NASTY AND NICE - Two contending parties that mean what they say The ideological face-off in the run-up to the general elections grows starker by the day. Most democratic countries have a Nice Party that deals in inclusive liberal politics and ameliorative economics, and a Nasty Party that swears by nativist or majoritarian politics and give-to-the-rich economics. Generally, though, this divide is papered over by each party trying to steal pages from the other partyâ€™s playbook. Thus, the Nice Party sometimes tries to prove it can be uncharacteristically stern (Labour talking tough about immigration or Clintonian Democrats reforming welfare) while the Nasty Party occasionally tries to seem human(e) (the rhetorical inclusiveness of One Nation Tories, for example, or George W. Bushâ€™s â€˜No child left behindâ€™ initiative). Sometimes, though, both parties choose to play true to type: the Nice Party plays nice and the Nasty Party doubles down on being nasty. So Bill de Blasio, running for the mayorship of New York, runs a â€œIâ€™m for the poor, against inequality and against the police profiling of black peopleâ€ campaign and wins. On the other side, the Nasties, represented by Tea Party activists in the Republican Party, wallow in their whiteness and re-organize themselves into Ayn Rand choirs, reasoning that the Republicans lost the last presidential election because Mitt Romney wasnâ€™t nasty enough. The seemingly terminal decline of the Indian National Congress in the run-up to the general elections has allowed the principal actors on the Nice and Nasty sides of Indian politics to be ever more themselves. For the past twenty years, the Congress has tried to be the party of both economic liberalization and redistributive justice, with varying degrees of success and conviction. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in one hand and foreign direct investment in the other, it has attempted, as is its instinct, to be all things to all men. Its principal opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, constrained by coalition politics, the power of regional parties and the realities of governance, has tacked between a feral majoritarianism (the aftermath of Ayodhya, the Godhra pogrom) and a more centrist pitch based on its claim to being the best available steward of economic modernization. Through Atal Bihari Vajpayeeâ€™s prime ministership up to the failure of L.K. Advaniâ€™s bid to lead the BJP to power in 2009, hopeful observers thought that they discerned a change in the BJP: it was evolving, they thought, from being the party of majoritarian Hindu grievance to becoming a conventionally right-wing party like the Christian Democratic Union in Germany. Vajpayeeâ€™s greatest achievement was a personal one: by reprising Reagan-ite good cheer and benevolence, he made the BJP seem respectable, even benign. Even his hapless misgivings about Godhra seemed to redound to his credit: here was a BJP prime minister who thought the mass murder of Muslims was a bad thing. And though Vajpayeeâ€™s â€˜India Shiningâ€™ motto didnâ€™t deliver, as Reaganâ€™s â€˜Morning in Americaâ€™ did, a second term in office, L.K. Advani chose to reprise Vajpayeeâ€™s centrism, instead of his own rath yatra persona, when he led the BJP into the elections of 2009. Advaniâ€™s tryst with M.A. Jinnah must count as the most eccentric political adventure in recent Indian politics, but it was clearly designed to burnish Advaniâ€™s hitherto hidden secular credentials. Advaniâ€™s failure to lead the BJP to power in 2009 cleared the way for Narendra Modiâ€™s unapologetically Hindutvavadi leadership. Unlike Advani, Modi has no interest in respectability as defined by the republicâ€™s political history. His project is to re-make the republicâ€™s political culture in the image of Hindutva. Modiâ€™s political and economic success in Gujarat, his fan-following amongst Indiaâ€™s leading industrialists and his conspicuous successâ€”till recentlyâ€”in making the political running in this election campaign, has allowed the BJP to cast off its ill-fitting centrist motley. Indiaâ€™s Nasty Party, thanks in equal measure to its charismatic leader and a corrupt and dysfunctional Congress, can be itself again. The most vivid illustration of this was the sequence of events that began with Modi and Baba Ramdev in close conclave, discussing tax reform. This was followed by the BJPâ€™s finance-minister-in-waiting, Subramanian Swamy (famous for writing that Indian Muslims who didnâ€™t acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus shouldnâ€™t be allowed to vote) declaring to the world that the BJP was planning to replace the income tax with a bank transaction tax. So, the BJPâ€™s prime ministerial candidate was channelling a godmanâ€™s fiscal ideas to propose a measure that would give the most Randian right-wing party in the West pause. It was like the first item in a checklist: Nasty Things To Do. 1. Abolish progressive taxation. Check. The Congress, in contrast, can no longer even fake being the Nice Party despite an alphabet soup of do-gooder initiatives: its storied corruption and dynastic absurdity get in the way. Stuck between an inert prime minister, long past his sell-by date, and a dauphin wholly unfit for political purpose, it canâ€™t, despite its incumbency, play the BJPâ€™s political foil. It seems almost resigned to its fate as a dynastic rump. The Nice Party space vacated by the Congress has been filled, startlingly, by a brand-new party, the Aam Aadmi Party. It is a speaking comment on the political vacuum that the Congress has created while still in office that the social-democratic space in national politics is now ceded by newspaper editorials and television talk shows to a party that runs a minority government in a single