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Learning by undoing - The Economic Times

Editorial ()
March 4, 1998

Title: Learning by undoing
Author: Editorial
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: March 4, 1998

The principle of learning, rather than catch-phrases like anti-
incumbency, swings and indices of unity, might explain the 1998
election results. Political lessons have two components. One,
learning from the electorate: voters punish under-performing
representatives. Performance, measured by nuts-and-bolts local
achievement and not woolly national agenda, is the key to
political success. If parties fail to deliver, their candidates
are punished via the ballot box. They stay, only if they deliver.
Voters have punished the Janata Dal in Bihar and Karnataka; the
Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, Karnataka and Andhra
Pradesh; and the BJP in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Two, political parties learn from their own mistakes. The 1991
elections taught the BJP about the importance of making friends.
This time, the BJP's 16-party alliance has helped it make inroads
into previously forbidden ground like Bengal, Tamil Nadu and
Andhra Pradesh. Party hard-liners who wrinkled their noses at
the prospect allying with regional parties, have learnt the worth
of diluting the pristine Nagpur line. The Congress has swept
Maharashtra, where it allied with the Samajwadi Party and the
Republican Party of India, and done badly in Bihar and Uttar
Pradesh where it spurned allies. The Congress in Bengal and Tamil
Nadu was impervious to any lessons. So, intra-party politicking
split the Bengal Congress, and it ceded seats to the breakaway
Trinamool Congress-BJP alliance. Similarly, Congressmen who
argued against allying with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, must be
wringing their hands in despair today. Once elected, most people
forget the two basic tenets of political endurance: working for
votes, and making friends. Despite these bouts of amnesia,
competitive democracy makes an excellent teacher. Parties
ultimately learn. Not by doing, but through undoing.

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