24 May, 2016.
Assam election results today show that BJP has won nearly two thirds majority, its first ever in this state. Congress has lost heavily after 15 years of consecutive terms. Let us reflect on the history of this part of India. By “this part” I mean mainly Assam and West Bengal. After partition of India and Pakistan, millions of illegal immigrants continued pouring into India through its porous borders in these two states. It is estimated that WB alone had about 5 million refugees from Bangladesh BEFORE the Bangladesh Liberation War in December 1971! Bihar also took in its share, but a major chunk went to Assam. In the aftermath of the Bangladesh Liberation War in December 1971, this number swelled to some 10 million refugees of whom about two million never went back to Bangladesh. Considering the fact that 2011 census shows Assam has 10.7 million muslims, illegal refugees add up to a significant number altering demographics of the area.
All Assam Students Union (AASU) started a massive agitation in 1979 when the then Congress PM India Gandhi decided to give voting rights to illegal refugees. It was a bloody situation ending in thousands being massacred (official est. 3K, unofficial 10K). Finally Indira ended the agitation by signing an accord which came into legal enforcement in the name of Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983. This was later challenged in Supreme Court by Sarbananda Sonowal. In 2005 Supreme Court held that IMDT Act “has created the biggest hurdle and is the main impediment or barrier in the identification and deportation of illegal migrants” and stuck it down. Today (24th May 2016) this same person Sarbananda is taking oath as CM of Assam. He was a Union Cabinet Minister of State (MoS) -Independent Charge for Sports & Youth Affairs, Skill Development &. Entrepreneurship in PM Modi’s cabinet.
Simultaneously in Kerala the current ruling coalition UDF of Congress has lost the election to LDF (Leftists coalition). In Tamilnadu, Jayalalitha’s AIADMK party has won a second term in the office. Jayalalitha thus becomes only a second CM after MGR to have won two consecutive terms in TN. Mamta Bannerjee’s Trinamul Congress (TMC) decimated all opposition to win a second term also. A few reporters have duly noted that TMC did this by hijacking the leftist agenda and giving them a taste of their own medicine in terms of violence. So, in a way, Bengalis are still stuck to the leftist rule in a different garb. In all these states (Kerala, TN, WB and Assam) Congress has been relegated to a second/third rate party. Reports in the media revolve around how this sounds a death-knell for Congress, the Grand Old Party of India. Loss of Assam after having ruled it for 60 out of 69 years is particularly troublesome. It is very possible that its repercussions will be felt in other smaller north-eastern states in a domino-like effect.
What does it all mean for Indian political scene? If BJP is usurping Congress space, is there any other national party that can challenge BJP’s dominance over India in the coming years? Next year will witness assembly elections in some crucial states like Punjab, UP and Karnataka. Already BJP has pinned its hopes on Lingayat leader and ex-CM of Karnataka B. Yeddyurappa to take over its reigns once again. It is expected that the wave against Congress will continue there also. But in UP there are two formidable parties to contend with: Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav (his son Akhilesh is the current CM in UP) and Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati (ex-CM of UP). BSP is a national party but in light of the losses in elections recently, Election Commission have sent them a showcause notice on why their national status should be retained. So we are faced with a plethora of regional parties holding sway mostly over one state with no other party besides Congress offering a national presence. 2019 will see general elections when the PM Narendra Modi will fight for a second term in the office. All kinds of permutations and combinations are already being offered from various quarters. None of them looks plausible at present. The reasons are not hard to see.
Most regional parties were formed as an alternative to Congress monopoly over Indian electorate. Some like TMC and NCP of Sharad Pawar were nothing but breakaways from Congress itself. The usual pretext offered is always that these parties can better represent local people and their issues. The bugaboo of Secularism is used ad nauseum to compensate for lack of any ideology or vision uniting the flock under the party banner. The basic structure remains modeled after Congress itself where one powerful family at the top usurps all power and spoils for itself. There is no concept of inner party democracy. Most started with little or no money, so whenever they came to power, they devised ingenious ways to fill the party coffers at the expense of the taxpayers (mostly the middle class). I don’t want to present a laundry list of such party names because there are way too many but suffice it to say that what is said above applies to almost all of them. As of September 2014, the total number of parties registered was 1761, with six national, 49 state and 1706 unrecognised parties. If the party fulfills certain criteria, it can be labeled a national party of which there are currently only six: BJP, Congress, CPI, CPI(M), BSP, and NCP.
Today the real influence of CPI and CPI(M) is only in Kerala and WB. BSP is mainly based in UP, and NCP mainly in Maharashtra. The coalition of Congress with Communist parties in WB failed miserably to make any mark in the election. Most writers called it the worst opportunistic alliance based only on a desperate need for survival. People saw the double face of Congress as they sat on the stage together in WB, but made speeches against each other in Kerala. Since NCP keeps making opportunistic tilts of its own as and when the need arises, they are not considered dependable partners. That leaves BSP and the Leftists. In principle, they seemed ideally suited to form a coalition except that the party structures are radically different. While the Leftists parties are cadre based, BSP has concentrated power around its high command in the hands of Mayawati. She tom-toms her commitment to lift the status of dalits and OBC all over India, but her party too has been mired in heavy-handedness and corruption scandals when in power in UP. So it is very hard to see BSP combining with the Leftists to form a coalition against BJP. Also, Mayawati cannot forget the fact that she came to power with the help of upper castes by promising fair share of representation to them in UP.
It’s a fallacy to think that the well-off Indians are a resource that can be milked forever to achieve parity in the society by offering backward classes and minorities fixed reservations in many government institutions and industries. Just like earth’s resources are limited, and nature revolts in its unique way through droughts, floods, earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons and cyclones etc. the great Indian middle class is waking up to this nationwide “loot” of their hard-earned money in the name of subsidies and reservations. The caste and social status based traditional quota system is obsolete. The reservations should be strictly for the poor – regardless of race, colour, creed, caste or religion. Anyone who is plugged into media some way would have realized by now that the old corrupt system of bureaucracy first talks about secularism (more like armchair liberalism), creates reservations and doles out subsidies and freebies and eventually pockets a good chunk of that money themselves and their political leaders.