city-state. Even more interesting is the speed with which the AAP has embraced both pluralism and populism. Before Arvind Kejriwal & Co became a party, they seemed to have no political or economic ideas to speak of. Itâ€™s worth remembering that Baba Ramdev was recruited by Kejriwal to boost the popularity and reach of India Against Corruption, which tells us that Kejriwalâ€™s ideology is something of a work-in-progress. And yet, inside the space of an election campaign, the AAP jettisoned its grumpy mentor, purged assorted godmen, moved sharply to the left, adopted a rhetorical pluralism that would make the Congress in its Nehruvian heyday blushâ€¦ and effectively won the Delhi election. It proved to itself and (it must hope) to a larger national electorate, that Nice Parties donâ€™t finish last. Within a few days of coming to office, Kejriwal rejected FDI for multi-brand retail in Delhi. This came on top of announcements that electricity bills would be reduced, free water provided and a constant dialogue maintained between the Delhi government and its citizens. The AAP was doubling down on populism in the belief that welfarist politics, minus the Congressâ€™s dynastic baggage and record of corruption, was a winning platform. And so we have a resurgent majoritarian Goliath committed to Hindutvavadi politics and radical right-wing economics, going toe-to-toe with a social-democratic David, armed with an anti-corruption slingshot. It doesnâ€™t seem like a fair fight but there seems to be a curious consensus that itâ€™s the only game in town. This is partly because itâ€™s been a long time since Nasty and Nice have squared off against each other with such ideological purity, such explicit intent. The Nasty Party feels free to seize the moment that the Congress drift has created, uninhibited by centrist scruple or republican decencies. The Nice Party, newly-minted, actually believes in the virtue of its ideas in a way that a time-serving Congress had long since ceased to do. Enthralled by the integrity of their champions, their partisans urge them on. On the face of it, the BJPâ€™s supporters have more going for them than the AAPâ€™s: bench strength, cadre, organization, corporate donors, the apparatus of office in the states that the BJP rules and the entrenched influence of the sangh parivar. Also unlike the movies, the AAP canâ€™t say â€œmere paas Ma haiâ€, because thatâ€™s something the elections will decide. I suspect that the AAPâ€™s supporters, even the true believers, are hoping that the regional parties pull their weight in this election so that the seats that this fledgling party wins count for something in the political struggle to deny a born-again BJP a mandate. Who knows, even the post-election Congress rump that everyone seems to anticipate, might be drafted in to play its part in thwarting the Nasty Party. For the moment, though, we can treat ourselves to that unusual spectacle in Indian politics, two contending parties who seem to mean what they say. Nasty and nice ******************************************** It appears that Kesavan has written the requiem of the Congress Party, as if they do not matter any more. It is true that the Congress, currently does not exudes enthusiasm, but given the fissures and contradictions that are unfolding daily within the AAP, there seems to be a silver lining creeping on the side of teh Congress' black cloud. That is evidenced by the retun of the the Cheshire cast smile on the face of Kapil Sibal as he hugged Kejriwal and the Prophet's birth celebration and the rejuvenated acerbic tongue of Kurshed when he termed the AAP - They are jurassic. They smell of anarchy It will be recalled that a few days ago, the Congress big wigs were perambulating that corridors with a forlorn, dejected hangdog look and desperately hanging to the coattails of the AAP to be remain relevant. The AAP, on the other hand, is indulging in policy callisthenics attempting everything in the gym book - cartwheeling, black-flipping, front-rolling, back-rolling and what have you and that too with a touch of yoga, getting themselves into a yogic indiarubber man pretzel pose! This confusion in the AAP has even emboldened Lallu to try a comeback trail and audaciously claim, while picking his teeth after eating a guava, 'People will follow me,. I do not follow people.' Even the crestfallen Mayawati, who felt let down by the Dalits in Delhi, is once again flashing angrily the Dalit OBC card, lest she find herself history, having been left out inthe cold by the AAP, which it is said is popular in UP. BJP on the other hand, being out of the headlines, and sulking maturely avoiding controversies so much so, Telegraph has a headline on Page 8 - Modi 'shirks' potshots. All this makes the Electoral scene intriguingly exciting. AAP, that had become sensation is floundering in the contradictions of having tall figures, but each with his own agenda, leaving one to wonder what is actually the AAP's agenda, beyond the populist line. Even though do gooders like Capt Gopinath and Patkar who cast their hat in the AAP ring are now baulking. Binny is on the warpath, Smiley Vishwas tears into danseuse Sarabhai wonderng who she is and vice versa, Bharti running foul with the Justice and the cup of woes brim over. And the AAP now appears still born dashing hopes of many. Congress is sulking but hopes for a miraculous comeback. BJP biding its time, but apparently aware that the bandwagon has shrunk Maywati and Lallu finds the electoral confusion as an ideal time to burst forth with second wind, while Ntitish is busy with his makeover of his image announcing that 576 corrupt officers of Bihar are up for the axe! Thus, the whole election scene is a flux. One wonders what the future portends for India in the 2014 elections.