Big Changes in Election Scene, but Genuine Socialist Alternative Remains Elusive
It is strength of democracy in India that the election scene in many states keeps changing in significant ways. The most obvious example in the ongoing election process relates to Punjab where the Aam Aadmi Party emerged very rapidly as a very serious contender. Even in Uttar Pradesh, where no serious newcomer has emerged recently, very significant changes took place very rapidly first within the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and then, perhaps even more rapidly, the wider political equations in the huge state changed with the formation of the SP-Congress Alliance.
To take Punjab first, however, this much should be clear that the ruling Akali Dal-BJP alliance presents a very powerful combination of powerful socio-economic interests supported by narrow but powerful religious forces. The Congress again has been a very well-entrenched political force with a long history. For so many years it has been taken for granted that the choice of voters is restricted to only these main forces. Yet in this highly adverse situation for newcomers AAP could so quickly emerge as a serious contender and at one time appeared all set to cause some major upsets.
Later AAP appeared to lose some of its momentum, and yet regained some of it towards the end of the election campaign. Whatever may be the final election result, what concerns us here is the ability of a new political formation to become a serious contender for winning elections in very adverse conditions within a very short time. This is certainly a very welcome sign for all well-wishers of India’s democracy, and not just for the supporters of AAP. Clearly AAP could not have matched the money-power of the Akali Dal-BJP combine but successfully appeared to be surging ahead in its electoral campaign in several constituencies. This is good for democracy. Despite all the money that the Akali Dal has collected through widely criticized highly corrupt practices, it was good so see it so much on the defensive during the election campaign. This too is good for democracy. Similarly it is good to see AAP as a new entrant becoming a serious contender in Goa as well.
In Uttar Pradesh let’s look at the enormity of the changes that took place peacefully within the matter of a few weeks. As it is well known India had important socialist, non-communist opposition parties in the post-independence period. Rammanohar Lohia, a very talented freedom fighter, ultimately emerged as the most important leader of these groups. Although Lohia had many big achievements in his eventful career in the later years he became a captive of a blind anti-Congressism which later proved very harmful for the socialist movement as a generation of political activists brought up on this irrational, narrow thinking saw nothing wrong in tying up with even right-wing, sectarian, communal parties to somehow defeat Congress. In the process these politicians and their groups moved away further and further from socialist principles and their samajwad survived only in name.
It is in this wider context that the evolution of Samajwadi Party and Mulayam Yadav should be seen. Mulayam courageously took up some important issues like opposing encounter deaths in his early years. However once in power, the lack of any real socialist ideology led him to narrow, caste and clan based support systems which eventually led to widespread misuse of political power by his supporters, corruption and criminalsation of politics. However his son Akhilesh Yadav was perceived by several observers to be keen to get rid of this legacy as seen in his strong opposition of some proposed tie-ups with criminalized political groups. To sustain this he had to oppose some very powerful persons within his party, and so also had to look for new allies outside his party. He took his chances rather late in the last months of the five year tenure of his government, in the process not only making very big internal changes in the party but also striking a very powerful blow to the very long legacy of anti-Congressism. This has opened up several new possibilities at the national level also and this is the reason why the BJP is so upset this alliance. In fact, the BJP had encouraged the split in the SP hoping to gain from it, but as events actually played out some of these efforts of the BJP have backfired on it.
However it is good for democracy that the Samajwadi Party has now chances of emerging as a cleaner and more participative democracy which is no longer captive to the whims of a few powerful persons. This hope may or may not be fully realized but certainly there are more chances of this happening now.
But in the middle of all these significant changes one that remains still elusive is the emergence of a genuinely socialist political party which is committed to the three basic ideals mentioned in the preamble of our constitution of socialism, secularism and democracy. We badly need a political party which is deeply committed to equality and justice at all levels but at the same time is equally committed to democracy and peace at all levels. Such a political party still remains elusive. The Aam Aadmi Party has emerged as more of a populist party with a strong tendency for personality cult as well.
Mar 2, 2017
Bharat Dogra may be contacted at email@example.com
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