Indian political scene hots up as Modi vows Congress-free India

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The Indian film industry has completed its 100 years this year, but the biggest blockbuster is scheduled to hit the nation in 2014. Screen tests for the lead character in the great Indian Political Theatre are currently on. One of the leading contenders for the main role is Rahul Gandhi, who has a renowned lineage and is number two in his family-run Congress party. His main challenger today belongs to a family with rightist ideological leaning, the Sangh Parivar, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party. On Sunday, his party cast him in the lead role of poll campaign chief. Modi vowed to make India Congress-free.

The problem is that like the film industry, the political script writers are not too sure of what the public wants. Most of them are betting on focus on corruption raking in the moolah (read votes) at the Indian political box office. But state and local body elections have provided mixed reviews. Election outcomes in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand in 2012, and assembly and parliamentary bye-elections in 2103 have shown that corruption may not necessarily set the vote registers ringing. For the common man, the politicians calling each other corrupt is a case of kettle calling the pot black. But corruption as the main theme has yielded rich dividends in the state polls in Karnataka and bye-elections to municipal seats in Delhi this year.

Corruption is a cause of concern but governance and government’s ability to provide basic civic facilities seem to be a bigger poll issue. Those who fail to deliver are severely punished even if the alternative does not have a good track record. There are two clear examples. First in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a corrupt Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party was booted out in favour of an equally-corrupt Samajwadi Party. All the latter did was project a younger Akhilesh Yadav. In Karnataka, Bharatiya Janata Party was thrown out for dithering in acting against corrupt legislative assembly members.

The political parties seem to have forgotten the lessons of the last two general elections when people voted for parties they thought could deliver on improving living standards. In election slogans it was called BSP — bijli or electricity, sadak or roads and paani or drinking water. In an economic downturn you can add jobs to the list.

Among the two main contenders, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, the latter seems to have realised that promising better living conditions will get more votes. He is hard-selling his achievements in Gujarat. Modi is trying hard to change his anti-hero image. Many have done it successfully on the silver screen but real life makeovers are not that easy. His trailers may be interesting, media previews may be rating him high but will India’s secular voters applaud his performance remains a conundrum.

Rahul Gandhi has been performing like some of the Bollywood star kids, getting chances despite repeated poor showings.

He has nothing to offer in terms of administrative track record. As the Congress party vice-president, it is the first time he has accepted organisational responsibility. So far he has failed to draw voters or inspire his party. His on-stage answers to problems being faced by people have left younger voters disillusioned. But he remains the superstar of Congress.

Narendra Modi’s elevation today ensured that the political screen sizzler will be full of action, drama and what the Indians call masala (spice). So book your seats in advance because the Election blockbuster will decide not only the fate of the star cast but also India.

By Ashutosh Misra

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