Monday, May 12, 2014

Was Manmohan Singh the architect of UPA victory in 2009?

In his book, The Accidental Prime Minister, Sanjaya Baru contends that PM Manmohan Singh was responsible for the UPA coming back to power for a second term. He says that the strong performance of the economy, the PM's reputation for integrity (before the scams started erupting the UPA's second term) and, not least, the Indo-US nuclear deal boosted the UPA's standing amongst the middle classes. They voted solidly for him and that's how the Congress did so well in the cities. Singh's big mistake, according to Baru, was to let the party know that that is how he felt.

The party had other ideas. They wanted Singh to prepare the ground for Rahul Gandhi to take over and they wanted him to clearly understand that the vote-puller was the Gandhi family and hence Sonia Gandhi the boss. Since Singh seemed to claim credit for the UPA victory, they set out to 'defang' him. That's how Singh ended up losing stature and indeed becoming an object of ridicule.

It is a beguiling thesis. But how true is the claim that Singh brought about the UPA victory? T N Ninan has an interesting rejoinder in his column in BS. Ninan points out that the Congress victories in the cities were nowhere as impressive as Baru makes out:
It is true that the Congress swept Delhi and Mumbai, but it did poorly in Bangalore and got noticeably fewer votes in Hyderabad-Secunderabad than in 2004, while the two seats were split as before. In Kolkata and Chennai, the party was a non-player. Among the smaller cities, Pune voted the Congress as before, Ahmedabad and Vadodara voted the BJP with most of Gujarat, and Jaipur voted the Congress with the rest of Rajasthan.
Of the two cities that the Congress did sweep, Mumbai had the special circumstance of a split in the Shiv Sena, with Raj Thackeray's newly formed Maharashtra Navnirman Sena cutting into the Shiv Sena vote and pushing it into second place in four out of six constituencies. In fact, the Congress share of the vote fell in four Mumbai seats in 2009, compared to 2004. So the only city where the Congress saw an uptick was Delhi, but then it had won six of the seven seats here in 2004. Juxtapose that against the fact that the Congress in poorly urbanised Uttar Pradesh did better than in any election since 1984, and also swept hilly Uttarakhand, and it becomes hard to argue that the party's better showing in 2009 was because of one man and his urban appeal.
I would think that the Sixth Pay Commission award, MNREGA and the farm loan waiver were all crucial in fetching votes for the Congress and resulting in its bettering its performance over 2004. For the second and the third, credit must go Sonia Gandhi. One respects the instincts of politicians, their shrewd understanding of what would translate into votes. If Sonia Gandhi had not been convinced (on the basis of evidence) that welfarism had paid off, she would not have persisted with those policies in UPA- II. If one accepts this, Singh was wrong in his understanding and there was some justification for the party showing him his place.

1 comment:

sc said...

I would have to disagree with you. You say the Congress did badly in Kolkata and Chennai.. but its allies DMK and TMC did well.. so the Congress may not have won but the UPA did!!! And if farmer loan waiver had paid off.. then why did the 214 of the 243 candidates in Bihar lose their deposit. And if the people of UP were so impressed with the welfarism of the Congress in 2009, then why did they not improve their tally in the UP assembly elections in 2012. 2009 was India asserting that they were happy with the past 5 years of the UPA govt (where growth averaged approx. 8%)this is not simple as rich vs poor or urban vs rural, victory is about understanding India's electorate's aspirational ambitions. Under extreme left leanings of the NAC, Sonia Gandhi impressed on this govt to turn to welfarism. Sadly, India's electorate is telling us that dole outs and freebies are not addressing their aspirations. If poor were really supporting the Congress, why is it a non-entity in Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, west Bengal?? We are misreading the verdicts of the people!! Just as we misread the 2004 verdict as a rejection of India Shining, it was India's voters telling the NDA and its allies that they were not impressed just by growth when it comes at the cost of its secular legacy i.e. the govt's inaction in the wake of Gujarat 2002.