Outlook India 2011-06-06

A Chennai Overture

One factor pertaining to the recent assembly elections that every analyst has commented upon is the virtual eclipse of the Left, particularly in West Bengal, which a Left coalition ruled for 34 years without a break. As for Tamil Nadu, the focus has been on how the people have cut the DMK and the Karunanidhi family to size. Lost in the hullabaloo over the rout of the DMK and the Left is J. Jayalalitha’s invitation to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to her swearing-in ceremony, a recognition of his growing stature both within the BJP and outside it. Jayalalitha’s AIADMK, it must be remembered, has the Left parties as its allies in the Tamil Nadu assembly, and for the Left, Modi is like a red rag. But she has preferred to ignore this, and invited Modi even though the BJP was not her ally and had in fact fought the Tamil Nadu elections on its own. Thanks to massive development work in Gujarat, inclusive growth in all important sectors and industrial and social peace during the last 10 years, Modi has emerged as an icon for those seeking to free the country from family rule (by proxy) at the Centre. Many political analysts believe a BJP led by Modi can romp home with 200-odd Lok Sabha seats. And Jayalalitha’s small gesture has shattered the myth, assiduously built up by vested interests, that a Modi-led BJP won’t get the support of regional parties to cobble up a majority at the Centre. Except for its performance in Assam, there’s little for the Congress to cheer about. The end of the Marxists in West Bengal was almost entirely the achievement of a stormy petrel called Mamata Banerjee, a fact acknowledged by Union minister Pranab Mukherjee. The Congress played no more than a bit role. It’s the Congress that’s now obliged to Mamata and not vice-versa though she’s shrewdly keeping the Grand Old Party in good humour. The Congress victory in Assam is in part a result of Tarun Gogoi’s playing on the hopes for peace he generated by initiating talks with the ULFA leadership. Keen observers, however, would wonder if the peace talks were merely a ploy: perhaps Gogoi was inspired by the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who as the Congress chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 2004 spread the red carpet for Maoist leaders, promising them peace talks, only to dump them once his political purpose was served. This may well happen in Assam too. But for now, Gogoi is benefiting from the mirage he created with the offer of peace talks. The focus on ULFA’s turnaround also helped eclipse the public concern over the string of corruption charges against Gogoi’s government and the criminal history of some of his ministers. In Kerala, the comparatively good show put up by the Marxists is entirely credited to the projection of outgoing chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan as a victim of the CPI(M)’s own apparatus. The Marxist party first decided to dump him, but had to reinstate him as head of the election campaign after the cadres revolted against commissar Pinarayi Vijayan. The Left lost, but VS alone shone: he was perceived as the aggrieved one, for he had put up a determined fight against rampant corruption within the party. It was for this reason VS and his supporters in the Marxist party won, even though the Left as a whole lost the race. Another eye-opener for the Congress is the huge majority that YSR’s son Jaganmohan Reddy, who rebelled and left the ruling Congress after his father’s death, got in the Kadapa Lok Sabha byelection although the entire Andhra Pradesh cabinet campaigned against him. Jaganmohan floated his own regional party opposing the Congress, and several Congress MLAs are known to be supporting him overtly or covertly. Already, the Congress is divided over the Telangana issue. The overwhelming victory of YSR’s son could knock the bottom out of the Congress’s Lok Sabha hopes in Andhra Pradesh, represented by 40 MPs. Given these developments, Jayalalitha is obviously aiming at reshaping national politics by having invited Modi, the most hated politician for the Congress’s first family, the self-styled secular crowd (Outlook included) and the Leftists. With Congress leaders themselves murmuring that their prime minister is unable to lead from the front in fighting the corruption cloud over the party’s prospects, and with the admitted failures in the economic policy, of which uncontrolled inflation is only one aspect, the die is cast, more or less, for the Grand Old Party to face another election even before its second term in office is half-way through. The ground is now being prepared for a national challenge to the Congress and its allies. The first signs have come from the May 13 verdict against the party and its allies.