Friday, June 6, 2014

What European and Indian General Elections Have in Common

The anti-establishment wind we saw in India during general elections also swept Europe in European Parliament elections where voters from different EU countries electorally rebuked the European political elite.

In Britain, U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, got 28 percent of votes, in a first since 1910 when neither of the two main parties in Britain – the Conservatives or Labour – has won the nation-wide vote. In France, Hollande's Socialist Party came a distant third. Golden Dawn, a Holocaust–denying ultra-orthodox bellicose neo-Nazi outfit which has long survived attempts to outlaw by Greek authorities came into European Parliament.

Some will call it a rise of the European right, but among the parties that enjoyed unexpected electoral gains some are not necessarily right wing, like Podemos, a new leftist party got five of Spain's 54 seats and Beppe Grillo, a former Italian comedian who founded a party which describes itself as having no political ideology (like APP in India), entered the Italian parliament.

With the alleged right wing character as the common theme running across all surprise parties absent, they are left with only one common characteristic: that they all are fringe political forces trying to force their way into European mainstream politics and what is finding them takers is that they espouse simple tangible issues, like anti-migration and unemployment, which cut with voters better when there is a sense of despair among them.

In India we saw a similar public mood in the general elections which just concluded with BJP coming to power with Narendra Modi as prime minister. In the pre-election period, there was a similar sense of despair in India, as in Europe, which started building up some years ago with the exposure of corruption scams the ruling party Congress – leader of UPA – was found involved in. Additionally, the economy wasn't doing well for some time. The opposition effectively used them to create a general sense of despair.

On the other hand, in Europe, a continuing economic slump is responsible for the sense of despair and the big parties which have traditionally ruled are to an extent held responsible for failing to improve the situation.

Hopelessness doesn’t take too long to lead to anger and anger, like wave, eventually finds a rock to consume itself. That rock in India, as in Europe, became the parties that have traditionally been in power and are thus seen as representing the establishment.  

In India, trying to take advantage of the anti-establishment rage, the contesting parties scrambled to be seen as outsiders to the establishment in Delhi - removed from people responsible for the prevailing mess and  as ones who could provide a departure from the current state of affairs and bring a new order.

Each party tried to claim the outsider-to-the-establishment tag and tried to make their opponents look like a chip off the old block. But finally, the party which successfully managed to do so is BJP.

BJP, however, is not a fringe party on political sidelines. It has been a formidable force in national politics for many decades now and has been in power at the center, too, in a coalition arrangement. So BJP as a party may not fit the definition of an outsider.

But the outsider-to-establishment tag sat easy on its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, coming from a humble background, lacking the elitist appeal of establishment politicians of Delhi and enjoying a reputation of being a doer owing to his good-governance record in Gujrat (a claim contested by his political rivals) and his austere but stern personality and decisiveness.  

So BJP’s coming to power in India is not an exception to this global trend where voters are increasingly showing a loathing for traditional political leaders and reposing faith in the political outfits that have traditionally been frowned upon by the political elite and espouse very brick and mortar issues that have a resonance with common people. Instead, BJP’s victory is part of the global trend.

Both in Europe and India, voters have voted for change.

A few weeks back, a well-known Indian editor Shekhar Gupta published book, a compilation of columns written by him. In it, he writes he is grateful to Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal (who founded APP which has been compared with Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star party) for not failing to give him ideas to write his columns.

Even 10 years later, Shekhar says, they would continue to give him ideas (meaning that would remain relevant in India politics) – but by that time all three would have changed a bit. Rahul would be a little less reluctant, Kejriwal would have become a little more establishian and Modi a little centrist.

In other words, as time goes, to find greater acceptability, all outfits have to shift from their radical positions and move towards moderation. 

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