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India Decides – The Indian National Congress

The results of the 17th Loksabha elections are out.  The Bharatiya Janaty Party (BJP) has won a comfortable majority on it own steam, 303 of a total of 545 seats.  While the Indian National Congress (INC or just the Congress)’s haul was 52 seats. It was a clean sweep for the ruling party in the Hindi heartland and  western India.  Rahul Gandhi  who led the INC in this election lost his seat in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh (UP).  A seat he had held since 2004.  Besides Rahul three other members of the Gandhi family have represented the Amethi consituency  since 1980.

UP is the Hindi heart of India.  Being the  most populous state its sends the greatest number of representatives among all states to the Loksabha.   This year the INC has won only one seat in Uttar Pradesh (UP)  of a total of 80 and the BJP has won 62.  That’s the entire story of these elections in a nutshell.  Since what happens in UP determines political fortunes in India.

Rahul Gandhi made mistakes at both the tactical  and at the strategic level. Instead of forming pre-poll coalitions to take on the ruling the party they fielded their own candidates  in more than 400 constituencies.  Most importantly,  Rahul Gandhi ceded the ideological space to BJP by letting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi define the terms of the battle, whether it be national security or the place of minorities in the polity.  Instead of taking the fight to the BJP, Congress ran away from the fight. This included maintaining a studied silence about the entire Pulwama incident, when it happened, not fielding enough Muslim candidates for the fear of being labeled pro-Muslim and even shying away from visiting Muslim majority areas to ask for their vote. Electorates rarely reward cowardice or incompetence.

So how did the party that led the independence struggle against the British rule and oversaw the establishment of the modern Indian state, its constitution and its institutions come to this sorry pass?
(To be continued)

ETA: The new government wants to stress learning Hindi, so before I go, check out this video which celebrates the linguistic diversity of India, another obstacle to the ultimate goal of the Hindu Rashtra where everyone speaks Hindi and is Hindu. I am so old that I remember when Unity in Diversity was India’s creed.

ETA2: They have walked it back, after a huge outcry from the southern states. I think they were just testing the waters. They will float this proposal again.

(To be continued)

Au Revoir Ganpati


Thousands of Mumbaikars bid farewell to Ganesha or Ganpati as he is more fondly known in Maharashtra, yesterday.  Its been a while since I was in Mumbai for  Ganpati Visarjan*, but the infectious enthusiasm of thousands chanting,

Ganpati Bappa Moraya,

Phudcha varshi lavkar ya

Rough translation from Marathi,  Dearest Ganpati, bye for now, but come again next year.

still rings in my ears, whenever I think of the last day of the Ganpati celebrations.

Ganpati ,  a rotund figure with  the head of an elephant and who rides a tiny mouse is the most beloved of the legions of Hindu gods.   Beneath his portly appearance is a sharp mind that can outwit even Shiva, one of the three that make up the Hindu trinity. 

 Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the leader of India’s freedom struggle before Gandhi, in a stroke of political genius, tapped into the popularity and affection people across caste and class lines felt for Ganpati and used the annual  celebration for grass roots organizing against the British rule.  After their bitter experience in the first war of Indian Independence in 1857, the British were vary of messing with religious rituals of their Indian subjects and gave the Ganesh festival a wide berth.   India won its freedom in 1947 but the  Ganesh festival in the public square still endures .

*Visarjan : Ritual immersion of the Ganesh idol in a body of water, in Mumbai that usually is the Arabian sea.