Even as the Manmohan Singh
government's woes continued with what was called the coal scam
hitting the headlines in the earlier part of 2012 and the
horrendous gang rape of a young woman tarnishing its reputation as
the year drew to a close, its political position was generally
more secure than what might have been expected.
As much was evident from the Congress' recent victory in the
Himachal Pradesh assembly elections and earlier in Uttarakhand.
And, although it suffered the anticipated defeat at Narendra Modi's hands in Gujarat, the marginal fall in the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP's) tally of seats and voting percentage suggested that
the latter's influence might be tapering off.
Arguably, the Congress' victories in Himachal Pradesh and
Uttarakhand have stalled, if not reversed, the slide it
experienced earlier when it lost in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Goa.
The scene for the party at the time could not have been gloomier
with the BJP directly targeting the prime minister on the coal
scam. While the Congress was being battered and bruised in Delhi,
an outbreak of violence in distant Assam between the tribal Bodos
and Muslim settlers from Bangladesh refocussed attention on the
unresolved problem of migration in the region.
However, if the outlook for the Congress has improved, even if
marginally, the reason is the failure of its opponents to mount a
sustained campaign against it. Considering how the BJP's
insistence on the prime minister's resignation on the coal scam
led to the washing out of the entire monsoon session of
parliament, it can seem odd how quickly the issue has vanished
from the public eye. Evidently, the BJP's all-or-nothing approach
sucked the life out of it when the government ignored its demand.
The BJP has experienced other failures, too, to enable the
Congress breathe a sigh of relief. The biggest of them is in
Karnataka where the party has split with the scam-tainted former
chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, forming his own outfit. The
fanfare, therefore, with which the BJP had celebrated its entry
into southern India has died with a whimper. The party is still in
office, of course, in Bangalore. But the Congress and its ally,
the Janata Dal-Secular, can hope to claw their way back to power.
But, ironically, the BJP's biggest problem relates not to
failures, but to a success. For all the hype which accompanied
Modi's victory in Gujarat, there is a perceptible uneasiness about
what it portends for the party. It isn't only Modi's prime
ministerial ambitions which have thrown a spanner in the hopes of
other aspirants like the never-say-die octogenarian L.K. Advani,
the eloquent (in Hindi) Sushma Swaraj and the favourite of English
TV channels, Arun Jaitley. What is disconcerting for the BJP is
the fact that the fulfilment of Modi's dreams will entail the
demise of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
This possibility was highlighted yet again by Bihar Chief Minister
Nitish Kumar's conspicuous absence from Modi's swearing-in
ceremony where the BJP's allies like Chief Minister J.
Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and the two estranged cousins, Uddhav
Thackeray of the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra
Navnirman Sena, were present. However, their combined presence
could not compensate for the dark shadow cast by Nitish Kumar's
absence since his party, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), is the
NDA's only "secular" component. A rift between the BJP and the JD-U
will mean handing over the Hindi heartland state of Bihar to the
Congress and its ally, Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) -
unless the JD-U joins hands with the Congress for a share in power
in Bihar and at the centre.
The BJP is not the only adversary of the Congress which seems
unable to get its act together. Another group comprising, among
others, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, who had considerably
rattled the Congress with their anti-corruption campaign, has
since fallen apart with mentor Anna and disciple Kejriwal going
their separate ways. Not only that, the mentor has even accused
the disciple of being "power hungry" presumably because the latter
has deviated from Anna's tactical line by forming a political
But, even if these civil activists and fledgling politicians have
failed to set the Yamuna on fire, the fact that the path of civil
resistance which they showed to the younger generation belonging
mainly to the urban middle class has proved to be a useful tool in
their hands. Its efficacy can be seen in the demonstrations
organised by these unorganised groups in protest against the
government's customarily apathetic response to the gang rape of a
young woman in Delhi.
What is noteworthy about these groups is that they are invariably
well-turned-out and usually speak in English. The obvious
disconnect between these English-speaking 'inquilabis'
(revolutionaries) and the political establishment must be of
considerable concern to the latter for, while the recognised
political parties have failed to exploit the prevalent discontent,
these young men and women have been able to do so.
And the reason why they have been able tap into the discontent is
the government's seemingly uncaring nature. Cocooned in a life of
power and privilege, and harbouring criminal elements in its ranks
(one-fourth of the MPs have a criminal background), nothing
appears to shake the government's smug complacency more than the
street demonstrations by idealistic young people.
The government still seems to have the edge where a straight fight
with its political opponents is concerned. But no one knows what
the effect of the challenge posed by these unorganised groups will
be on the electoral outcome, especially because they clearly
regard the entire political class with disdain. The election where
the impact of this "X" factor will probably be felt first will be
for the Delhi assembly in 2013.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be