[Marxism] P. Sainath on the Andhra Pradesh municipal elections

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Oct 6 11:27:51 MDT 2005


Counterpunch, October 6, 2005
"Take That, Tom Friedman"
Indian Elites' Neoliberal Idol Shattered Yet Again: Urban Masses Stubbornly 
Reject NYT's Hero

By P. SAINATH

     Editors' note: Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Paul O'Neill and the New York 
Times sang his praises. The World Bank threw money at him. Chandrababu 
Naidu, who ruled the state of Andhra Pradesh was the great Indian posterboy 
of Neoliberalism Then in 2004 in national parliamentary polls and in state 
legislature elections the voters of this south-eastern state of some eighty 
million had their chance to issue a verdict on Naidu's "reforms". The 
verdict took the form of a ferocious NO. To the stupefaction of India's 
elites and media pundits who had been predicting victory for the ruler of 
"Cyberabad", Naidu and his Telugu Desam party were tossed from power.

     Soon the excuses began to mince their way into the editorial columns. 
Naidu was stained by association with the BJP, also rejected in 2004. Naidu 
had concentrated too much on the cities, and rural voters were mad at him, 
etc etc. But at the end of last month voters in Andhra Pradesh's municipal 
elections had a second chance to register their opinion of Naidu and his 
party. Andhra had its urban polls to municipal councils and corporations. 
What did urban Andhra Pradesh voters say? They handed Naidu a thrashing 
that exceeds the two earlier electoral defeats in its scale.

     No excuses left this time. Most political and media analysts are 
evading the event ­ which shows what ordinary people (that means urban 
people too) think of the pro-rich orgy that has passed for reforms in 
India. AC/JSC

The scale of the Telugu Desam's rout in the Andhra Pradesh municipal 
elections exceeds that of the party's defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha and 
Assembly polls. The message from urban Andhra Pradesh goes far beyond the 
borders of the State. The more so given Chandrababu Naidu's unchallenged 
status for years as the poster boy of the `reforms' in this country. And as 
"CEO" of a State The New York Times called the "darling of western 
governments and corporations."

Interestingly, none of the excuses trotted out for his party's disastrous 
show in the 2004 polls holds good this time. And yet again, the media - 
even entrenched sections of the Telugu media - missed the public mood. 
Reports of the great crowds drawn by Mr. Naidu re-kindled illusions last 
seen in 2004. With the same results.

But first, the score. Winning more than twice the number of wards the 
Telugu Desam did, the Congress takes the post of chairperson in 75 of 96 
municipalities. It won an absolute majority in 68. The TDP managed that in 
just six. Of the remaining 22 that are `hung' more will go the Congress way 
as the smoke clears.

The Congress could end up controlling 10 of 11 municipal corporations. It 
has won a majority in eight. And it could manage the numbers in two more. 
The Telugu Desam has taken a drubbing in Mr. Naidu's home district of 
Chittoor. The TDP has been smashed even where it won Assembly seats in May 
2004. In East Godavari for instance, it lost every one of 30 wards in the 
Tuni Municipal Council. (In 2004 it had annexed the Tuni Assembly seat.) 
And this despite the sitting MLA, its former Finance Minister, heading its 
poll campaign there.

This Congress Government has had more than its share of follies in the past 
year. But the TDP's agenda this election did not go beyond personal attacks 
on Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Given its own record in office, 
the TDP was unable to push the real issues. Its campaign was more 
panic-driven. In nine years of Mr. Naidu, the State did not issue a single 
below-the-poverty-line (BPL) ration card. That is, till just before the 
last polls. In one year of the Congress, lakhs of such cards were newly 
made out. This is a State where hunger and food have been huge issues even 
in urban areas.

Also, the Reddy Government has not, so far at least, imposed giant burdens 
on urban dwellers. Contrast that with Mr. Naidu's Golden Age. In his time, 
the public were repeatedly hit by hikes in water charges, power rates, and 
a number of other costs. Also, Mr. Naidu's union-bashing (so richly praised 
in The New York Times) did not help his party much. The present 
Government's approach to labour is relatively less confrontational.

Who will Mr. Naidu (and user-friendly columnists) blame this time? The 
messiah of hi-tech now says the Electronic Voting Machines were partly to 
blame. He clearly feels no need to introspect. One TDP excuse for the 
earlier defeats was its tie-up with the BJP. That party's communal taint, 
the TDP argued, had hurt its own secular image. This time, there was no 
such alliance. The BJP itself has been obliterated. And the MIM too, has 
taken a beating. Muslims have voted far less for it this time around. 
Meanwhile, the Left has greatly improved its position.

The second oft-repeated rant was this: "The Maoists helped the Congress 
party in 2004." Well, now they're at war with each other. And Mr. Reddy has 
still got his mandate.

