a major turnaround in the Indian political scene which augurs well for the future.
For the first time after a longish period, the divisive elements have taken a back seat. Since these include both the Communists and the rightist forces represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the list encompasses those cutting across the political spectrum who thrive on class and communal animosity.
Even the caste-based parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which depend on the support of the backward castes and the Dalits, are losing their edge.
The catalyst for the change was the middle-of-the-road Congress' success in the general elections, which confirmed that its good showing five years ago was not a flash in the pan. By improving its tally of seats in parliament, the party was able to rid itself of the political encumbrances which had halted the government's progress on several fronts during the last five years.
The most nettlesome of these was the Left. It had not only stymied the much-needed economic reforms, but had even withdrawn support from the government on the India-US nuclear deal. Now, the Left is a pale shadow of its earlier self.
The drop in its number of seats in the Lok Sabha has been compounded by its setbacks in assembly by-elections and municipal polls in its stronghold West Bengal. There is now a growing belief in the state that its defeat is inevitable in the assembly elections of 2011.
In Kerala too, there are signs that the comrades are losing their influence. This process has been aided by the endless factional tussle between Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) state unit, Pinarayi Vijayan.
What the Left's decline indicates, however, is not just the disillusionment of the voters after its rule of three decades in West Bengal and because of the inner-party wrangling in Kerala, but the fading out of an entire ideology. Unlike the 1960s and 70s, when young people were attracted to Marxism and even Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, the influence of the Left is visibly on the wane in the urban centres.
What accelerated the disenchantment with the Left was the high-handedness of the West Bengal government in grabbing farm land in Singur for an industrial project and in trying to acquire it in Nandigram with the help of a colonial-era law. The sight of motorcycle-borne armed Marxist militia 'invading' Nandigram while the police stayed away convinced the generally Left-inclined intelligentsia in West Bengal and elsewhere that the Buddhadev Bhattacharjee administration was no different in the matter of unleashing goons and emasculating the police than the Narendra Modi government.
The present year may well write the epitaph, therefore, for the Left movement in India. Although the Communists were always a marginal force with hardly any presence outside West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, they wielded an influence disproportionate to their actual strength because of their supposedly superior ideology compared to 'bourgeois' capitalism and claims to stand for the poor. Now, with the demolition of these myths with Bhattacharjee wooing the private sector, the future of the commissars does not seem all that bright.
If the Left is on the decline, so is the BJP. The latter too has problems with its ideology. After two successive defeats in 2004 and 2009, there are misgivings about whether Hindutva is attracting a sufficient number of Hindus. Among those who questioned its efficacy was Jaswant Singh, a newly-elected MP but he was expelled for writing a book on Jinnah and the partition where he blamed the BJP's icon, Vallabbhai Patel, as well as Jawaharlal Nehru for the country's division along with the founder of Pakistan.
Another front-ranking leader of the party, Arun Jaitley, may not have doubted the value of Hindutva, but argued that its propagation as well as the party's general attitude should be less 'shrill'. Yet, no one has been more shrill in recent months than the paterfamilias of the saffron brotherhood, Mohan Bhagwat of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He has been arguing for undoing partition and uniting not only the subcontinent, but also including Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka in an Akhand Bharat on the basis of Hindu culture.
It goes without saying that these political bombshells, which include a refusal to apologize for the Babri masjid demolition, will plunge the BJP into greater difficulties than it is in at present. As it is, its partners like the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) has advised it to shun fomenting religious sentiments while talking about the Liberhan report on the Babri demolition in parliament and outside. If the RSS chief continues to talk in the present vein, the JD-U may well go the way of the Biju Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress, which left the BJP's company before the general elections.
The change of guard represented by the replacement of Rajnath Singh as the BJP president by the virtually unknown Nitin Gadkari is unlikely to help the party since the latter is seen to be the choice of the RSS. As a result, the party is expected to be even more under the thumb of Mohan Bhagwat than before. It is difficult to see the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) forging ahead under these circumstances.
Given the problems faced by the Left and the BJP, the Congress was fairly comfortably placed till it shot itself in the foot by hastily conceding the demand for Telangana without considering all the pros and cons. Although it is desperately trying to extricate itself by adopting the familiar tactics of delaying taking a decision - as P.N. Narasimha Rao used to do - it is unclear whether this ploy will succeed.
However, its earlier victories in the Maharashtra and Haryana elections - though narrowly in the second case - suggested that its position is slowly improving compared to what it was before the 2004 general election. Besides, some of its allies like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the RJD no longer have the political clout to be uppity in their attitude.
Among the Congress' other opponents, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) appears to be well entrenched in its sole stronghold of Uttar Pradesh. But its leader Mayawati can no longer dream of becoming the prime minister, as she did last year when teaming up with the Left against the Manmohan Singh government. One reason is that the BSP has been unable to make any headway outside Uttar Pradesh.
If the Congress is facing any long-term problem apart from Islamic terrorism, it is from the Maoist insurgency, which the prime minister described as the country's gravest internal security threat. However, there are signs that action plans have been prepared by the home ministry to confront the Maoists in their 'red corridor' and eradicate the menace with the help of specially-trained and well-equipped paramilitary forces.
If the government succeeds in this endeavour, it will be a major plus factor in its favour. In the economic field too, the situation is improving with a steadily rising growth rate. As if to confirm that the scene is far from depressing, India attained the No.1 status among the Test cricket playing nations in the last month of the year.
(29.12.2009-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)