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Politics of Mixed Signals

Updated: Oct 03, 2013, 16:32 PM IST

General elections are due in May next year, but the brouhaha surrounding them is such that it seems they have already begun. Come to think of it, they have. Only the casting of votes is pending, but the drama associated with them had already begun a year back. So, what are the political parties of our country doing? What are their strategies for winning the next elections?

Their strategy is very simple: keep the common man confused by sending mixed signals as nobody knows how the events would unfold a few months from now. Nitish Kumar may have broken away from the NDA, but he hasn’t joined the UPA either. Moreover, he hasn’t even disclosed whom he would join post the elections. The same strategy is being followed by the likes of Jaganmohan Reddy, who openly praised Narendra Modi post his release from the jail, but fell short of saying that he would be interested in allying with the BJP. It is still understandable to an extent that the smaller parties would send out mixed signals because they depend on the two big parties for coming to power; though in reality it is the former that call the shots. Surely, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics.

So, what are the two big parties, the Congress and the BJP, up to? Are they too sending out mixed signals? Wouldn’t that merit an obvious and an emphatic ‘yes’?

The Narendra Modi versus LK Advani soap opera has been playing for over a year now. LK Advani’s team makes it very obvious that they are not happy with Modi’s anointment as the prime ministerial candidate. Advani blogs, skips crucial meetings, threatens to quit, only to be seen hob-nobbing with Modi a few days later.

The other prime time slot has been given to the Secularism versus Hindutva debate. On the one hand, the BJP is trying to build its secular credentials, while on the other there is Amit Shah, who is reviving the Hindutva debate in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.

So, what is the BJP’s truth? Is Advani supporting Modi? In fact, is the BJP supporting Modi? If yes, then does that mean the BJP has abandoned Advani? Strangely, though not surprisingly, the truth lies somewhere in between. It appears to many that the BJP is keeping both its trump cards ready. If it wins majority of the seats, then Modi would be the king; while if it gets near-majority seats, then Advani would head the coalition. In fact, it would not be implausible to think that the BJP is using Modi to get votes, and when the elections get over, it would bring Advani to the fore, citing objections from its coalition partners and internal dissenters.

The BJP is trying to win votes from all sorts of clusters: secular voters, who may vote for the new secular plank of the party; Hindutva voters, who may buy Amit Shah’s claims; Advani supporters, who may think that ultimately he would come to power, given the compulsions of coalition politics; and Modi supporters, who see some hope in him for a developed India. Interesting isn’t it that the same party can have such multiple, contradictory faces?

If the BJP is playing this game called ‘Guess, If You Can’, then the Congress too cannot be left behind. The UPA government is about to complete (really?) two terms, but everybody has still not got an answer to the question: Does Manmohan Singh have the real powers that a Prime Minister should have? Well, this question shall remain unanswered even after the next elections, but this is not directly relevant to the topic at hand.

The confusing signals being sent by the Congress relate to Rahul Gandhi. He is one man, who has been trying to communicate to the people that he is not interested in being in power, but he accepts the Vice President’s post of the party. He criticized the Congress rule over the years at a public event where, ironically, he was representing the party. The recent case of his angst against the Ordinance related to the convicted politicians, is very strange. The Congress party was very well a part of the decision-making process, and it is not possible that the Vice President of the party did not know about it till after a few days of its promulgation.

As much as the Congress party may try to fool the people, the latter know that a smart game is being played. Keeping an eye on the next general elections, the Congress party wants to keep Rahul Gandhi’s image clean and pro-people. In fact, if one were to re-visit UPA-I and UPA-II’s tenure, it has always been the case that whenever something wrong has happened, Manmohan Singh has been blamed, while whenever something good has happened, the credit has gone to a Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi seems to be having his cake and eating it too!

So, why do political parties send out confusing signals? Is this really a ‘smart’ strategy when many people can see through easily? The answer is two-fold: First, even though many people see through the game plan, there is a bigger number that gives them the benefit of doubt. Second, no political party knows what the outcome would be. India’s voting population is so huge and diverse that it is very difficult to guess on which side the public sentiment would sway on the D-day. So, the parties have no choice but to keep all their doors open. You never know who comes knocking, or even worse, whose door you have to knock at, post the elections. Laughable, yet a pitiable state of our democracy!

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)