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The only alternative

By GURCHARAN DAS in TIMES OF INDIA SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2002

Once again the BJP seems to be learning the wrong lessons from history. It thinks that Gujarat is India in miniature, and it is getting ready to unroll the Hindutva wave in the next assembly elections at great peril to the nation. It doesnít realise that the ordinary citizen in the rest of the country cares far more about day-to-day governance and not nationalism or even terrorism.

The election results in Gujarat highlight my dilemma and that of the average Indian voter: We can no longer vote for the BJP because the politics of Hindutva and hate do not appeal to us; nor do we trust the Congress to give us the clean governance we so desperately seek. So, whom do we vote for?

The average person cares much less about the ideologies of nationalism, socialism or Hindutva and much more about her everyday needs for a decent home, water to drink and bathe, law and order on the street, schools for her children; in short, all the things that sensible governance and clean implementation of policies would provide. Yet, none of our parties focus on good governance. When was the last time you heard a politician talk about school reforms? Oh, itís there hidden somewhere in the 560 point manifesto. When he does promise it, he fails to implement it. When he is thrown out at the next election, he blames it on anti-incumbency. He doesnít get it that anti-incumbency is another name for poor governance. People are disillusioned with the BJP because it has turned out to be another Congress party.

India has 174 parties, and the last thing it needs is another political party. Yet none of our parties stands single-mindedly for good governance, reform, and performance. Hence, with the greatest reluctance I have come to the conclusion that the only alternative is to start a new political party. This party will fight for the basic needs of the people, and it will always place prosperity above politics. Since I have no illusions that it will quickly win seats, it will probably begin as a movement, in partnership with NGOs, rather than a full-fledged party seeking to govern India . It will be patient and be there for the long haul, remembering that it took 50 years for the BJP/Jan Sangh to come to power. In the short term, it may only have nuisance value, but its diligence, homework and strident rhetoric will help bring governance stage centre (somewhat like the role played by communists today.) By relentlessly focusing on reform and good governance, it will acquire the ability over time to change the political and parliamentary agenda. Unlike the Janata or the third force, it will not have more leaders than supporters ó its ethos will be grounded in teamwork, cooperation, and cohesion.

What will this party of our dreams stand for? It will place the human agenda above all else, not for moral reasons but because it is the only way to build a nation. Thus, it will work tirelessly to improve the quality and quantity of education and health care. It will place economic over political matters, and trust markets rather than bureaucrats. It will do what no party has done so far ó it will sell economic, social and administrative reforms to the people. Since everyone knows what is to be done, it will focus on the how rather than the what, and thereby underline its bias for action and pragmatic implementation. Finally, it will work to confine religion to the private space, keeping it away from public space. The idea of a new party of governance and performance might seem hopelessly idealistic to the cynical Indian voter, but isnít it common sense to want politics to satisfy our most basic needs and reflect our aspirations to create a better India for our children?