Indian election revisited

The Congress’s success in the general election can be attributed to the fact that it was a political confrontation devoid of the kind of emotional content which its principal opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), customarily exploits on such occasions.

As a result, the normality of the contest meant that the BJP could not whip up what it likes to term as nationalistic sentiments in its favour. It did try various pseudo-religious, pro-Hindu tacks such as promising to build the Ram temple or saving the Ram sethu. But if none of this worked, the reason was not only that the issues had become dated, but also because the voters had realised that these were no more than cynical electoral ploys.

However, it was the loss of the terror card which hurt the BJP the most. The party had routinely used it in the past to demonise the Muslims as a community in the guise of castigating the Pakistan-based terrorists. But the electorate appears to have seen through this game as well.

The BJP’s other gambits also failed, and none more spectacularly than L.K. Advani’s repeated attempts to portray Manmohan Singh as “weak”. Yet, when the prime minister hit back with a stinging riposte to say that the BJP leader’s main achievement was the demolition of the Babri masjid, Advani had to concede on television that he had been “hurt”. the BJP retired hurt, to use a cricketing expression, from that moment and its present humiliation is the culmination of that retreat.

Hindsight suggests that it was a battle which the Congress could not lose. The plus points were stacked in its favour. Congressmen themselves claim that they had suggested figures of 170/180 seats for their party in the 543-member Lok Sabha in private conversations while the Intelligence Bureau estimates had pegged it at 150.

If the actual outcome has exceeded this guesswork by a large margin, the reason is that the BJP’s prospects were damaged by everything which could undermine a party – lack of its favourite atavistic planks, the advanced age of its prime ministerial candidate, its reckless propaganda which included Advani’s threat to conduct a nuclear test which would have meant scuttling the nuclear deal and, above all, the recourse to hardline Hindutva policies probably to compensate for the loss of the temple and terror cards.

Among those whose virulent anti-minority rhetoric must have revived fears of the BJP returning to the days of the Babri Masjid demolition were Varun Gandhi at the national level and B.L. Sharma at the local – mainly Delhi

The Congress, on the other hand, apparently gained from its image of sobriety projected by Manmohan Singh, which was also enhanced by his

Congress celebrates

Trinamool celebrates

India reacts to Congress’ win

reputation for personal integrity, and from the energetic campaigning of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Even if the party was taunted for its dependence on the dynasty, it did not seem to bother the average voter, as earlier experience has also shown.

The voter was also apparently not bothered by the withdrawal of a longstanding Interpol notice at the behest of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against Italian businessman, Ottavio Quottrocchi, who is an accused in the Bofors scam. Or by the Congress’s reluctance to recover the black money stashed abroad, as alleged by the BJP.

Instead, what may have helped the party was a latent wind in its favour, which was clearly discernible in Uttar Pradesh. If this trend could make its appearance in a state where the Congress had virtually been written off as a party without any hope, it is easy to imagine how this mood must have been prevalent in other states as well.

True, it wasn’t there in neighbouring Bihar and Jharkhand. But the explanations for the absence are obvious enough. In Bihar, the creditable performance of the Nitish Kumar government in restoring a semblance of law and order and checking the state’s slide into anarchy, which was visible under Lalu Prasad, ensured the victory of the Janata Dal-United-BJP combination.

In Jharkhand, the political shenanigans of Shibu Soren and the partisan role of the governor undermined the Congress’s chances. In Assam, the seeming incompetence of the Tarun Gogoi government about the threat of insurgency from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and Islamic groups were the reasons why the Congress lost some ground to its adversaries.

But where the party managed to steer a moderate course in the states where it was in power, as in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana, it fared well. And this impression of restraint and responsibility could not but help it in the states where it was in the opposition, as in Kerala, West Bengal, Uttarakhand (where there was evidently a spillover from its partial revival in Uttar Pradesh), Punjab and Orissa.

