As the BJP’s seal of inevitability is cracked, the Congress must diversify its narrative
Election results have an inevitability, a closure once they are announced. The very numbers add to a sense of objectivity and abstraction. The results sound like a pool table score, with the Congress having retained the edge in Rajasthan, and survived a cliffhanger in Madhya Pradesh which makes outgoing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan lose face regardless of the photo finish. The convincing landslides came in Chhattisgarh (the Congress), Telangana (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) and Mizoram (Mizo National Front).
As it played out
Yet reading about a result and watching it over TV gave you two separate understandings of it.
One of my friends is a philosopher of ordinary life. He spends his time pondering over ordinary things such as stones, clocks, timetables, calendars and even the ritual of elections. I sat next to him as he was watching the TV reports meticulously detailing results. My friend looked disturbed and dubbed such detail ‘misguided ethnography’. He claimed an election is an act of storytelling disfigured by results. The instrumental nature of results, who fought whom and who won, is one kind of drama, overt and immediately satisfying. There is little reflection about an election as a process or as a combination of deeper forces shaping critical futures. A midterm election, in the sense of Assembly polls with the parliamentary action not far, can be described as India muttering to itself. A voter is playing out choices and possibilities in his head. He is thinking aloud, trying to aggregate new options. This same process of thinking and rethinking happens at three levels. A vote is a piece of symbolic currency, and the Congress is using this election to encourage people to bet on it in the future. This election is a wager on 2019 and the Congress is playing out scenarios to convince India that it is a good bet for other Opposition parties. A whole spate of alliances is at stake and temporary options, such as between the Telugu Desam Party and the Congress, are being played out. So the first wager of this election is the future of the Congress as an aggregator of Opposition votes. The Opposition then will decide whether it joins the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bandwagon, or creates a third front as spoilsport. The danger of a photo finish is clear. Small margins of victory create the grey economy of politics, where brokers become critical. The voter has to ensure this does not happen. The Opposition too has to weld strategies of consolidation and reciprocity to see that votes do not get wasted. The result is an agenda for the future. It asks democratic India to see elections as a rule game with protean possibilities. It is clear that majoritarianism and the seal of invincibility dull the electoral game. This much Indian democracy has learnt about itself.
Shiv Visvanathan is an academic associated with the Compost Heap, a group in pursuit of alternative ideas and imagination