07/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Elusive Success in Polls Disorient the Right and the Left

Failure has no patrons. In India for the past fornight, the parties of the right and the left are trying to come to grips with their defeat in the 15th general elections. The unambivalent nature of the Congress Party's victory has left little wiggle room for the leadership of the main rightist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) and the main leftist party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

While the latter's internal challenge stems from the "self-critical examination" of the causes of failure at the hustings, the former's troubles arise out of a failure of any accounting for reasons of the loss in the polls.

Both at the central level and in the two critical states of West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI (M) leadership is under severe stress from the lower echelons as the latter seek to place the blame on the top tier, obfuscating their own failures lower down. The local leaders in West Bengal are more strident in criticizing the top leadership in New Delhi for getting into alliances with non-Congress, non-BJP parties, a grouping that was dubbed the Third Front.

These leaders fail to acknowledge that much of the reasons for their defeat in the state of West Bengal are really the wages of being in power for an unbroken 30 year period, exacted by the electorate at a moment of vulnerability for the party. The politics of alliance the CPI (M) forged was based on the genuine need felt within the party for creating a non-Congress, non-BJP, non neo-liberal combine that could lead the country away from the grasp of failed capitalist policies.

The political space between the two poles defined by the Congress Party and the BJP was expanding till the 2004 general election and the electorate was on a rebound from the crass crony capitalism of the BJP in power. The Left parties had pushed the Congress Party-led alliance UPA in government to legislate and implement the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which promised to provide 100 days of work to the vast multitudes of rural poor of the country. They had also triggered a belated government response to the credit crisis that many of the farmers were embroiled in, thus urging the government to provide debt relief from banks.

All this had gone down well with the people. The CPI (M) had thus hoped that it would be able to tell the electorate that were they to elect a government led by the party, the Left-led Third Front would deliver more on the welfare side of the spectrum. But the voters were in no mood to listen. Risking all to elect a deeply ideological government at a moment of crisis seemed not a smart move to most of the electors. Congress Party, on the other hand, was the picture of stability with skillfully having avoided any great degree of opprobrium sticking to its UPA government.

Now the CPI (M) leadership has tough task of convincing its rank and file about the essential correctness of its party line. It also has to take the severe corrective measures at the state level to divest itself off the sins committed when in power. Finally, it has to regroup and refocus on the political agenda of showing up Indian capitalism as a primitive form of its global kind.

For the BJP, the task of reorienting the party post-poll is even tougher. Because its crisis is ideological in nature. A party that had notched its spectacular success on the back of arousing the most primeval emotions about the Hindu identity finds its main calling card expired and exhausted. The Indian people have witnessed that in its six years in power at New Delhi the BJP could not ignore a quarter of the population that was Muslim. The Indian development narrative taught the BJP the limited nature of its 'Hindusim First' strategy

This created a fissure between the party and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Force). In turn, the brush with power after a long struggle to gain the the country's attention made the RSS lose its perch as an organization of purity and integrity. On top of that, the non-fulfillment by the BJP in power of the keystones of the RSS campaign in terms of reorienting Indian history from the Hindu perspective, raised doubts in the mind of its core group of supporters and sympathizers about their (both the RSS and the BJP) honesty of purpose. Thus at the cutting edge of politics, the party has lost currency for its main political plank.

So it needs to reinvent itself. The pain it is undergoing currently is the process of that reinvention. The point of decision for the party is whether it wants to be a Hindu religious right and thus be exclusivist to the core, or just become rightist party that seeks to garner support from the fast urbanizing, neo-affluent society of the country. It will take a while for them to get their agenda right