The resounding electoral victory for the UPA underscores that the policy shift of the Congress towards left-of-the centre position has struck a chord with the Indian masses. The surprise victory of the Congress in 2004 which was out of power for eight long years was in the context of a ravaged rural India languishing under agriculture crisis and collective impoverishment. The Congress returned to power as the masses voted out BJP.
In 2004, the ruling BJP, the so called ‘Hindu nationalist party’ (courtesy to Reuters for the usage), so firmly believed that the post-liberalisation, prosperous urban middleclass would endorse their ‘India Shining’ campaign. They seem to have taken for granted the rural masses, the 70 per cent of Indians, that a vast majority of them would support the party for its extreme Hindutwa postures.
But they miserably failed as evidenced by the two subsequent national elections – 2004 and 2009. The ruthless violence, demagoguery and vicious use of emotional issues were completely rejected by the masses. This is where the Congress entered the scene.
The Congress, which is often criticised for neo liberal approach, which is broadly defined as the withdrawal of state from its welfare responsibilities, downsizing of government and hijacking of resources by capitalist forces, knowingly or unknowingly underwent a policy correction.
The government initiated a creative job guarantee scheme for the rural poor which ensured 100 days of employment. This has two-way benefit that it addresses the basic development question in those interior areas. In other words, these labourers are employed in projects such as road construction, water harvesting initiatives and collective farming. This should be viewed in the context of the historic problem of rural unemployment in India.
When the corrupt bureaucratic mechanism manipulated the wage distribution to those labourers, the government came out with the Right to Information Act to ensure transparency in government affairs. This coupled with distribution of smart cards, at least in some parts, helped reduce corruption and manipulation to a certain extent.
This was followed by farm-loan waiver which saved millions of farmers from perennial indebtedness. Remember, the agrarian regions were ridden by the series of farmer suicides as a result of successive years of drought, crop loss, price crash and mounting debt.
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Bharat Nirman Rural Infrastructure Project and Rural Health Mission are among other achievements of the UPA Government which critics would dub as populist measures. In the absence of a vociferous propaganda mechanism as its political opponent RSS-backed BJP has, one was doubtful about the Congress’s ability to convert those populist measures into public support.
However, the Indian electorate surprised everyone with its discretion which once again withstood the propaganda onslaught of a haughty, majoritarian, divisive movement. The outcome of 2009 national election conclusively proves that the people of India have rejected the politics of partisanship. This reinforces the faith in India as a country which upholds the values of peace, harmony and tolerance.
The simple, learned, modest Manmohan Singh appealed to the masses and they dismissed insinuations that he is weak and submissive for the dishonesty and arrogance behind such propaganda.
However, will the shrinking space of the Left in our national debate, its much reduced influence on the policy making be an opportunity for the Congress for aggressive pursuance of neo-liberal agenda?
Will we see more corporate hijacking of resources? Will we see profit-making navaratna public sector undertakings being put up for sale? Will we see the basic functions such as power distribution being left to private players? Will we see further de-regulation of stock markets which will make it vulnerable to the manipulations of international players?
If the increased numerical strength marks a departure from pro-people policies of the government, the masses would not take much time to go back to the days of anti-Congressism.