The loud message from this round of elections is that of change. A young country is fed up with the old-school politics and politicians; it wants decisive leadership
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith only a few months left for the parliamentary elections, voters in four north and central states – including the national capital Delhi – have given a harsh verdict in the state elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), generally directionless until the arrival of Narendra Modi as their prime ministerial candidate, decimated the Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh; it returned to power in Chhattisgarh and won the most seats in Delhi.
More importantly, the elections also brought to fore the third alternative – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a group of young, motley bunch of nobodies that came together just a year ago and swept to a stupendous political debut.
It was the desire for the alternate and long, festering unhappiness over Congress-led rule at the center that prompted the party’s traditional base to desert ranks not only in Delhi in AAP’s favor but elsewhere too.
In the run up to the national elections, the BJP now needs to build on its strong gains; the Congress needs to reinvent itself very quickly if wants to return to power, or else take a back seat and let others rule while it rebuilds its strategies and voter base.
Here are some key takeaways from the latest round of polls:
* There is a strong anti-Congress mood in the country; in the states that went to polls, there was what is being called a “double anti-incumbency” factor that played a strong role. People not only voted against the Congress government in the state, they also voted against the Congress rule at the center.
* The decimation of the Congress in the states that went to polls improves the odds for the BJP in the national election, but a lot will depend on what the party does to attract voters and potential allies across India given that it has no footprint in the country’s south and east. It now needs to offer specific policy alternatives to the voters.
* It is yet difficult to say whether there is a Modi wave, but that can change quickly. While the industry is backing him openly, there is still a large chunk of people in rural India who will continue to vote on the basis of caste and religion. However, an anti-Congress wave could generate a Modi tsunami.
* It is imperative for the parties to attract the first-time voters – 149.36 million young Indians between the ages of 18 and 23 — in the national elections. They are likely to decide the fate of the politicians and political parties
* Jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s what the impatient young want. In a country where 12 million people get into the job market every year it is imperative their aspirations are met. Any party that is able to make cogent, believable promises and deliver on them will have an upper hand in the years to come.
* The Disruptors are here to stay. The APP can now threaten the Big Parties. The Common Man has tasted success and if the AAP targets key urban constituencies, it can make a deeper impression in the national elections.
* Economic reforms likely to take a back seat until after national elections. Don’t expect policy changes in the next 5 months, as parties focus on their poll strategies. Congress might want to push in some of the reforms, but BJP is unlikely to play the game. It would want to push back so that it could take credit for them if it wins power at the center.
What is evident is that India and Indian voters have changed in the past decade as rapid economic growth and urbanization has fired the young and restless across the country; most of its politics and politicians haven’t.
The loud message from this round of elections is that of change. A young country is fed up with the old-school politics and politicians; it wants aggressive, decisive leadership.
All this was summed up well by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a recent speech at a media conclave when he said: “Economic growth, social change and political empowerment have brought in their wake the new aspirations of an entirely new generation of Indians. This has contributed to growing impatience for faster growth and even better quality of life…These aspirations and ambitions are exerting pressure on governments to deliver more, perform better and be more transparent and more efficient. A revolution of rising expectations is underway.”
Singh has got it right. Now his party needs to correct course if it wants to return to power. The BJP and Modi have understood the pain points of the youth and the aspirants; the grand old party still has to.