On a recent visit to Delhi, he spoke to Scroll.in about the Indian elections. In the first part, he spoke about Narendra Modi. In this concluding part, he discusses the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and how Indian elections changed in 2014.
The rise of both the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party this election season has happened in the light of the poor performance of the second term of the Congress-led government. Just five years ago they were on a great high, winning 206 seats, 21 of them in Uttar Pradesh where that was being seen as a sign of revival in the most important state. What went wrong?
For the first time it seems possible that the Congress may not win even 100 seats. It will have to reinvent itself. Doing so will not be easy. The family at the top has lost its charisma, but the party cannot exist without the family.
The rejection of the Congress has many reasons, besides corruption and dynastic politics as well as a real leadership crisis. It could not meet the aspirations and expectations of society. When a country is taking off like India was in the last decade, expectations are very high. But India's growth reached a plateau and then dropped by 4 percentage points. That was a major source of frustration – for the middle class especially. But that was not mainly because of the UPA's policies. Brazil, Turkey and even China, all suffered similar drops because of global economic factors.
But there were other reasons for the Congress decline, including a surprising communication deficit. This is the age of television; leaders need to communicate with the people. No head of government can afford to have a couple of press conferences in a term. And he must also speak back when those who know how to communicate attack him, especially when the attacks are excessive and indulge in vulgarity. Many of the Congress leaders have not at all learned that, till the last days of the election campaign.
There may be more structural reasons for Congress' decline. I think the middle class is tired of the kind of democracy India has eventually shaped into. There is some fatigue amongst this group with the way this parliamentary democracy is functioning. It partly attributes the paralysis of the last few years to this political system and wants a leader who will be more a manager than a prime minister. And possibly someone who will work around the democratic rules if "necessary".
One thought Manmohan Singh was the manager, the technocrat who wasn't a politician and who'd deliver the goods.
He did to begin with. But he was completely paralysed soon after the beginning of his second term, may be because of tensions within the party – he might have been willing to assert himself more after winning the 2009 elections. The delicate balance of UPA-1 with the PM and the Congress chief being two different persons could not be sustained easily.
Do you think the Congress party is outdated for this age? What for instance is the ideology of the party?
The Congress never had a clear cut ideology, like any catch-all party. Its identity (I prefer this word to "ideology") is probably rooted in a brand of social democracy that allows economic liberalisation to some extent, but that the party has betrayed by indulging in crony capitalism. And there is probably a disconnect today between the new urban middle class (whose acceptability of inequalities is increasing) and the social democratic tradition of the Congress. The Congress is losing ground with the middle class while it is retaining some support from Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims who have benefitted more from social subsidies, including the rural employment guarantee scheme. But the Congress crisis is probably even more acute than just a middle class disconnect as the leaders of the party are not coming from among the Dalits, Adivasis or Muslims. So there are two different disconnects!
The Congress is in a crisis but India may not be ready for the BJP's majoritarianism either. The inclusiveness of the Congress, its social diversity is very much at the core of its identity – and at the core of India's identity. It is not as if India can be centralised, or its cultural diversity can be easily erased.
Rahul Gandhi could have been prime minister in 2009 but he chose to be the man who will revive the Congress party. He has failed at that job. Can he be the one to create a new Congress? Given that Indira Gandhi made the party about the family, can her grandson make it democratic? Could the idea of primaries work?
To create a new Congress, they definitely need new people, and give responsibilities to new people they have inducted. I thought that the young Pilot, Scindia and others would have come up and be among the prominent faces of the government by the end of UPA-2, with a new PM to fight the 2014 elections. That has not been the case. It is high time to put the new generation in the front. Whether Rahul does it or someone else.
To democratise the party is a risk that has to be taken. Otherwise what kind of legitimacy will the Gandhi family retain, especially after an unprecedented electoral defeat?
Primaries may contribute to the democratisation process. But first of all they need to have transparent party elections. The PCC [Pradeesh Congress Committee] chiefs will have more legitimacy when elected from below rather than appointed from above. You need more democracy within there party first. If that happens, the candidates who will contest the primaries before they contests a seat will be seen as already having some legitimacy.
With primaries and other ways of democratising the party, the problem is the insecurity of the Gandhi family. When Jagan Reddy demanded that he be the successor to his father as Andhra Pradesh chief minister when he died, the party chose to lose Jagan and the votes he brought. The Gandhi family finds it unacceptable that anyone in the party should derive authority from below rather than from the family. If they democratise too much, some day someone could come and challenge their position just like the BJP has said goodbye to LK Advani.
It's a risk that needs to be taken because the family is losing legitimacy anyway. I would be surprised if in the primaries the candidates do not rally around the Gandhi family! As everyone knows the family is the factor that keeps the party together. Without the Nehru-Gandhi family, faction leaders would be at loggerheads. Democratisation will give them legitimacy and the risk is minimal for them.
What is the one way in which you think Indian elections changed in 2014?
I have been looking at elections in India since 1984 and the first thing that strikes me this time is the dominant role of money. It has always played a role but this time it is more prominent, as evident from the saturation of the public space by experts in political communication. That may also be the main explanation for the way some opponents have become turncoats and sold out or won over. After all, it seems that no election – except the 2012 American election – has ever been so costly…It's a reflection of the role the private sector has acquired after many years of liberalisation and growth. They have become big players. It shows in the media as well.
What are the other ways in which this election is different?
It is different also because of the Aam Aadmi Party. There was a demand for an anti-corruption party that has never governed – because when you have never governed, you are more clean by definition. And it is for the first time that a social movement morphed into a political party in such a short time. There is no comparison to be made with the JP movement [Jayprakash Narayan's movement against Indira Gandhi in 1974, leading to Gandhi's imposition of the Emergency]. The JP movement did not result in a new party but in the amalgamation of many parties in the form of the Janata Party. That is probably one of the reasons why the AAP may not win too many seats – because there is no real party apparatus. It is also rather heterogeneous since people from many different quarters have assembled in a short while. Yet it is refreshing to see that there is still room for a Gandhian-like form of moralpolitik. The percentage of valid votes that the Aam Aadmi Party wins will be important to look at.
Five or ten years from now, do you think the AAP would be a major political force or will its contradictions come home and it may be history?
It is difficult to say. This party is the sequel of a social movement. The transition is always a difficult one. Mobilising people on the street over one issue is easier than turning it into a party organisation. For that you need a full-fledged party machine and a programme. They could build on their Gandhian ideals. In his book Arvind Kejriwal has good ideas about city governance (a major challenge) and the moralising of public life. Poor electoral results may demoralise his supporters and the party volunteers, but AAP has an important role to play. Even if the party has few MPs and it knows how to oppose in order to contain power and make it accountable.
The rise of the AAP has confused the categories of Left and Right. People don't know where to place them. Is it taking away the rich or poor votes, the BJP or Congress votes? Liberal intellectuals and Muslim voters have been reluctant that the AAP might cut votes that would help the BJP. It seems the AAP has unsettled the Congress-BJP binary.
That is the main problem for a third party anywhere. The Lib Dems have had the same problem in Britain for years. Many would have liked to vote for them for a long time. But to keep the Tories out they have voted for Labour. That is no doubt a barrier but the AAP has circumvented that rather well and few AAP supporters can feel they are wasting their vote. This vote sends a valuable enough signal to the political establishment. AAP's future also depends on whether the Congress is able to arrest its decline.
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