Congress is back. It is back with a big bang. It is not the game of numbers that makes this victory different for the party than 2004 elections. True, its score has gone to plus 200 and the UPA alliance has gone up by 61 seats but these elections are important as people in India have chosen a middle path by rejecting the rightwing Hindutva parties and leftwing Communists. The election results have made many optimistic about the future of secularism in India and have starting believing that it was going to stay in India. The lackluster performance of BJP and its allies in this election have set the Indian intelligentsia pondering, if it was because of its complacency or failure to come up with programme that would hold a promise for India emerging as global player. Some see the election results as a ‘middle class lesson’. Compared to other election in India this time the middle class was more involved than ever before. It was for the first time that so many celebrity and Bollywood stars through TV channels urged people to vote. The youth turn out this time was larger than in the previous elections. The worst drubbing came for the Communist led Left Front; it suffered a cumulative loss of 37 seats from 2004. The Left front has now just twenty three seats in Lok Sabha but the survival of the left factor in India polity is important for teeming underprivileged.
This election undoubtedly augurs a big change for Indian politics as very aptly commented by a political observer it is a “goodbye to a whole generation.”
L.K. Advani who had emerged more than a phenomenon in India’s Hindutva politics will not be there to play a major role in future as he has decided not to function even as leader of the opposition in the Parliament. Some observers see it as a vote not for dynasty but governance as they believe that the youth voted not for the youth but for the party that struck the best balance between youth and experience. The Congress between Rahul Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh created that effect.” The vote undoubtedly has been for Manmohan Singh and his good governance that would save India from slipping into the morass of economic recession that many Indian economists believe the country was going to plunge into coming months.
It was sure a momentous poll for India as a nation. It has always been the domestic issues such as communalism, caste clashes, prices and regional issues that have dominated the election campaign. The India’s relations with the external world US, Europe Russia or the Muslim world have never been part of election campaigns. Surprisingly the nuclear deal with the US that remained in headlines for months together did not even echo in the rallies of the communist parties with that much of an emphasis as demand for its scrapping. The relations with its neighbors have also never remained an elections issue. If there has been an external issue that has played some significant role at the hustings in the past it has been relations with Pakistan. The Pakistan factor whether it is Pakistan debacle in the East Pakistan or the war on the rugged mountains in the Kargil have influenced Indian electorate. It was Pakistan’s debacle in East Pakistan that made Indira Gandhi `the steel lady of India’. Similarly Kashmir problem has remained an important sometimes dominant issue in the election campaigns in India. Kashmir in fact was the main issue on which the Jan Sangh, the fore runner of BJP contested its elections during the first ever election. Slogans like eik vidhan, eik nishan and eik pradhan dominated all its election rallies. Kashmir continued to be part of its election campaign even after the state was constitutionally fully integrated by extending most of the Central rules to the state and there has hardly been an election manifesto of the party that did not mention abrogation of much eroded Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees special status to the state.
It seemed a total departure than many previous elections as Kashmir issue did not figure in any of the elections rallies except those in Jammu and Kashmir where both the National Conference and the PDP asked for votes from people for enabling them to advocate for resolution of Kashmir problem. Dr. Farooq Abdullah had shown a lot of enthusiasm for working as bridge between India and Pakistan and Hurriyat and New Delhi for finding an amicable settlement of sixty two year old dispute. It remains to be seen if he succeeded in casting a new role for himself by really working as an elderly statesman for resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Instead of looking for a prototype role of a minister in New Delhi he at 73 should now see himself cast in a role that would not find his name in the footnotes of Kashmir history but becoming part of its main text. That could happen only if he really works outside his preconceived ideas of solution of Kashmir problem and working for a solution that truly represents aspirations of people in tune with the fundamentals of the dispute.
Notwithstanding the abrogation of Article 370 figuring in the election manifesto of the BJP, it failed to gain the same hype in its election campaigns as during the previous ones. What was remarkably good about these elections that despite the terrorist attacks on two five star hotels in Mumbai being fresh in public mind and television channels repeating the footage of mayhem in this metropolis the Pakistan bashing in this election was minimum. The Mumbai voters have belied the cries of revenge that were shrill that promised success of Hindutva immediately after 26/11 by taking what is described as middle path. It did not vote for the communalist forces and Hindu extremists some of whom for displaying arms and daggers could be counted as terrorists. The success of the Congress in this metropolis is indicative of youth thinking in India that it does not believe in Pakistan and Kashmir bashing but aspires for peace and tranquility. The Indian middle class and rural poor are no more interested in hackneyed politics of hatred. This was obvious when the Hindutva parties were defeated in two metropolises – Delhi the political capital of India and Mumbai the commercial capital of this country.
The Indian electorate do deserve kudos for having given the country a mandate for stable government but as very rightly pointed out by The New York Times, “Congress’s strong performance signals the possibility of a stable and strong government in the face of stiff challenges: a sharp slowdown in economic growth, abiding poverty and instability in the region, including in Pakistan”. There are indications that Indian economy is resilient enough not to slowdown much further but what should be the cause of immediate concern to the Manmohan Singh government is volatile neighborhood Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.
The relations with Pakistan are more important for stability. Some political observers in India see some positive sign for India and Pakistan relations in these elections. Javed Naqvi a political analyst in New Delhi seeing the electoral results as a positive development for India and Pakistan relations writes, “With the emphatic abbreviation of the BJP’s tally in the month-long April-May polls, the voters’ decision augurs well for India’s troubled relations with its neighbors, particularly with Pakistan. For US Af-Pak Chief Richard Holbrooke the door is wide open to seek the kind of help from India, which he was hesitant to share with the Senate Foreign Relations’ Committee as recently as last Tuesday.”
It is no secret that the US government under President Barrak Obama has been seeing Kashmir as gateway to peace in South Asia. The United States has been seeing India’s role for peace in the region of critical importance as was noted by US special envoy Richard Holbrooke during his visit to New Delhi that the US can’t settle issues like Afghanistan and many others without India’s full involvement. There have been reports about Dr Manmohan Singh’s government also has been working closely with the Obama administration on the new US plan to bring peace and stability to Pakistan and Afghanistan but this now needs to be pursued more vigorously. One of the most important step in this direction can be restoration of stalled dialogue between the two countries and restarting the process from where it got stopped in 2007 when according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh an agreement that could have paved way for resolution of all outstanding issues including that of Jammu and Kashmir to be signed by him and President Musharraf was ready. Now when Pakistan has democratically elected government with an olive branch in its stretched hand Prime Manmohan Singh should reinitiate the multilateral dialogue at various levels. To begin with immediately after the new government starts function, let talks at foreign minister level be announced.