Amid all the clamour of a mini election season and its aftermath—the expected and the surprising—we may forget that a decade is soon coming to a close in Indian life and politics. Quite a decade too, one that made all the noise of an epoch turning. For much of it, looming over centrestage was one man. Narendra Modi: the cause of ecstasy for some, of antagonism for others, and colossus-like for both. Also on stage, partly in the shadows, is a lady who had ceded centrestage to Modi. Sonia Gandhi had owned a good part of the previous decade, running a near-regency, succeeding against good odds. Now she’s back as Congress president, returning from semi-sanyas, a desperate holding operation to fill an apparent leadership vacuum left behind by a petulant Rahul Gandhi. After a partial referendum offered by the results of two assembly elections and a clutch of bypolls, how does it stack up for them?
Well, maybe that’s the wrong question to ask—or not the only one to ask. Not just because the day’s news has been full of unexpected twists in both Haryana and Maharashtra, but because a long-term view also calls for it. As the BJP and parties ranged on the Opposition side enter the future, there are signs of evolution across the board. How the people and the parties think about politics may inevitably change. How much of it should be about real-life issues, how much on ‘larger’ themes? Leadership is another central strand in the fabric. One hears these phrases often on the Opposition side…leadership vacuum, TINA factor. The irony of it strikes you when you look at the reality brewing out there on the political landscape—if a Sachin Pilot was actually passed over a year ago, now a fresh crop is blooming. Yes, they all bear known surnames…Thackeray, Reddy, what have you. Most surprising among them, a young Jat risen from the dust of Hisar: Dushyant Chautala. This phenomenon is something for the Congress to think deep about: too often it has distrusted or undermined genuine local talent to bolster the top. Now, of course, the leadership itself abdicated at a time when the voter seemed to be looking for alternatives.