How politics is about the punchlines
What to do with the CCD-vote bank that's decided to wake up
Saffron vs. No-good - hobson's choice, and
Why TV debates are really, no good at all
I was watching this show called Left, Right and Centre on NDTV, where the BJP had sent an easily excitable Sudheendra Kulkarni and the INC was represented by an overly populist Kapil Sibal, PhD in I-make-no-sense-EVER. The twenty-something audience, all of who looked like they'd stumbled into the studio while returning from neighbourhood CCD, seemed to love Sibal. To be fair, I guess the man's brand of politics does cater exclusively to subzero IQ levels - punchline, slander, 2-minute-Maggi and you-never-need-to-read-a-book-to-understand types.
So this is my fear - post-Barack, politics has become cool. All of South Delhi and South Bombay are looking for a party to register with, and there is a feeling among many that the INC is the "secular" party. And it isn't too hard to add onto that image words like "liberal", and "Obama-esque" - we are after all, a nation of delusional optimism. Contrast the visuals of Rahul vs Advani, Ram Rajya vs the nuclear deal, and send in Kapil Sibal to make some more populist statements, and the INC will have achieved what McCain/ Palin couldn't - an election win on massive populist appeal alone, no substantiation required.
And this worries me a fair bit, given especially how anyone who tries to list out the achievements of the UPA government in the last five years will not be able to go beyond
a) the nuclear deal and
The first was handed to us by the Bush administration on a silver platter with chocolate on the side - we still managed to nearly mess it up. The second was more a set of initiatives - the minimum support price, the farm loan waiver, the guaranteed 100 days of work. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that most of these treated the symptoms and not the disease, and that too at a very high price, literally. Our fiscal deficit is ballooning, bad debts are looming and the public sector is being forced to lend to India's biggest vote bank that's been told its OK to not repay. The INC's manifesto - which as I understand no one really reads - lists out a bunch of achievements, none of which even comes close to helping urban India, and nearly all of which has hit our budget and banking systems so badly there is no way they'll be able to fight the recession, create jobs *and* finance these plans going forward.
I find it very disappointing that a cabinet led by Dr. Singh with Chiddu as finance minister could mess up so much. Easing FDI regulations, the insurance act, retail investment in India, tax breaks for all energy exploration, cleaning up the system even a little bit - they had five years to do it and were content riding on the GDP momentum created by the policies of the previous government. I wonder if the CCD returnees care, or even know, what they were laughing for?
Coming back to the show, the big issue was the BJP's manifesto, where re-building the Ram temple figured as an agenda. Sibal called it a last-ditch attempt by a failing party to get the vote out from the conservative base. Anyone who knows anything about politics in India will know that the BJP's biggest skeleton, and the reason it has never harnessed the support it needs from urban India and the minorities, has been its right-wing affiliation. Now with Advani at the helm and Vajpayee no longer in the picture, there is a very valid concern that the party might come closer to polarizing the India to the highest extent since 1947.
But there was a question asked by one member of the audience which I thought pretty much summarized a lot of people's thoughts on the flip-side of this argument. He said how as a Hindu, he was forced to vote BJP because the INC took the majority for granted - reservations everywhere, etc - could the INC defend its almost anti-majority stance? And I thought Sibal was a jackass for dismissing him with a non sequitor punch line- ("I am a Hindu, and part of the INC - did you think you were the only Hindu in this room?") - obviously the audience roared with laughter - how funny, he just made a funny! Haha. Now I think that was a bold Q to ask, and it's a pity the moderator - who's JD for the day, possibly from Barkha Dutt - seemed to have been kill-the-saffron, did not push Sibal for a straighter answer for this.
I was also reminded yet again why in the debate vs. discussion bit I always choose the latter. Debates are almost always about the punch lines and the easy laughs, you never dig into the topic or analyze the merits of the other party's argument. I knew that this problem wasn't restricted to university debating, but to see it almost symptomatic of the sport itself was a pretty uneasy realization.
It's been known for a while that India doesn't fight elections on issues. But the upcoming elections - this show being a poster for the issue - has brought about a couple of hard truths about the system:
1. Democracy votes with a weightage of one. It's a numbers game, and if the folks who vote happen to be farmers, jobless gomers and CCD-goers, well that's who you'll need to cater to.
2. Drawing from the point above, it is a pity the BJP is going back to colour politics. Their 2004 manifesto - India Shining - focused on development: infrastructure, regulation, development to ride on what India had achieved in the last 5 years. Nariman Point stayed home on election day and the farmer had no idea how the fancy terms would help him, and went to vote for the aam aadmi agenda. It makes perfect (and disgusting) sense that the party would go back to the things that bring out the foot soldiers this time around - ram rajya, temples, and Varun Gandhi
3. Speaking of whom - Mayawati is probably going to win a lot more seats than had actually been projected, thanks to Gandhi Jr Jr. She's done the big thing by slapping an NSA order on the kid and is currently in a catfight with the mother. Already-victimized voters of the minority community are thinking: M's our girl.
In other words, the election season is here, and you know what I'm going to be doing both at work and outside :)
PS: On a lighter note: headline after the BSP decided to contest all the seats on its own: Mayawati - she's single and happy!