Origins Of The 2014 Debacle: Lok Sabha 2014

Posted on September 14, 2010 in Politics

Very few think the Congress will lose the general elections of 2014. Those who do, cite a theoretical possibility of extraordinary events upsetting the inevitable. This is after UPA II faces flak on a number of issues– price rise, internal security, Kashmir, political incoherence and corruption. Yet even the opposition will concede that none of these are game changers, only eroding the rise of the Congress at best (a rise nonetheless).

But what about a scenario where in 2014 the Congress looses the General Election, this after there being no out-of-the-blue eventology preceding it? Imagine waking up one morning in May 2014, expecting the oft expected and universally predicted. Then at 10 AM, two hours into counting, you realize it isn’t what you or Prannoy Roy had thought it would be. News channels would be busy flashing images of some Jan Sanghi grinning ear-to-ear even as a sullen Pranab Mukherjee (who just might have lost his own election) would concoct explanations absolving the Gandhis of any blame. How would the News@9 that evening analyze the result?

In what could be an erroneous and blatantly premature attempt, I have identified four possible points of origin for such a scenario (streaks of which are traceable even today).

Arrogance and Overconfidence

No one has it as bad with Indian voters as a high headed and overconfident politician. Call it the post-Emergency hangover or the assertion of popular sovereignty– the Indian voter dislikes a cock-sureneta. For the Congress, this is an easy trap to fall into: the toxic mixture of sycophancy (unlimited faith in Plan Rahul) and electoral invincibility can easily breed overconfidence.

The BJP has been making this allegation for sometime now and though it seems far-fetched, at a subconscious level the voter is registering this. If in the coming years public discourse were to take up the issue of arrogance and overconfidence among Congressmen, there would definitely be a context and history to it. Therefore, what appears slight and contrived today can over time become a strong talking point for the opposition.

Brave it Alone

Equally, 2014 can be an election that reaffirms the continuation of coalition politics. The Congress, down to five allies in 2009, is making all the effort to revive its pan-Indian presence. In doing so, it is undermining the importance of political alliances and increasingly following an Uttar Pradesh Model that advocates a go-it-alone approach. If the experiment in UP delivers little, the Congress (in mid stride) would find itself on the wrong side of the door– for it would have sidelined allies without recovering lost political space.

Overboard with the Aam Aadmi

Another reason for defeat can be a failure in the political economy of the UPA government– which peculiarly, may have worked for UPA I but not for UPA II. The 8% plus economic growth in the post-2004 period allowed UPA I to increase social spending manifold, a move that paid-off handsomely (and won the incumbent government another term in office even in a recession year). However, once the quantum leap in social spending and policy innovation has been made, political returns would gradually diminish. In other words, the Aam Aadmislogan can win the Congress two elections but as its political appeal erodes, become irrelevant by the third.

Old Wine in New Bottle– Younger Leaders or Younger Ideas?

Recently, the Prime Minister indicated he wanted a “younger Cabinet”. That raised an important question– is Rahul Gandhi’s political revolution about “younger” leaders or ideas? With second generation reforms on a backburner, several Young Turks proving to be more-of-the-same (barely applying any of their educational qualifications in policymaking and practice of politics) and Rahul Gandhi himself turning to popular rhetoric, there would be a growing view that Generation Next in the Congress is old wine in a new bottle. That being the case, the enthusiasm whipped up by the young leadership of the Congress might wane by 2014. That’s the point at which Rahul Gandhi would’ve lost the plot.

Can these be the broad contours of a 2014 debacle? That’s a tough one to predict given the political dynamic of our multi-party democracy. Nonetheless, 2014 will be a seminal year, for our politics, for our future.