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This election still has some hidden lessons. Are corporates listening?

By Shoma Chaudhury

Illustration: Anand Naorem

THE SAVING grace about politicians is that they are contingent beings. The power given them is huge, but the power wielded over them is huge too. They might often ride the masses out to dark corners while they feast, but with unfailing tenacity, the masses queue up in turn to read them difficult lessons.

This election served up many crucial ones. For the BJP and Left Front, of course. But for the Congress, too. And a myriad others. Curiously, the catechisms are all the same. India needs inclusive development. India doesn’t like divisive politics (beyond a point). And India doesn’t like its leaders becoming bigger than its people. There are many still discussing the minutiae — alliances made and not made, strategic tickets given and not given, vote percentages tilted this way and that. These are important facts and must be sieved. But it would be unwise to mistake the facts for the sentiment. There is an intuition this election has yielded; only the foolish would ignore it.

Still, some key lessons this election remain hidden. The trouble is the class of people they are meant for are not contingent beings: they wield great power; almost none is wielded over them. They are not looking for lessons. But the lessons remain, and in time, they will assert themselves.

Since May 16, corporate India has been bursting with collective glee at the prospect of a UPA freed from the “shackles” of the Left Front. A glorious term stretches before their imagined eye: a world of unbridled reforms and zero glass ceilings barring the making of money. The papers have been full of their instructions for Dr Manmohan Singh. But the lesson lying in wait for them is that the Left Front was trounced this election not because it stalled the triumphant march of capitalism, but on the contrary, because it had leached the ‘leftist impulse’ out of itself. It sought to industrialise without the people’s consent, without fair practice, and without sharing the benefits. It had become bloated, arrogant and violent. The BJP learnt this in 2004. If the Congress leaches the ‘leftist impulse’ out of itself, no amount of Gandhi family magic or reworking the party organisation will keep it in power next election.

Corporate czars often come on TV and say: the business of business is business, and business cannot be bothered about how business is done. Unfortunately for them, the masses care. And in the slow way these things turn, they will teach their lessons: people’s movements have stalled dozens of giant “bad practice” corporate projects across India and forced the government to rework the Rehabilitation Bill and the SEZ Act. The signs are everywhere. Political parties have learnt their lessons. But have the corporates?

On hindsight, the aam aadmi is always ahead on the curve of knowing what is good for India: when the Congress got too complacent and corrupt, the aam aadmi voted in a fractured polity for two decades, churning caste and religion into complex new configurations. When that stopped yielding benefits, it voted back a majority. Today, everyone knows the central conversation in India has shifted from communalism to ‘inclusive development’. But even as the elite catches up with this idea, the aam aadmi is already a step ahead. Deep in the interiors of India, in field and forest, the illiterate are discussing what “development” means. They don’t just want a share in the spoils; they want to debate the nature of “development” itself. How can development be made to equal human well-being? How are rivers, forests, minerals and national resources to be used judiciously? How is the rogue need for endless consumption to be managed? These conversations will dominate the world in the decades to come. The aam aadmi has already begun to arrive at some conclusions. If we don’t tune in, we’ll only hear about them in a surprise result next election.

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.

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