Young Indians are as restive as their ageing leaders are lethargic.

Better Than The Congress The BJP Or The Left Is Not An Answer - India Wants MorePeople wait in queues to cast their votes in Chennai; PTI Photo by R Senthil Kumar
Voices Saturday, May 21, 2016 - 13:19

The images were stark. On the one hand, first time voters stood under rain and sweltering heat to exercise their franchise for better infrastructure, jobs and a secure future. On the other hand, politicians two and sometimes three generations older than them pained to fulfil promises if re-elected. In between came lazy commentary and analysis, sometimes arrogant (calling chief ministers chieftains or satraps for example) sometimes inane, struggling to make sense of Indian politics through ancient models of subordination. When the votes were in, the air was rent once again with phrases like the third front, the grand alliance (mahagathbandhan), the real test is Uttar Pradesh (UP) and visions of general elections in 2019. The voters however had nothing to do with any of this – they wanted to do better than their parents and not some political party. Delhi is a dead-end in their march.

The one strong signal – if it may be called that – from the assembly elections is this. The Congress Party is on a shrinking spree, increasingly irrelevant and mostly ridiculous. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is gnawing into vote shares and spreading its wings, sometimes capturing India’s imagination, other times making people pause and question if the dithering is planned or accidental. In between are strong regional parties clearly indicating that India’s gears and its future is in its states. Voters from Tamil Nadu to Assam, Kerala to West Bengal have shunned a fractured mandate in favour of a clear one thus bringing the advantage to their side. They want stability they can see and influence. Third front talk is an affront to their ambitions.

The other message is equally clear – New Delhi looks like an overweight and spoilt adolescent – a municipality when compared to the deep and genuine vibrancy elsewhere in India. Being the national capital is its only relevance and that ‘only’ is reflected in its incapacity to see anything beyond UP and Bihar as telling. For most Indians being heard or seen in Delhi no longer holds the same importance it did even a decade ago. There is nothing new it offers even as it tries to co-opt every narrative from India to serve its limited ends called power and more power. Will the BJP emerge as the fulcrum of national politics? Only time and votes will tell. Will the Congress Party survive its current configuration? Only time will tell. But here’s the problem – India’s young are no longer willing to wait for irrelevant politicians to decide what is good for them.

The emergence of strong regional parties is their voice. The breaking of a jinx in Tamil Nadu and a renewal of the mandate in West Bengal speak to continuity. A fresh mandate in Assam is a search for new opportunity. In Kerala the pendulum may have swung back to the left parties after finishing its habitual stop with the Congress-led front, but there is a tide in the vote-shares. The BJP opening its account with 15 per cent cannot be a fluke. How the party’s central leadership picks up that thread will be judged not in New Delhi but on the ground in Kerala.

Commentators are making one mistake and it is a serious one. They are reading too much into the Congress Party’s potential to bounce back and as a consequence are ceding too little ground to India’s new political maps. They have linked personal ambitions of leaders to that of the voters thus making the cardinal mistake of shrinking an entire people into the frame of a person. What Rahul Gandhi or Amit Shah will do next is not the question. What voters will do to their leaders is where conversations must head.

To do that will mean breaking moulds including mouldy narratives. New Delhi is inured to friendly fire, not genuine engagement. The motley group of public intellectuals and politicians who have interpreted India to Indians must move on. They are a hindrance as they speak to themselves, for themselves and about themselves. The general election is three years away and it will be won by people who engage, not estrange. Between now and then are assembly elections which will most likely strengthen the India of regions. In the meantime there are jobs to create, mouths to feed and ambitions to realise. India’s electorate is maturing and it is alerting politicians at every step. It wants social, political and economic engagement now, not in five years. That message was loud and clear in Malayalam and Bengali, Tamil and Assamese this week.