Monday, April 13, 2009

India Votes (and I vote virtually)

With 3 days to go before round 1, I have utterly failed in my promise to follow election coverage, so this is a late attempt to make up for that and to cast my virtual vote. It's too bad that we don't have a postal voting system (I have never been in my constituency at the appropriate time). But with 714 million voters, Indian elections are enough of a logistical nightmare without us expats demanding that the ECI cater to the sprawling diaspora.

Given that there are 1055 parties on the ballot nationwide, it's something of a relief that they have coalesced into 3 major blocs. I can't imagine any set of circumstances in which I would ever vote for the BJP, given that I am not a fascist. That's not a polemical statement - or not just a polemical statement. In an earlier post, I think I passed too superficially over the Varun Gandhi episode, but having read Siddharth Varadarajan and others on this issue, I'm glad this was taken as seriously as it was by the ECI and the Mayawati government (politically motivated or not). NDTV did an interview with Advani today (on whose isolation, see this good Tehelka piece), in which he did his best to present his kind, gentle face (gone are the days when Vajpayee was moderate and Advani extreme - now Advani looks moderate in comparison with some of the rabid hate mongers in his party). Speaking of whom, Narendra Modi showed a deep lack of historical sense in calling the Congress a 'gudiya' after his earlier lame attempt ('budiya') was shot down by Priyanka. The last person in Indian politics who was called a 'gudiya' (goongi gudiya, to be precise) was Indira. She was given that label by the Congress syndicate (how I love that word - it's almost as fearsome as Politburo) who thought she would be a pushover. Instead, she morphed into something quite different. Hopefully this is a bad omen for the BJP, although no sane person would want a Durga-like figure in the Congress or anywhere else. I'd much rather have weak non-entities than strong zealots at the helm of things.

The Third Front is difficult to talk about because it means different things in different places. In Bangalore South it means the Janata Dal (Secular) led by former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, whose otherwise undistinguished career as PM is perhaps best remembered for the many occasions on which he fell asleep. As leader of the JD(S), Deve Gowda has been bewilderingly disastrous, presiding over many splits in the party, at least one of which was precipitated by the action of his son allying with the BJP to bring down a Congress-led. government. Our 'mannina maga' has gone back and forth over the issue of working with the BJP, so his protestations about being both anti-BJP and anti-Congress are hard to take seriously. Basically, I can think of nothing good to say about him.

One could assume that the CPI(M) will play a primary role in shaping the programme of a potential Third Front government. And looking at their manifesto, I have to say I agree with quite a lot - particularly the sections on foreign affairs, secularism, minorities and employment and some items under 'economy'. A lot of the best things that the UPA government did (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, for example) came under pressure from social movements (MKSS) and the organised Left. And although I like to think that I do not have knee-jerk anti-US reactions - as I suspect some people in the CPI(M) do - I shared their revulsion at the spectre of India cosying up to the most egregiously rightwing and morally bankrupt US government in postwar history. Now things are different, although I am still concerned about the implications of the Indo-US Defence Framework Agreement, under which it looks like the low-end aspects of US hegemony in the Indian Ocean region have been outsourced to India. Given my professional preoccupation with foreign affairs, sometimes I do think that my political home is in the CPI(M).

But the party confuses me. Nandigram was a moment of terrific disillusionment. I think the CPI(M) sees its primary constituency as the industrial proletariat (workers inside the capitalist machine) and forgets that there is another struggle out there by people who are not yet in the machine and are trying to resist their incorporation in it. The old left is often suspicious of that kind of struggle, reading Marx in a rigidly teleological fashion. In its view (I am guessing) primitive accumulation is something that happened long ago at the beginning of the capitalist encounter (rather than a process that is continually unfolding in different places at different times through the many ways in which the commons are privatised - including under the aegis of the CPI(M) government itself). Capitalism is something everyone has to go through on the road to socialism, it thinks, and anyone who resists this is a backward looking feudal nostalgic who must be browbeaten into accepting the one true path to socialist salvation. Undoubtedly, not everyone who resists industrialisation is progressive (there are lots of backward looking feudal nostalgics in the anti-globalisation movement) which means that there is no getting around the difficult political work of separating the feudals from the progressives. But by the same token, not everyone who resists the enclosure of the commons is regressive. Basically, the CPI(M) has not found a way to connect up the struggles of the industrial proletariat with those resisting primitive accumulation, and till it does, for many of us, it looks like a Stalinist party writ small, yanking people off the land and dragging them into the machine.

Not that the Congress is any better, but this brings me to a much more prosaic reason for not voting Third Front. Which is that no matter how much I agree with the CPI(M) manifesto (and assuming I can suppress my discomfort about Nandigram), it's by no means clear how influential it will be in the Third Front. It's really quite impossible to guess what a Third Front government would do, given that this will probably be the outcome of much bargaining and negotiation amongst its many constituents. Nor can one be optimistic about how long it would last. The record (Moraji Desai, Charan Singh, V. P. Singh, Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral) - the record is not good.

Which leaves the goongi gudiya, the dynastic dinosaur. A process of elimination. Hardly a ringing endorsement. So ideologically baggy they are all things to all people. But they are secular (except for the right fringes that flirt with soft Hindutva) and there is a left fringe that's quite social democratic. And they'll probably last, unless they have some really unreliable allies who pull the plug on them. And the dude in Bangalore South - Krishna Byre Gowda - looks decent (actually he feels frighteningly like me - he has a master's degree in international relations - gah, I am every bit as identity-focused as the caste-captive voter). I'm a bit suspicious that he doesn't actually promise anything. I did look at the independent candidate - Captain Gopinath (this will surely go down as the election of the sexy websites) - but I'm really quite sceptical of whether he can get elected without a party machine behind him. Maybe that's defeatist. So, um...ARGH!...dynasty notwithstanding (I am so crushing on Priyanka these days)...Congress it is.

Regional parties I would like to do well: RJD, SP, BSP (despite M), DMK, NCP (Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule is pretty impressive), BJD (now that he's ditched the BJP), National Conference

Regional parties I would not like to do well: Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, AIADMK, and of course the JD(S)

God this is exhausting - I give up. There are lots of parties I have no damn opinion on.

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The Future Mantra
Interesting stuff, especially your comments about the CPI(M). You are quite right that there are many retrogressive elements resisting incorporation into the market. I would go so far as to say that they form the majority of that resistance. This is not because of the failure of the CPI(M), per se, but rather the failure of those resisting the extension of capitalist social relations to come up with much more than a programmatic longing for a lost (inexistent) golden age, a glittering arcadia where everything was held in common. In the end, the overwhelming majority of peasant revolts have been reactionary. At least communist parties are honest and consistent when they argue that market relations extend before being overcome. Attempts to leapfrog that stage have not really worked out so well in practice.

It would be interesting to see how far both groups could come together to forge an alliance. Certainly in conditions characterised not by a vast proletariat but overwhelming rural poverty the CPI(M) needs to formulate some sort of appeal to disposessed peasants. The obverse is also true if other resistance movements are not simply to be eclipsed by the most dynamic force history has ever known - which is, sadly, capitalism.
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