The third major excuse for Debacle 2004 was the Congress alliance with the 
Telangana Rashtra Samithi. But there was no such tie-up this time. And the 
TRS is, if anything, a bigger loser than the TDP. The party holding aloft 
the banner of Telangana was humbled in that region. With TRS and Congress 
candidates slugging it out, the TDP should have gained. It didn't. So the 
plea of the pundits of 2004, that it was all just `electoral arithmetic,' 
does not wash.

The Congress also fought the Left in over half the seats the latter 
contested. Despite a few adjustments at the local level, the two clashed 
bitterly in many places. As in Kurnool, where the TDP tried to cash in on 
the fight between Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The 
attempt failed and the TDP lost even where its enemies were at loggerheads.

Nor can we pin it on the failures of lesser bosses of the Telugu Desam. Mr. 
Naidu is that party's one and only leader. In the Congress you can always 
blame a defeat on the "failure of the State unit." Or on the High Command 
being misled. Such pleas don't work for the TDP. No second rung leadership 
exists in it that counts for anything.

All this, in urban Andhra. One lesson the pundits drew from the 2004 rout 
was this: maybe Mr. Naidu doted too much on the cities. Neglect of rural 
Andhra Pradesh was the sole problem. But even in the 2004 polls, the cities 
and towns went firmly against him. In mighty Cyberabad, image capital of 
the world, the TDP managed just one out of 13 Assembly seats last year. 
Despite its then tie-up with the BJP.

This time, urban Andhra Pradesh allowed no illusions at all about how much 
he had done for them. The TDP's share of the urban vote dropped three per 
cent in just over one year. What has been common in three successive 
defeats is that the party was beaten across the spectrum. Rural, urban, 
city, town, Telangana, Rayalaseema, and coastal Andhra. The TDP can run, 
but it can't hide.

Nobody loves the Congress. The public in this State has often shown its 
exasperation with that party in the past two decades. It will doubtless do 
that again at some point. This time, it gave it a mandate. The Telugu Desam 
itself was born of the electorate's disgust with the Congress in the early 
1980s. It has moved a long way from that point. And public anger with the 
TDP has not declined in the 16 months it has been out of power.

So can we start asking if, maybe, the policies of the Telugu Desam had 
something to do with its hara-kiri? See how badly the Congress was routed 
in States where its Chief Ministers admired the `Naidu model.' It's telling 
that the Congress swept these polls in Andhra Pradesh while being crushed 
in local body elections in Kerala. To be fair, the basis for the Naidu 
model was laid down by, first and foremost, the Congress. Mr. Naidu, 
however, raised it to an art form the latter could admire but copy only at 
grave risk. If Modi's Gujarat was Hindutva's laboratory, Naidu's Andhra 
Pradesh was the playpen of neo-liberal economics. It is the policies of 
that era the TDP needs to ponder on.


Anti-poor policies

The notion that Mr. Naidu was pro-urban and anti-rural was a seductive one. 
More so for analysts explaining their own failures. The polices of his 
government were anti-poor, whether urban or rural. The effects in rural 
areas were more devastating, as the suicides of thousands of farmers 
showed. But Andhra Pradesh is still a State where many in the cities remain 
linked to the countryside. Lots of city dwellers have a brother or father 
who is still a farmer.

Again, despite its failures, the present Congress Government did ensure 
that at least some families of suicide victims were compensated. It did set 
up an excellent commission to go into the crisis of agriculture in the 
state. It acknowledged widespread distress.

The TDP was the party of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao. A charismatic leader 
who never tasted this kind of wipe-out even when beaten at the polls. 
Against all the heckling and ridicule of the media, NTR gave rice to the 
poor at Rs.2 a kg. In the first half of his years in power, Mr. Naidu 
gained much from the goodwill his father-in-law enjoyed. Just before 
elections, he would revert to some of those policies. Cut-outs of NTR would 
emerge from the mothballs. After the polls, it would be business as usual.

Only, in 2004, an outraged electorate - rural and urban - decreed 
otherwise. And Mr. Naidu was out of business. His legacy is still fresh in 
the minds of people. As is their anger.

This time Mr. Naidu was out of power. He still had great media support. But 
there was less of the cloying `national' media. Despite their bluster in 
covering their tracks after Debacle 2004, they were less keen to burn their 
fingers this time around. And there was no stream of high-flying hacks from 
adoring foreign media whose stories could have been written without once 
leaving their own countries. And no visits by Bill Gates, Bill Clinton or 
Paul O'Neill.

For the Congress there is a mandate. But also the lesson that pushing 
policies similar to Mr. Naidu's will invite the same results. For the 
media, yet again, is a chance to learn something about how people view the 
pro-rich, anti-poor measures that pass for `reforms' in this country.

P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu (where this piece 
initially ran) and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be 
reached at: psainath at vsnl.com.

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