unconstrained by any concerns of compensations or critiques. I am going, therefore, to exercise my license to speculate as much as I wish.
That said, those who have studied system theory know that if you have a good algorithm you can pretty much start it far from the real solution and it would converge to the latter in a few iterations at most. The same is the case with a wild speculation provided you have a good conversation – a few rounds and one should be close to a sense of the real possibilities of what might actually transpire.
A wild speculation then is not entirely an outlandish exercise. If our Indian friends would indulge our fancy we might actually learn something in sifting the fanciful from the not so fanciful in our exploration of the Indian electoral panorama that is just beginning to unfold. What gives added confidence is that we don’t have any nuts on this blog who find all ‘others’ moronic and malevolent wasting space thereby in signaling their own lack of any grace or grooming.
Let us start then with the much beleaguered Congress. Without any real strategist in its fold it is bound to muddle around, and without the courage to imagine itself independent of the family it is likely to remain confined to limited alternatives. What might these limited alternatives be?
I see two out-of-the box choices. It can either see the writing on the wall and decide to take its losses by conceding the coming round, in which case it could decide not risk the reputation of the heir presumptive and let Congress be led into battle by a no-name that can be sacrificed at the altar of the electoral exercise. Or, it could let everything ride on one big roll of the dice and draft in Priyanka to lead the troops into the fray. Priyanka, of course, may not be interested but then neither was Rajiv when duty called and he was pressed into service. As to why the electorate might be more impressed with Priyanka than with Rahul, we rely on the judgment (on which more later) of Justice Katju for that.
As it is, it is more than likely that Congress would limp into the contest with no declared flag-bearer and end up losing anyway without a fight or a strategy for the future. So much one might surmise from the history and traditions of the party.
What then of the other major party, the BJP? It doesn’t really seem the BJP knows what to do with the AAP phenomenon and looks likely to press ahead the way it intended to before Delhi. Quite asides from that, the one thing that surprises observers in Pakistan is how a local don has been projected as a national leader on the basis of no real achievements – all objective studies continue to highlight the fact that there has been no exceptional performance in Gujarat under Modi relative to other states in India. And yet, the educated middle class and the business groups have been made to swallow the hype of the great transformer. This is where the Justice Katju verdict seems on the mark – the populace that would buy into the magic of Modi could just as well buy into the promise of Priyanka.
Looking objectively at Modi, it seems quite likely that he would overstep and stumble somewhere in the run-up to election time. Already he has said some pretty dumb things and one cannot put beyond him saying some others that might hurt more and cause him to self-destruct. That, at the very least, might seem the best hope for Congress – and for India, one might venture to say.
The Modi phenomenon does confirm the evidence that the failure of democracy to deliver sooner or later leads to more authoritarian alternatives – padrones who brook no nonsense and make the trains run on time. Well, good luck to India if it votes in the BJP – at last India would have a chief of the same intellectual caliber as most of Pakistan’s, folks one would worry handing over the neighborhood grocery store to.
The Aam Admi Party is of course the joker in the pack. Will it be an urban fad like Imran Khan’s PTI or will it tap into something deep and revolutionize Indian democracy forever? I, for one, don’t see the latter eventuality coming to pass – the structural roots of India’s rural politics run deep – but then neither did I see the outcome in Delhi. Let us for the moment assume that it does – then what? It seems to me it has the frustration with the status quo and the energy of protest furling its sails but I don’t really decipher any real vision to reform the system. All I can sense is the engineering solution to social phenomena – punish people sufficiently and they would shape up, and for the life of me I don’t see that delivering in the long run. It might boil over into an even bigger disillusionment with electoral politics and with democracy – as it is, Kejriwal entered politics quite reluctantly and he might not waste any time reverting back to more direct and more populist measures.
That leaves the increasingly important regional parties, led by a motley group of ladies, of which in Pakistan we know even less than we know of the others. Given the greater than usual uncertainty exacerbated by the emergence of the AAP, it seems reasonable to assume that they would refrain from any pre-election alliances. The safe gambit would be to wait for the verdict and then hitch themselves to whoever appears to have the best chance of getting into the driver’s seat.
That, believe it or not, is what the Indian election contest looks like from a blinkered Pakistani perspective. Most likely it is all amiss, but do take the trouble to educate us to what you think is the more sensible scenario. It would be interesting to revisit the analyses in a few months – ‘when the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.’
Update – January 17, 2014: Another strike for Ibn-e Eusuf? Rahul out.
Update – January 8, 2014: Looks like Ibn-e Eusuf scored a scoop! Priyanka in.