What also helped the Congress is not only that it and its allies like the DMK have been able to fight off the anti-incumbency factor, the latter in Tamil Nadu, but the Congress has also made marginal gains even in states like Gujarat where it was supposedly fighting insurmountable odds in the person of Narendra Modi.

The fallout from the comfortable victory of the Congress and its partners in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) means that they will no longer be beholden to the Left, whose ideological quirks caused no end of trouble to the government last year on the nuclear deal. The Congress’s own good showing will also make the allies stay in line, as Sharad Pawar’s endorsement of Manmohan Singh’s candidature for prime ministership shows. Earlier, Pawar had not been averse to his own name being proposed for the post.

Other prime ministerial aspirants like Mayawati have also been made aware of their limitations. This is another aspect of the elections where normality as opposed to extravagant ambitions and postures has gained primacy of place. As essentially a party of the middle path, it was inevitable, therefore, that the Congress would do well.



HEAD: Watch out, Canada – Al-Jazeera is coming

DECK: In support of Al-Jazeera


By Greg Amos


The name may incite anxiety amongst those who confuse that name with a certain terrorist organization. But to much of the world, Al-Jazeera is a name associated with good journalism, not jihad.

It’s a Qatar-based independent news network whose name in Arabic means “the island”. It’s been a forum for broadcasting dissenting views from all wavelengths of the political spectrum, and it’s now applying with the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to broadcast in Canada as Al-Jazeera English (AJE).

Bring it on, I say. We need more independent media if we’re ever to get a grasp of issues coming from the Middle East, Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan being chief among them.

With reporters actually willing to go into the field and face the daily risks associated with places like Iraq and Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera can provide a little more perspective than CNN’s embedded reporters – those ensconced in military protection and military perspectives - are able to.

The network has been in the process of expanding beyond a Middle East audience for years. In 2003, Al-Jazeera hired its first English-speaking reporter. The same year, the BBC announced that it had signed an agreement with Al-Jazeera to share facilities and news footage.

The fact the British broadcaster is willing to work with the network speaks volumes about Al-Jazeera’s credibility - I’m guessing the BBC did some serious homework before agreeing to partner with a company that, to the layman, could appear to be Osama bin-Laden’s communications department.

More to the point, longtime respected Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk is a supporter. When Al-Jazeera first broadcast in the Arab world, beaches in Lebanon became deserted, Fisk wrote in a November 2005 column for U.K. newspaper The Independent.

“Arabs wanted to see and hear truths that had been denied them by their own leaders,” he noted.

It’s easy to hear a foreign name and be sceptical about the network’s intentions, but here’s the reality: Al-Jazeera is seen by some as the only legitimate news source out of the Middle East. So trusted, in fact, that its Baghdad office was destroyed by an American cruise missile in 2003, shutting Iraq citizens out from continued broadcast of the second Gulf War from a local perspective.

But here’s maybe the best proof Al-Jazeera is a news agency worth welcoming to the Canadian media landscape: Saddam Hussein threatened to expel them from Iraq altogether in 2003. Their coverage earned a missile blast from one side and the threat of expulsion from another – that sounds like the result of fearless objective reporting.

It’s faced criticism over allegedly broadcasting terrorist-friendly videos, such as those of masked men executing western hostages in Iraq. Among the accusers was Fox News, who repeated the allegation on November 15, 2006 – the same day AJE launched in the U.S. Al-Jazeera never broadcast the images, and received formal apologies from a few international media outlets over the misinformation they spread.

I’m not arguing AJE will be a perfect media outlet – they may have their own Islamic fundamentalist version of Rush Limbaugh ranting away at times – but it sure would be nice to see some balance on Middle East issues, and the Global South in general.

The issue may seem pretty detached from life in B.C., but distance alone doesn’t stop most people from giving the odd thought to the mess in the Middle East. Anyone cultivating an informed opinion on those events stands to benefit from a valuable new viewpoint.

The CRTC is in the midst of a consultation period, weighing public input before the final board decision.

I’ve put my name down as one of those in favour, and anyone else can do so by going to

(Greg Amos is a reporter at the Dawson Creek Daily News)


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