In all likelihood, the BJP will return to power in the ensuring elections not despite of the expose, but partially because of it.
It is interesting to note that it was sheer overconfidence on the part of the Babu Bajrangis who let down their guard- reminiscent of the BJP’s condition of euphoria before 2004. “The Congress will not return to power for the next 50 years”, its star leader Pramod Mahajan had declared then. Similar is the condition in the kingdom of the BJP’s star Chief Minister, except that the Chhote Sardar is well- entrenched and his position strong, unless there is an invisible under current of resentment at the ground that may swing the tide as it did in 2004. The Congress’s refusal to take on the BJP aggressively, and indeed to downplay the Tehelka expose, is a strategy whose outcome is difficult to predict till the elections are held and results declared.
But the good news is that for the already beleaguered BJP at the national level, Mr Modi has now become an albatross around its neck. It is yet to recover from its electoral debacle of 2004, it is not clear who exactly its leaders are, despite courageous attempts to re-live their past authority, Vajpaee and Advani have both age and past record against them. The skeletons in the cupboard that emerged after Pramod Mahajan’s death call into question the calibre of its NextGen leadership that now is on the defensive, more often squabbling amongst itself if not, like Ms Uma Bharti, discrediting, the mother Party. TV channels are not banned outside Gujarat, and Mr Modi’s misdeeds will not go unnoticed by the substantial number of fence sitter supporters of the BJP.
The BJP’s economic agenda that appeals to the upper/ middle classes has been inherited by the current government and if the UPA is able to successfully complete its five year term- it will be an achievement of sorts- it is more likely to result in a broad coalition coalescing around the INC rather than the BJP. Despite it’s championing of the neo- liberal assault, its continued ignorance of the poor and the deprived, the UPA has provided a relatively more peaceful environment compared to the BJP- there has been a lessening of communal tensions and riots in the country during the UPA rule.
The challenge for the UPA is to address increasing economic disparities, overcome it’s urban focussed, stock market oriented ‘growth’ policies, and to attend to the cause of the poorest of the poor, especially in the eastern states where vast areas are in various stages of rebellion. The Left that supports the UPA seems to be rather ineffective in veering the course towards those whose cause it claims to champion, that is, the working poor.
The course of Indian politics changes substantially to the extent of making a U- turn, every two decades- remember 1969, and then 1990-92. It is nearly two decades since 1990, and there is a political churning- the BSP’s emergence is indeed the most exciting one, despite it’s pitfalls. The continuing setback to the BJP and the consolidation of a Centre- Left coalition at the national level is another. What is needed is a push further to the left in the next two to three years. That means, in short, more attention towards the poor and the deprived since it is unlikely that anything substantial will “trickle down” by then.
As of now, the chances for the INC/UPA to return to power in the next general elections seem positive- the BJP and its Hindutva agenda are being beaten back, the Tehelka expose is yet another step in reclaiming the middle ground, the secular terrain, another one being the secularization of political grammar, via the Sachar Committee Report‘s replacement of the rhetoric of “minority appeasement” by the reality of the economic and social marginalization of Indian Muslims.
It has become increasingly difficult for the BJP to replicate the, alas, “successful”, experiment outside Mr Modi’s laboratory. The Tehelka expose may not have told us anything new, but along with the Sachar Committee Report, marks a slow but steady recovery of secular politics. At least outside Gujarat.