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A Moment of National Redemption

Adnan Farooqui

By Ajay K. Mehra
Routledge, New Delhi, pp. 381, Rs. 795.00


A ccepting a negative verdict from the voters with humility is a sign of a deep-rooted democratic political culture. The 2009 General Election in India once again confirmed its status as an established democracy. Multiple factors are always involved in producing a clear outcome in Indian elections, but these elections were widely read as a moment of national redemption, renewal and a retreat, though not the end of parochial political noise. While its neighbours were/are facing serious political crises of one kind or another, Indians endured and enjoyed a drawn-out battle between scores of political parties vying for their vote. Unlike 2004, when the media pundits and opinion polls got it embarrassingly wrong by predicting a resounding victory for the incumbent Bharatiya Janata party-led coalition, in 2009 it was supposed to be too close to call. The electorate confounded the commentators and parties yet again by handing out a convincing, though not overwhelming,victory to the Congress-led coalition. All other parties conceded defeat. India is too diverse, divided and pluralistic for a one-size fits approach to work.Trying to interpret what an electorate ‘meant’ is never easy. Drawing sensible conclusions is harder still in India where national issues are all but drowned out in a cacophony of local politics. Political scientists have spent years demonstrating that democracy rarely survives in poor countries. India is a triumphant exception to this rule. Despite the fact that a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line, the country has been a functioning democracy for almost the entire period since Independence in 1947. The last two decades have witnessed a deepening of democracy in India with dignity politics. The most populous states, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, were dominated by regional and caste-based parties led by leaders claiming to challenge the dominance of upper castes and promising dignity to the hitherto margin-alized. A shared identity between the leader and certain castes was seen as automatically serving the interests of the specific voting blocs. Political power and a sense of ‘yes, we do count’ kept many ‘backward castes’ voting for the regional parties. And they still do. However, as the results show, the regional leaders cannot take their support for granted. Focusing on dignity without development cannot work forever—as became clear in Bihar, the poorest state in India. Identity politics came to overwhelm law and order, governance and policy seriousness. The shock delivered to such parties ...

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