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When Double Engines Don’t Work

Chhotebhai Chhotebhai
22 May 2023
In Karnataka there was talk of a double engine sarkar and in U.P. of a triple engine one. I have been an eyewitness to a quadruple engine sarkar and shall share my experiences of the same.

The Assembly elections in Karnataka and the Municipal polls in U.P. are done and dusted. I had written about their significance in my earlier piece, “Andh Bhakts Abound”. My observations seem to have been on target, especially in my home State of U.P.

In Karnataka there was talk of a double engine sarkar and in U.P. of a triple engine one. I have been an eyewitness to a quadruple engine sarkar and shall share my experiences of the same.

Before that I shall talk about three wise men. After the elections there will be a plethora of wise men and women giving their undiluted “gyan”. That is why I have chosen to identify three wise men who had stuck their necks out before the results came. They are D.K. Shivkumar (DKS), the Karnataka State President of the Congress; Yogendra Yadav, social activist and former psephologist; and Pradeep Gupta, the psephologist of the India Today- Maxis Group. This is what they said before the results came out.

DKS, the workhorse and organisational man of the Congress, confidently sated that as per his calculations, the Congress would win 141 seats. After the Narendra Modi blitzkrieg and Bajrang Bali fiasco, there were few takers for that number. But the Congress won 135 seats, as close as anybody could get to DKS’s figure. It proves that the man had done his homework well and that he had his finger on the pulse of the people.

I watched several exit polls of NDTV and that on India Today TV. NDTV’s founder, Prannoy Roy, was probably India’s first psephologist; but for some time now NDTV had stopped conducting its own exit polls, instead reporting on others. The results varied from a hung assembly to a BJP win. 

Only Pradeep Gupta dared to say that the Congress would get 122-140, the BJP 62-80 and the JDS 20-22. When challenged, he stuck to his guns. The results proved him correct, with the Congress bagging 135, the BJP 66 and the JDS 19. This proves beyond doubt that there is a method in the madness. If a psephologist can gauge the mood of the nation how is it that our leaders are unable to read the writing on the wall? They need scientific tools of analysis if they seek to be relevant. The sycophants (bhakts) will say what you want to hear, the psephologist will be closer to the truth. 

The third wise man was Yogendra Yadav. Earlier he was a harsh critic of the Congress and the Gandhis. But he chose to join the Bharat Jodo Yatra. I share some of his observations carried in The Print on 11th May, two days before the results.

He asked some relevant questions – What’s your message? Who is your target audience? How do you convey your message to your target audience? He felt that this time around the Congress had addressed all these questions correctly. Bucking the trend he said that this would definitely impact the 2024 Lok Sabha elections because a clear message had gone out that the BJP was not invincible. Class (the poor) and gender (women) mattered more than caste or religion. Hard work pays and Modi cannot withstand a determined opponent, as in Bengal or with the farmers.

Political parties, especially those in the fragmented opposition, need to learn from these three wise men. Now back to the two/three engines.

In U.P. the BJP talked of a triple engine sarkar, where the Central, State and local Municipal bodies would all be on the same page. Those drooling over the Karnataka elections have not paid heed to the sinister messaging from U.P. Let’s have a look.

The BJP won all 17 mayoral seats. It also won 87/141 (61%) of the Nagar Palika Chairpersons and 191/319 (60%) of the Nagar Panchayats Chairpersons. This is no mean achievement that needs to be duly recognised. Remember that U.P. has the major Hindu cities of Varanasi (Kashi), Prayagraj (Sangam and Kumbh), Mathura (Vrindavan) and Ayodhya (Ramjanambhoomi). So there is enough to stoke religious sentiments and it works for the Bhakts.

Add to this a fragmented opposition – the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress. Add the new entrants – AAP and Owaisi’s AIMIM. The SP has been the strongest among the opposition parties, but Akhilesh Yadav, who is much mellower than his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been hemmed in by his uncle Shivpal and Azam Khan, the Muslim face of the party. Despite being Chief Minister for 5 years (2012-2017) he has yet to find his feet. 

Mayawati has only her own interests in mind. She was the biggest loser in demonetisation just before the 2017 Assembly elections. The Congress, even under Priyanka Gandhi, has yet to find or foster credible local leadership, disturbed as it always is, by anybody who is not a bhakt. The new kids on the bloc like AAP and AIMIM have focussed largely on disenchanted Muslim voters, thereby muddying the waters of opposition unity even more. 

Whether the BJP has swept U.P. because of the Andh Bhakts or the promise of a triple engine sarkar remains debatable. But let me share my experience of a quadruple engine. Other than the Central and State Governments, my city Kanpur has had a BJP Mayor for over 15 years. My municipal ward has had a BJP Councillor for the last ten years. It has not made a difference!

Most of the development/ repair work in my ward has been because of my personal contacts with a senior IAS officer. This brings me to the IAS factor. The Smart City project (read big money) is in the hands of the IAS, as is the Kanpur Development Authority. The Municipal Corporation, with its elected representatives, most of whom cannot match the intellectual calibre of the IAS, is often a mute spectator and poor cousin. It is for this reason that my revised definition of the IAS is “I Am Supreme”! This is also why exam toppers want to join this elite force, rather than the defence services or the judiciary.

Back to the engines. When politically equidistant Naveen Patnaik’s party won a by-election now in Jarsagudda, Odisha, he said that good governance was more important than a double engine. Commenting on Karnataka, Mamata Banerjee said that one needed plurality, not hegemony (same engines). The analogy of double engines needs further study. 

It is taken from the railways. My earliest (1965) and only recollection of a double engine is on the up line from Mumbai to Igatpuri, that needs to negotiate the steep Kasara Ghat. Thereafter, on the Deccan Plateau or Gangetic Plain, one engine suffices. Had the train to continue with two engines it would have over sped leading to a derailment and disaster.

A good railway system also needs guards (the Judiciary), conductors (the Executive) and an efficient signalling system (the Media). To deliver, all must function, including the other engines (the Opposition). 

Let us go back in history. Post-independence and the trauma of Partition we faced an uphill task for social cohesion, national consolidation, hunger and poverty alleviation etc. We needed a double engine, which is why the Congress ruled both the Centre and the States. As the nation gradually emerged from the “ghat section”, other alternatives emerged on the social plateau and political plains. It was the march of time. So we found much political churning in the post-Nehruvian era. Today it is fashionable to deride Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Those sitting in air-conditioned Vande Bharat trains do not know, or choose not to know, the uphill struggles of our founding fathers with huffing and puffing steam engines.

A final word of caution to the Andh Bhakts on both sides of the political divide. As the Karnataka results trickled in, super bhakt Randeep Surjewala proclaimed that Rahul Gandhi was the architect of the victory! In U.P. the Bhakts hail the use of bulldozers and extra-judicial killings. Such over speeding is fraught with danger. At such times we need to apply the emergence brakes.

Yes, the Executive, Judiciary and Media all need to get their acts together. The Opposition, instead of trying to stitch together a united front at the national level, needs to concentrate on local leaders and issues, as happened in Karnataka. Even if Modi returns as PM in 2024, if he has to face 15 popular and articulate Chief Ministers in the larger States, he will not be able to over speed or derail society.

As for Christian voters and leaders, especially in Kerala, Goa and the North East, they should recognise the mailed fist in the velvet glove before it strikes you in the face. I love my country enough to work for a good train system with multiple functionaries, not multiple engines.

(The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum and also of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch (citizens’ forum).

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