When we look back at general election 2009, what are we going to remember the most?
Every election since independence has had its defining moments. In 1952, our first election was, in the words of historian Ramachandra Guha, an act of faith. The 1971 election was the one in which Indira Gandhi coined the slogan garibi hatao (remove poverty) and stormed to power. In 1977, we had our first experiment with a coalition but by 1980, the Janata experiment had come undone and Indira Gandhi’s Congress party was back in power. The 1984 election was Rajiv Gandhi’s election, the one which his party won by a landslide on a sympathy vote following Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
The next election, 1989, was the Bofors election, when V.P. Singh, Rajiv Gandhi’s former finance and defence minister, made the word Bofors synonymous with corruption. In 1991, the Congress won 244 seats in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination but failed to form a majority largely due to the impact of (Ram) Mandir and Mandal (on reservations).
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In the next election of 1996, under Narasimha Rao, the Congress tally slipped even further and the permutations and combinations of the seats won by various parties had in them the genesis of an inherently unstable government that was doomed to fall.
Sonia Gandhi made her political debut just before the next election in 1998. But although the Congress succeeded in forming 15 state governments, it could not make a dent in the stature of a post-Kargil war Atal Bihari Vajpayee. By the following election in 2004, the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress had cobbled various partners, winning 222 seats and forming the government with the support of the Communists.
This time around, it’s anybody’s guess who will form the government.
Will it be a Congress-led government? Will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) somehow manage to pull together the numbers? Will it be a Third Front, or even a Fourth Front government led by whoever emerges as the sharpest negotiator? Or is this election just a precursor to another, more defining election that will happen within a couple of years?
Who Pratibha Patil will swear in during the latter half of May is anybody’s guess, but when we do look back, these will be the images that will replay in our collective consciousness:
Gandhi vs Gandhi
The BJP might rave and rant at the Gandhis (Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka) but when it comes to grabbing one of them, it was quick to embrace the so-called other Gandhi, Varun. Despite his blatantly communal speeches, the party would not disown him. Varun Gandhi has clearly arrived as a convenient alternative Gandhi to the BJP, a party that once denied him a ticket to fight a by-election in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh.
When the first shoe was flung at home minister P. Chidambaram, the media had a field day with puns and double entendre. But then the shoes came flying fast and thick, and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani became targets. By the end, the puns had worn thin and even the media began saying enough was enough.
Manmohan Singh strikes back
A man who once described himself as an accidental politician finally decided to hit back at Advani for calling him the “weakest prime minister ever”. The counter-attack seemed to stun Advani into a shocked silence and not a word about weakness has been heard in recent times.
Dynasty rules, daughters rock
Once a preserve of the Nehru-Gandhis, family backing and political genetics now matter across party lines and regions. The only consolation: the rise of the daughters in what was once an exclusively male preserve. In Baramati, Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, seems set to win. In the North-East, 28-year-old Agatha Sangma, daughter of Nationalist Congress Party heavyweight P.A. Sangma, contested from Meghalaya’s Tura constituency. And in the south, D. Purandeswari, N.T. Rama Rao’s daughter, has already established her reputation both as a minister and as a writer with a published book to her name.
Ultimately, this is an election where issues are thin. Terrorism does not seem to be an issue and we have quietly accepted bomb blasts as part of our daily reality. Inflation and the rising cost of living continue to pinch, but we accept these, too.
Within India, the very real threat of Naxalism overtaking terrorism as the No. 1 threat to our security looms large but remains ignored, at least in urban India.
The real fight for who will rule India will begin only after 16 May when the results are in and some murky closed-door negotiations for numbers and allies get under way. And perhaps that is how we will ultimately remember the elections of 2009: The election of fluid alliances and shifting friends where morality and ideology got short shrift in the tussle for power.
After all, they don’t call politics dirty for nothing.
Namita Bhandare writes every other Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org