Well it's ten days now since the "game changing" verdict was declared. In those initial days after the counting I found myself sharing some of the euphoria of news anchors and analysts about how this was a watershed moment in the country's democracy. But on calmer reflection I find that it is way to premature to uncork the champagne.
First of all the conclusion that this marks the end of identity politics. Vinod Mehta of the Outlook magazine says that this is the death knell for the BJP's brand of communal politics. Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express says that the poltics of grievance is giving way to the politics of aspiration. As much as I would like these conclusions to be true the fact is that Varun Gandhi has won in his constituency. The BJP has peformed well in Karnataka despite the activities of fundamentalists there. Raj Thakeray's regionalist MNS took a large chunk of votes in Maharashtra. Also some people have concluded that these results will make the BJP reinvent itself and become a more inclusivist party. The same kind of conclusions were being drawn when the BJP first came to power in the center but it caught everybody off guard with the Gujrat massacres. To expect the BJP to ditch its old inflammatory ways would be to credit it with too much statesmanship and courage.
The second is that Manmohan Singh with his hands strengthened will deliver on governance, that he will choose the ministers he wants and be tough with allies in this matter. We have already seen Congress tolerate the DMK's tantrums, ultimately ending in a tainted and inept A Raja being retained as cabinet minister and that too in the important Telecom portfolio. One can argue that one has to be realistic, but I think the Congress had the strength to call DMK's bluff this time if it really had the will to do so. Mamata has been made the Railways minister, which makes me shudder.
Then the implications for the economy. Some people expect the government, unencumbered by the Left, to go full steam on economic reforms. Nothing of the sort is going to happen. Despite the Prime Minister being the architect of India's econimic liberalisation, his party is too populist and socialist to bite the bullet on path breaking reforms that will bring about an industrial revolution and lift millions out of poverty. Instead it is going to continue with wasteful schemes like the NREGA. Montek Singh Ahluwalia's rejection as Finance Minister is a symptom of this mindset.
Then there are other conclusions drawn like weakening of caste-based formations, halting of fragmentation of Indian polity, emergence of youth and professionals in politics etc. All these are great signs, but the jury is still out on whether they will continue.
For me one great sign is Rahul Gandhi's attempts to foster intra-party democracy in the Congress. If what is reported is true, it will go a long way in correcting the lacunae in Indian polity, as I feel political parties are the weakest link in the Indian democracy. If he really does something that will make it easier for good people to rise in the party, (and force other parties to follow suit), it will be a huge blessing for the country's democracy.
I also have expectations from the government on education, infrastructure and administrative reforms. I will be super-glad if the government delivers on these fronts. Ultimately it is education that creates a population that can discriminate between the available options and is the best bet against fundamentalism and corruption. Improving infrastructure, executing administrative reform and strengthening democratic institutions will go a long way in shoring up the country's economy in the long term, besides being an end in themselves, even if big ticket economic reforms have to wait.
To conclude, I am glad that the country has been spared the nightmare of a chauvinist BJP governmet for five more years, but I am not as sanguine in my expectaions from the new government as several analysts. I am just hoping that the overall trends in the country's polity are positive and that the political parties will take the right message from these election results.