by Shashi Shekhar, Offstumped
Consider this scenario of a Prime Minister speaking in Parliament:
“I have spent decades doing this but today I have been at the receiving end of much personal criticism”
“I thank the mere four parties that stood by me including the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal despite everyone else ganging up against us”
“I have been accused that I am craving for power and that my actions are a result of my craving for power”
“If the people have given my party the highest number of seats should I shy away from staking a claim for power”
“Should I run away from the battlefield to betray the confidence reposed by the people in making us the single largest party”
“I am being asked how many percentage votes did you get but the Westminister method we have adopted we don’t look at percentage of votes we look at seats, you can’t have it both ways”
“It has happened many times that a Party that has not won a plularity of votes but has won more seats”
“We have to only go by the number of seats and not by the percentage votes, we don’t count negative votes in our Parliamentary system”
“How can you say the mandate is against us, when we were not even a player in many states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra and the fight was between those of you who have now gotten together to oppose us”
“Say clearly and directly that you will not let me assume power at any cost”
“The bogey of Hitler is being raised in this House, I am being labeled Fascist”
“I have been at this for 4 decades, I have fought this fight democratically, contesting elections and I am being accused of adopting fascist methods”
“This is Politics of Negativism, this is Reactionary Politics, this is Politics to stop us at any cost by making Untouchables of us – this is not healthy politics”
And then a prominent member of the Opposition stands up to tell the Prime Minister to his face:
“You are all alone, you stand all isolated”
No this is not a hypothetical speech in 2014 being delivered by Narendra Modi, this was Atal Bihari Vajpayee making a real speech in 1996 even as his 13 day government fell.
Next consider this:
In 1951 the first ever election Nehru became Prime Minister with merely 45% of the votes for the INC
In 1957 when Nehru became the Prime Minister for a second time, the Indian National Congress had only a 47.78% vote share while the Opposition Parties and Independents collectively had nearly 52% vote share;
In 1962 Nehru assumed power with only 44.7% vote share while the combined opposition parties and independents garnered 55.3% of the votes;
In 1967 60% of the country voted against the Congress which assumed power with only 40% of the votes;
In 1971 57% of the country voted against the Congress when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister;
In 1977 when a coalition of parties under the Janata banner assumed office after Emergency their combined vote share though earned separately crossed 50% with Morarji Desai becoming Prime Minister;
In 1980 when Indira Gandhi bounced back as Prime Minister her party still won a mere 42% of the vote share with 58% of voters rejecting the Congress;
Even in the watershed election of 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi riding on a sympathy wave of his mother’s assassination decimated the Opposition to win a record 400+ number of Lok Sabha seats the Congress Party won only 49.1% of the votes with more Indians voting against the Congress;
In 1989 while the grand opposition coalition that coalesced behind VP Singh under the National Front banner may have got barely 50% of the vote V.P. Singh’s Janata Dal got a bare 18% of the vote while the Rajiv Gandhi lead Congress had a 39.5% vote share;
In 1991 the Congress bounce back after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination mid-election with P.V. Narasimha Rao as PM the Congress got a mere 36% of the vote with a plurality in India voting against it;
In 1996 when Vajpayee’s 13 day government fell the BJP had a 20% vote share and the Congress a 28% vote share. In subsequent elections that saw Vajpayee return to power twice in 1998 and 1999 the BJP’s vote share was 26% in 1998 with NDA vote share not likely to be more than 45%, and 24% in 1999 with the combined NDA vote share possibly getting close to the 50% mark;
In 2004 and 2009 the Congress Party polled 26% and 28.5% respectively with the UPA’s pre-poll vote share nowhere near the halfway mark.
So by the only objective measure we have of “acceptability” may we humbly recognise that India has never had a Prime Minister who was “acceptable” to a plurality of Indians, not even during the single party rule of Nehru and Indira Gandhi and not even when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1984 with the help of that tsunami of public sympathy in favor of his party thanks to his mother’s assassination.
The “acceptability” that is being referred to in arguments by commentators across the board is the cosmopolitan urban Indian upper middle class drawing room “acceptability” as it is shaped and influenced by Delhi’s 24×7 media and English language op-eds. Such“acceptability” is not based on any objective measure but elitist perception bordering perhaps even class prejudice.
Let it also be said that a plurality of Indians have never accepted an extra-constitutional veto against any individual in deference to the demands of any one ethnic, linguistic or religious group. To defer to such an extra-constitutional veto would be to set a dangerous precedent that is no different from the kind of precedent we all warned against while urging the UPA government to not succumb to the “Fast unto Death” blackmail of the Anna Hazare variety.