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Don't write off the conservatives just yet

By Pramod Kumar Buravalli
June 09, 2009 15:19 IST
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As India celebrates the victory of the "left of centre" Congress party in the recently held general elections, many noted columnists and writers have begun writing obituaries of the "right of centre" Bharatiya Janata Party.

Not just about the BJP from India but everywhere across the globe, this phenomenon of writing off the conservative parties from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Pakistan and elsewhere seems in vogue.

It is true that all almost everywhere in the world, conservative parties like the Republicans in America, Conservatives in the UK and the BJP in India have all bitten the electoral dust. But, are they dead?

India is overwhelmingly Hindu just as the US and UK are overwhelmingly Christian. The commonality between the liberal parties currently in power in the above mentioned "democratic" countries is that they portray themselves as "secular, all-inclusive and left of centre in terms of socio-economic policies". These parties are generally resented by the majority but due to the nature of the democratic voting system, they end up winning due to their respective blocs of "minority" votes and the split in majority votes.

The Congress in India came to power in 2009 mainly due to two factors. The consolidated Muslim, Christian and Dalit votes which constituted 20 per cent of the 28 pc vote share the Congress obtained. The Congress also benefitted from too many parties vying for the 'opposition space', thus splitting the anti-incumbency votes and ultimately helping the Congress win in multi-cornered contests.

Similarly, Obama's Democratic Party came to power with a slender 51 pc vote share because of a consolidated votebank of Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and lower income group Anglo-Saxons.

The commonality between Obama and Manmohan Singh's parties and victories is very clear. They won due to their liberal appeal and sops to their respective mainstays, ie, "minorities and economically marginalised sections".

Politics is influenced by four vital Ms: mind, money, media and man power. Just like the kings of the past, if any party in a democratic system is able to control these 4 Ms effectively, they can win election after election.

Is that the magic mantra to win elections consecutively? While this may hold true, the converse is just as true.

The economists of today are confused. The best and the brightest have no clue as to what is the best economic revival plan for a nation. In sheer desperation capitalist countries have begun turning slightly socialist and socialist countries like China, Cuba and Venezuela, who had already begun playing with selective capitalism, are now at their wit's end, not knowing if they should revert to State control. Countries like India, who have no system of economics to call their own, are brainstorming whether to increase government control in certain sectors, what sectors to liberalise and how to spend more on infrastructure. This confusion is part of a vicious global economic cycle. As of today, the principles of protectionism, economic nationalism and selective governement control are about to be indoctrinated everywhere.

This new era of trial and error economics will go on until the collapse of another economic giant, which is when countries will go back to their old ideologies. This cycle, where one economic principle gains the upper hand for a few decades until something bad happens and then the another competing philosophy starts its quota of dominance, is pretty much similar to the liberal versus conservative political cycle.

Today, conservative movements and parties around the world are beating a hasty retreat. The Republican Party in the US is lost in wilderness in the face of a united minority vote, a charismatic opposition and shattered Christian conservatism. The Conservative party in the UK is trying its best under David Cameron to regain its bearings and the BJP in India, which lost two consecutive elections, is back to the drawing board.

As long as the people of a particular majority religion feel that they are being marginalised, they will always dissolve their internal differences and rally around a moderate leader among them.

An actor by profession, Ronald Reagan had no chance of winning since his style of Republican politics was moderate and fiscally conservative. Reagan won because his predecessor Jimmy Carter was a disaster with respect to national security and economics. Reagan ended up becoming one of America's greatest Presidents, his presidency being credited with bringing down communism in Soviet Union, leaving office with a strong economy in place and paving the way for an American domination in world policy for over two decades.

Similarly, no one gave Atal Bihari Vajpayee a second chance after the disastrous 13-day government in 1996. Many claimed that the BJP would never win but they defied all odds and won under a moderate Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999. Vajpayee arguably led one of the best governments India has ever seen.

Conservative movements have natural advantages. They have ideologically motivated party members or cadres, (in comparison to liberal politicians) they offer corruption-free governance and are usually better handlers of national security issues and international affairs.

As long as the dominant majority of a nation feels that they are being marginalised by the minority and there is a party or a political coalition that seems to represent that majority's best interests, there will always be a space for conservative parties to return to power.

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Pramod Kumar Buravalli