This week, the results of the four state elections in the Hindi heartland (MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi) were out. The Congress was the incumbent in all four states. It lost three of them to the BJP, managing to only retain Delhi. Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express captures the mood prevailing in the Indian voters and the sad state of the Congress:
[Sonia Gandhi's] generals are not willing to match their skills with the BJPs, her colonels are not willing to leave the comfort of their homes and business to join battle, and the troops are in disarray. Amazing, how a party that brought in the computers into elections (1984), then Sam Pitroda with his promise of high-tech revolution and Rajiv Gandhi with his promise of 21st century India, now speaks a language frozen in the seventies. Its thinking on economics has regressed, it sees privatisation as the loot of public wealth, banking reform an insult to the memory of the senior Mrs G, clings to the least creative of its old guard (one of them told me the other day the way for the Congress to revive itself was to re-establish contact with the generation of freedom fighters!), is afraid of throwing a Manmohan Singh even into the Delhi campaign, and refuses to create a new B-team. It fails to project its chief ministers as stars. Why was S.M. Krishna not paraded in Jaipur and Bhopal? I will do for tourism in Rajasthan what my colleague did for IT in Bangalore. That is one line we never heard from a Gehlot.
It instinctively denies the arrival of a new India, awash with a feel-good mood not seen since Rajivs first year in power, and powered by a new voter who asks real questions on his quality of life, rather than succumb to old slogans, mantras and the pull of any dynasty. You send tacky, free school-bags to children who have seen better bags on their TV screens. You insult them. What this voter is telling you is, dont throw me a freebie. Promise me a much better tomorrow its my right. The party fails to understand that the Gandhi-Nehru nostalgia may not have ended but is waning, that nearly five crore (50 million) voters in the 2004 elections would have actually been born after Indira Gandhis assassination and that they will vote on a promise of a better future than on the prejudices or loyalties of the past. How come the same voter that throws you in the gutter in three states, votes you back so thumpingly in the fourth? A party that does not ask itself these questions and wrestles with their answers lives in the past and the only message it gives its constituency is that it cannot guarantee a future. And if there is one thing the New Indian Voter is not ready to compromise with, it is the future. Irrespective of what your ancestors did for his in the past.
I am so glad that, finally, at least in some Indian states, we are moving away from caste- and religion-based politics. The focus is on development – social and infrastructure. People want to talk about the future, not gloat over the past that was promised and never delivered. Once the paper’s aspirations start rising, we will also see a new, younger and more dynamic generation of people enter Indian politics.
The past few years have seen an amazing rise in self-confidence and self-belief in urban and semi-urban India. I hope that the winners in the elections can deliver on the expectations and promises. India has an opportunity that cannot now be squandered. For two generations, the politicians have overpromised and underdelivered. Hopefully, this time around the message from the electorate is very clear.