– by RAJEEV GOWDA
In 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of India’s Tryst with Destiny and proclaimed: A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new …. Sixty two years on, quietly, without fanfare or revolution, without the Congress or the nation expecting it, we have arrived at another historic moment.
India’s voters, true miracle workers all, have crafted constructive agendas out of a low-key, “issueless” election. They have opted for a secular, inclusive, national party. They have resoundingly reposed their faith in the sincere striving of the Congress’ top leadership: Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
Congress’s triumph owes a lot to its opponents’ weaknesses. Voters rejected parties that emphasize caste, religion or region, and reiterated their desire for development. There were no takers for a jaded Hindutva. Voters rejected the digitally-enhanced deity of divisiveness and doublespeak, LK Advani, and the unpalatable Narendra Modi, deceptively dolled up in a developmental dress.
Voters also sent a message to messiahs of identity politics. Mayawati, Mulayam and Lalu may have enhanced the self-esteem of backward and scheduled castes, but they have neither empowered them nor transformed their futures. Nor of the minorities who supported them. So voters did not succumb to the narrow agendas that they represent. The Left was also soundly punished, for its discordant disruption of the UPA and its inability to translate its ideological commitment to the poor into anything concrete or relevant to modern market economies.
However, a closer reading of the vote shows that people also flailed about behind charismatic film stars and disruptive elements like Raj Thackeray. This division of votes was crucial to helping the Congress break through. That means people are still searching for alternatives and their faith in the Congress’s highest leadership does not necessarily accrue to state level satraps. The party needs to resolutely reinvigorate itself, and ensure that the inner-party democracy that Rahul is injecting into the Youth Congress extends to the parent organization. Fundamentally, the Congress needs to inspire again.
Further, given the economic crises that have engulfed the world, voters have chosen pragmatic action over leftist rhetoric, and thrust the economy back into Manmohan Singh’s trusted hands. Voters have also shown that they do not believe that any one party must shoulder the blame for terrorist attacks on our soil by foreign fanatics.
So, what next? Rahul and the Congress must heed Nehru’s words: The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
One challenge of the present is the tremendous turmoil in South Asia. Pakistan is imploding. Nepal is trying hard to build a democracy. Sri Lanka is breathing a sigh of relief at the death of Prabhakaran, coincidentally in the same week that marks the political coming of age in India of the son of the man he assassinated. India has a major role to play in reaching out and helping our neighbors revive democracy, as Bangladesh has shown is eminently possible.
Another challenge is creating opportunities for the poor. The voters have noted that along with Manmohan and Montek’s passion for market reform, the Congress also had Sonia’s compassion for India’s downtrodden. It’s easy to criticize the UPA’s flagship programmes—Rural Employment Guarantee, Bharat Nirman, Rural Health Mission, Farm Loan Waiver—as populist measures. But, until growth possibilities accrue to all Indians, these measures provide that crucial safety net for the poorest and the desperate. We are not a nation that privileges efficiency alone. We desire a government that has a head and a heart.
This election also signals the arrival of Rahul Gandhi. The task that confronts him is to approach India’s challenges with the freshness that youth really represents. To find innovative ways to break free of old and new barriers to growth, to go beyond sops, to bridge divides between rural and urban, between the English speaking globally competitive and the locally lingual and limited. Rahul needs to unleash India’s natural entrepreneurial energy and also prevent our potential demographic dividend from degenerating into disaster. That is the challenge of his historical moment.
Rahul, and the Congress, have a unique second chance to reshape India’s destiny. Their mission remains the same one that Nehru so eloquently articulated: The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.
– This piece appeared in the DNA, Bangalore edition.