What Were The Polls All About

Updated: Feb 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
Since last week the India Shining campaign seems to have taken a back seat and lost some of its lustre. The most likely explanation is that the various departments of the government may have run out of money and ideas.

No matter, other delightful events have taken over and there is no dearth of material to entertain the hoi polloi.

The week began, and also ended, with India Showcasing. Mr D P Yadav made his debut as the new old star of the BJP. (As it turned out, the star was only a comet). Mr Ram Vilas Paswan presented Mr Pappu Yadav and Mr Suraj Bhan Singh. The media duly reported the number and variety of cases against each of them. With so much brain power in politics, political managers must have thought there was a need to balance it with brawn power. The week ended with Mr Bhupen Hazarika singing the praises of the BJP and young Mr Naveen Jindal braving his peers to fly the flag of the Congress.

India Crossing
Shortly, events gathered momentum, and we saw the beginnings of India Crossing. Mr Lakshman Singh (better known as the brother of Mr Digvijay Singh) crossed over to the BJP. Mr Arif Mohammed Khan and Mr Satpal Mittal followed. These sightings of migratory birds heralded the new season.

Amidst these momentous crossings, there was a solitary case of India Remembering. Suddenly, Prime Minister Vajpayee remembered that there were millions of workers in the unorganised sector (actually 320 million against 30 million in the organised sector). Promptly, he made a visit to his constituency, Lucknow, and announced a social security scheme. At the fag end of this governments term, it is indeed gratifying that it has cared to remember 90 per cent of the working population.

No funds have been provided so far for the scheme, but that is par for the course. The scheme will be implemented initially in only 50 (out of about 600) districts, but that is also par for the course.

We then had India Striking. Central trade unions supported by the Communist parties called a strike in support of their demand for restoration of the right to strike. Work was affected in banks, insurance companies, ports, coal mines, steel plants, defence production units and in some other areas. While not quite the same, Ms Najma Heptulla joined India Striking and struck a blow for the BJP. It is yet not clear whether the Heptulla case will fall under India Striking or India Crossing.

India Wooing
The biggest event was India Wooing. The Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, continued with her road shows wooing urban and rural voters, especially women. For its part, the BJP launched the most significant initiative in its new campaign strategy wooing Muslims. Without the SP or the BSP at its side, the BJP seems to have decided that the time had come to woo the Muslims directly. Thousands of Muslims from all parts of the country were brought to Talkatora Indoor Stadium in Delhi. Mr Vajpayee did not disappoint. He made a direct pitch to them. He said We (BJP) would have had a party only for Hindus. We didnt, and appealed for support of the Muslims. After many dubious statements (Goa, Lucknow) and many flip-flops, the Prime Minister appeared to have gathered his wits and presented a moderately credible case.

India Whining
While the main show was India Wooing, Mr Arun Shourie had his own side-show called India Whining. Even as he rolled out his pet project of disinvestment of shares in six public sector undertakings, the market players pulled out their bag of dirty tricks. Not illegal, as the minister himself admitted, and certainly not unusual. The name of the game was to beat down prices by off-loading, picking up the disinvested shares at low prices and making a profit after the process was complete. The government should have anticipated these events. It was either naive or had received poor advice.

After India Whining, it was India Threatening. Mr Shourie set his storm troopers on those pulling down prices. He called his former secretary and friend, Mr Pradip Baijal, for advice. That was a smart move. Mr Baijal obliged by calling market players sharks. The minister was also closeted with Mr K P Singh, the director of the Intelligence Bureau. That was a bad move. In the end, of course, all the issues were oversubscribed, albeit at lower prices and pretty close to the floor price. These contretemps were entirely avoidable. Once the government had fixed the floor price of each issue, it should have been content with the issue being subscribed in full at that level or at a higher level.

Throughout the week, as in every week, there was India Mourning too. Six persons were killed at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. A Jaguar crashed and another young life was snatched. There were violent incidents in Gujarat and Kashmir and more lives were lost. The Kanchenjunga Express rammed into a truck at (what else) an unmanned level crossing and 30 people died. The octogenarian wife of S Mulgaonkar, a legend amongst editors, died of cardiac arrest after her landlord threw her and her belongings out of the house. So much for safety and security.

India Baffling
I Hope that in the weeks ahead someone will try to shed light on India Baffling. When the opposition to the demand for Pakistan threatened to postpone indefinitely the grant of independence, C Rajgopalachari had the wisdom to call upon the Congress party to accept partition. Similarly, in 1962, C N Annadurai, founder of the DMK, showed rare courage in abandoning, once and for all, the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu. I wonder why the BJP cannot, once and for all, declare that it has abandoned its pursuit of Hindutva and that it will be an inclusive, mainstream party. As for the Congress, I wonder why it does not own the reforms that it had initiated in 1991 (and now according to Dr Arjun Sen Gupta, it initiated first under Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi). While the Congress should continue to espouse the cause of the poor who have been left behind by the liberalisation process, it should not fight shy of owning the reform process itself.

From India Shining to India Striking and from India Wooing to India Baffling, the last few weeks have run a tortuous course. At the end of the next nine weeks, I only hope that the people of India will not be left with India Wondering what were the elections all about

The author is a former Union finance minister