Voting for the nation
Elections 2009 produced a national mandate, above caste and region
The most "issue-less" election has thrown up the most magnificent result. It was a grueling marathon five week campaign: political vocabulary touched its lowest depths, shoes were flung, political murders were carried out, Naxals killed 29 security staff and election officers and even hijacked a train, the Election Commission sent notices almost every day on money being handed out at holi milans and campaign meetings. Every reporter came back from dusty dirt tracks complaining about the dreary lack of a "wave" of any kind this time.
But unknown to most, in this most dull, degraded and exhausting campaign, somewhere in a nation's heart, an invisible yet powerful act of collective will was getting ready to be born. Voters across India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari moved in almost spiritual unison to vote for hope over fear, for stability over instability. If anyone still has doubts about India's viability as a united nation-state, they only need to look at the moving force that united millions to lift the Congress-led UPA to its 262 seats.
The international media called it the world's most remarkable election. 714 million registered voters, 800,000 polling booths, 6 million police deployed, and 1.075 Electronic Voting Machines. Elections 2009 are indeed a tribute to the Election Commission that not only was the poll process almost completely smooth, only 8 EVMs broke down, and within a mere two days of the declaration of results, the three Election Commissioners were seen handing over a copy of the notification of all the new members of the 15th Lok Sabha to the President.
The so-called "issue-less" election produced three historic breakthroughs. The three big stories of Election 2009, are the unprecedented defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal, the stunning rise of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and the Manmohan Singh-Rahul Gandhi effect in creating a winning combination of expertise and youth.
The mighty Left Front of West Bengal, winner of 35 seats in 2004, has crumbled to a mere 15 as the Bengali voter turned out in their thousands, united in anger, to throw out the red stalwarts from their bastions in south and east Bengal. In Uttar Pradesh, the story has been equally dramatic. For long assumed to be the preserve of caste politics, where Congress has been driven out in the '90s by the caste armies of Mayawati and Mulayam unexpectedly, this time voters chose to give a chance to Jawaharlal Nehru's great-grandson, and to the remembered legacy of the grand old party. For the Congress to win 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh may not be just a result of the campaigning of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress' decision to fight elections without an alliance with Mulayam. The verdict also signals the tapering off of caste identity and votebank considerations. In the same Uttar Pradesh, voters hammered Dalit chieftain Mayawati, left nursing her wounds with just 20 seats.
But perhaps the biggest story of this election is the story of the gentle sardarji, India's best known Blue Turban. Manmohan Singh was never a Ram Lila ground orator. His voice is soft and his manner in unassuming. But through his thick glasses his eyes are fixed on India's future. He staked his all on the Indo-US nuclear deal, because he was thinking of our children's children. The cynical Economist magazine which rarely praises India's politicians, said, "If The Economist had a vote, it would plump for Mr Singh's Congress." Day after day, the BJP attacked him viciously, called him weak, a puppet, a nightwatchman. But the Congress' projection of Singh was a masterstroke as he conveyed the one quality that resonated across an ambitious aspiring India: he conveyed hope. And in an extraordinary act of collective will, in a national mandate, voters chose the gentle sardar. In 2009 the "accidental politician" became the Congress' lucky mascot.
The elections of 2009 have been described in many ways. It is the first decisive verdict after two decades of fractured mandates. It signals the rise to prominence of both national parties, Congress with 202 and BJP with 122. It signals the relative decline of regional formations like the Telegu Desam (won just 6 seats) and the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti (won 2). In fact the biggest message of 2009 is in moments of deepest crisis, India thinks like a collective and rejecting calls to caste, religion and region, India votes for the nation.
More about Sagarika GhoseSagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India before moving to CNN-IBN as prime time anchor and Deputy Editor. She is the anchor of the award-winning flagship debate programme Face The Nation on CNN-IBN. She is also a columnist for the Hindustan Times. She has won numerous awards including FICCI Media Achiever Award and Gr8-ITA Award for Excellence in Journalism. She is a graduate in History from St Stephen's College and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she gained an MA and M.Phil in History and International Relations. She is the author of two acclaimed novels The Gin Drinkers and Blind Faith, both published worldwide by HarperCollins Publishers.
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