Predicted to go from strength to strength, the Congress looked besieged in 2010

[from IMPLODE after explosion.]
A bursting or collapsing inward

Ashok MalikFOR EVERYTHING that is true of India, the old line goes, the opposite is also true. 2010 proved this as it relentlessly, ceaselessly and remorselessly deconstructed all the political constructs of 2009. That was when the Congress had won a famous victory in the General Election, was seemingly set to go from strength to strength. Regional parties, it was cheerfully predicted, had seen their day.

Then came the year of the UPA implosion: in 2010, the Congress-led coalition swiftly made the journey from hubris to nemesis. The big winner of 12 months ago already looks bedraggled and besieged. Purposeful governance having been long forgotten, the ruling alliance’s energies are focused on firefighting, evading the stench of scandal and, when all else fails, manufacturing a lethal threat from the Hindu Right as a diversion-ary mechanism. The collapse of the central thesis — and the word ‘central’ is used in more senses than one — of 1 January 2010, was hastened by a renewal of India’s federalist urges. These were not, however, derived from hard-edged identity politics as in the late 1980s but the result of the maturing of a new type of regional strongman, one who combined personal charisma and (sometimes) integrity with a programmatic content that — whether Delhi’s intellectual elite liked it or not — had its takers in the India beyond India Gate.

This regional strongman — strongperson, since the category now includes Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee — was best exemplified by Nitish Kumar, re-elected so comprehensively in Bihar. Smaller manifestations came elsewhere.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress ran the BSP close at the start of the year. By year-end, it had receded to distant second place. In Gujarat, a CBI-led Congress offensive was not enough to shake Narendra Modi in local elections. In West Bengal too it was local — municipal — elections that put the Congress in its place and told it just how much the Trinamool Congress called the shots.

The Bengali polity saw a more momentous implosion as well: the CPM collapsed in its heartland. One district told the story. For four decades, Burdwan was a red bastion, birthplace of ideologues, locale of the first peasant rights reforms. Even in 2009, the CPM won all three Parliamentary seats in Burdwan. A year later it lost four of the district’s six municipalities. It wasn’t always ‘good’ regional strongmen who caused an implosion. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK’s politico-business empire began to crumble as the 2G swindle triggered a wider family war. In Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the Congress wrestled clumsily with regional blackmailers, one of them a whippersnapper not yet 40.

Some years fit into neat 12-month boxes; others don’t. The Year of Implosion will inevitably flow into the summer of 2011, as the 2G scandal is seriously investigated and state elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal take place. That’s when the Congress will lick its wounds, and the Opposition will lick its chops. What next? We’ll know by next Christmas.

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Contributing Editor

Ashok Malik has been a journalist for 20 years and is contributing editor at Tehelka. He focuses on Indian domestic politics, foreign/trade policy, and their increasing interplay. In 2011, Ashok co-authored a paper: India’s New World: Civil Society in the Making of Foreign Policy, published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney. It looked at the influence of Indian business, news media and overseas communities on the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. In 2012, Ashok’s book, India: Spirit of Enterprise (Roli Books) was published. It encapsulates the story of the growth of India’s leading private sector industries since 1991, and their role in the Indian economy.


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