I’ve met many people over the years who wonder how I could be interested in something as "boring" as politics. The 2004 Parliamentary Elections was a great opportunity to prove them all wrong. Even the most tear-jerking TV serial, the most outrageous American reality TV shows, and the most outlandish Rajnikanth movie would have paled in comparison to the drama enacted in the formation of a Central government in the world’s largest democracy.
Like many other middle-class urban Indians and NRIs, I was buoyed by the plethora of opinion polls, including those published in Outlook, which predicted the NDA government getting 290-300 seats in the Lok Sabha. I, along with like-minded friends, gloated on the achievements of Prime Minister Vajpayee and celebrated the fact that the BJP had its moderate face contesting in this elections, and that the fundamentalist Hindu Right was rightfully locked up. Even one of my friends, a die-hard Congress supporter, had resigned himself to the "fact" of an NDA victory.
The initial blows were dealt by the exit polls after the second phase of voting, and then the knock-out blow came from the election results. With the BJP trounced soundly in the polls, and the Congress being the single largest party at the centre, Sonia Gandhi appeared all set to become the second female prime minister of India. The shocking declaration came a few days later. Saying that she has listened to her "inner voice", Smt. Sonia Gandhi declined to become the prime minister of the country, despite being overwhelmingly nominated by her own party.
She had taken away the one trump card that the BJP had expected to use against the Congress, and left the nation shell-shocked. I was incredibly relieved that the country would not have a foreign-born person as prime minister, but also found myself with a new found respect for the courage and integrity that enabled the Congress Party President to take the decision that she did. Since then allegations have come from all quarters in the Hindu Right that did this not because of any "inner voice", but that this is just a sordid drama to extract more concessions from allies, and that she had done this so that the Congress party would have better chances in coming elections by robbing the BJP of its foreign-origin card. With the swearing in of Dr. Manmohan Singh as the prime minister, I think we can put the first allegation to rest. Now, even if the second allegation that she did this solely to increase gains for the Congress is true, how many of our own netas, after having unopposed access to the highest position in the country, would sacrifice their own personal interests for the betterment of their party or nation?
The actions by the Congress Party in the following days further increased my respect for it, and made me less uneasy about the nation’s future. The time for regional allies to flex their muscle and extract their pound of flesh had come. Laloo Prasad Yadav was the first to do so, using his 21 RJD MPs to stake a claim to the post of Home Minister. The Congress recognized the danger in making the most corrupt person in the nation as Home Minister and rejected his claim. Laloo returned to Patna in a huff, but did not pull support for the government, and was eventually satisfied with a smaller portfolio. By doing so, the Congress Party has taken the very important step of asserting its role as the leader of the coalition government, and has communicated to regional parties that it will not be pushed around.
The new government has quite a big "feelgood" factor to it, with brilliant economist Dr. Manmohan Singh at the helm of affairs and P. Chidambaram given the post of Finance Minister. From the indications given by these men, the economy will continue to boom, and by also focusing on the economic development of the rural poor, India can only shine more brilliantly than ever before. The Congress only has 145 seats in Parliament, and even along with its allies, it can manage to show 217 seats. It needs the outside support of the Left Parties to stay in power, and it will be a miracle if this government can last the whole five years.
If the government collapses soon, and fresh elections are held, my vote would still probably go to the tried and tested leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee and the BJP. But if this government can provide stability at the centre, continue the economic prosperity which we have been enjoying, avoid the minority appeasement which it is notorious for and further peaceful relations with Pakistan, it would have provided everything the Vajpayee government did, without the added baggage of the fundamentalist Hindu Right. In such a scenario, my loyalties may very well change come polling time. If nothing, the nation can only benefit the day we see an election where both parties competing have economic achievements to show off.
Vivek Thuppil, 20, originally from Bangalore, is currently a student at Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA.