Exit polls broadcast by Indian television channels have projected India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi


Exit polls broadcast by Indian television channels have projected India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead in the key state of Uttar Pradesh while Congress is poised to return to power in the northern state of Punjab after a ten-year hiatus.

Most of the exit polls are unanimous that BJP is expected to return to power in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand the coastal state of Goa.

The BJP also appears set to win north-eastern state of Manipur from the Congress. If that happens in actual counting of ballots on March 11, this will be the second state in the region to have a BJP government after Assam.

However, here is a word of caution: Indian exit polls often go off the mark.

The high-pitched Assembly elections in the five states of UP, Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur concluded on March 8 with the last phase polling in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. The polling in all other states – Goa, Punjab and Uttarakhand – came to an end earlier.

The election results will be a key test of Mr Modi’s popularity and a referendum on his dramatic decision in November last to ban high-denomination notes to crackdown on corruption, black money and tax evasion.

Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly has a total 403 seats. While three exit polls show a hung assembly with no party winning a clear majority. The majority mark is 202. Nearly all the exit show the BJP emerging as the single-largest party.

India News channel shows the BJP is ahead with 185 seats and SP-Congress getting 120. Times Now shows the BJP at 190 to 210 and the SP-Congress at 110-130. News channel ABP says the BJP will get 164-176 seats, while the SP-Congress Alliance about 156-169 seats. And India TV channel shows the BJP getting 155-167 seats with 135 -147 for the Alliance.

For Punjab which has 117 assembly seats, India Today-Axis exit poll show shows Congress ahead with 62-71 seats and Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)  at 42-51 seats. But India TV shows AAP winning 59-67 seats with Congress getting 41-49. India News shows Congress and AAP tied at 55 each. And similarly, News 24 has Congress and AAP tied at 54 seats each.exit-polls

The BJP is expected to record a landslide win in Uttarakhand, which has 70 assembly seats, according to three exit polls but a fourth poll shows the BJP and the Congress tied. Three exit polls for Goa which has a total of  40 seats show the BJP is ahead.



kejriwal-victoryIn Indian politics, you have heard of a simple majority, a two-third victory, or a three-fourth sweep. But surely you have never heard of a nine-tenths tsunami.The Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in 67 out of 70 Delhi Assembly seats has simply blown the established parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress out of the water.It has inflicted by far the most crushing defeat to its opposition in independent India’s electoral history.
At least when the Janata Party swept the Congress out from every seat in an arc from Gujarat to Orissa in the post-Emergency election of 1977, the Congress managed to retain some ‘izzat’ by sweeping the poll in Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala.But the BJP and Congress have been left with no comfort in the Delhi Assembly 2015 poll outcome.
In terms of political geography, defeat in a state which returns just seven members of Parliament, may not appear too devastating. But Delhi is a slice of India, peopled as it is by lakhs of Punjabis, Biharis, Uttar Pradesh-wallahs, South Indians, Bengalis, North-easterners, Christians, Muslims and so on. And the victory in Delhi is comprehensive, it has cut across caste, class, religion and ethnic divides and incorporated every demographic — from the old to the first-time voter.
The angst
Remarkably, it has been done by turning Modi’s own formula against him. It was Modi and the BJP which was able to harness middle-class angst at the UPA’s non-performance to get a 7/7 verdict in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Delhi. Earlier, Manmohan Singh’s UPA had written on the expectations of the same middle class to get a 7/7 victory in 2009.

Modi’s strategy lay in harnessing the “neo” middle class — poor people, who aspired for middle class status in terms of income and assets. This time around, Kejriwal has ridden to his crushing victory, harnessing the aspirations of the “neo” and the continuing angst of the actual middle classes who thought that the BJP’s victory of 2014 would set a new course for the country.Instead, they found the party setting a backward course, characterised by anti-modernity and obscurantism. The venerable Indian Science Congress was made to hear a lecture on ancient flying machines; bizzare schemes of ‘ghar wapsi’ were unveiled to convert the country’s minorities.

Attacks on churches, mean-minded efforts to unmake the Christmas holiday, and a suspicious rise in what appeared to be deliberate efforts to promote communal anger increased the apprehension of the people.Sometimes, distance lends clarity to the vision. Perhaps it was this that persuaded US President Barack Obama to observe that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith? so long as it’s not splintered along any lines.”

If the BJP’s vanity is punctured, the Congress’s is confronted with oblivion. This was the party that ran the state for the past 15 years. The bustling Delhi of today is the Delhi of Sheila Dikshit. But the stench of corruption undid the Congress hold, beginning with the Commonwealth Games and 2G scandals.

The clock begins ticking now for the AAP, whose cure could well be worse than the current disease of corruption and misgovernance that afflicts the city.The people of the city have given AAP a second chance. Now it is up to the party to build on this and reach out to its destiny, which could be national.
But that same clock is also ticking for the BJP. It can take comfort from the fact that it has largely retained its vote share, and that the AAP vote-share gain was equal to the Congress’s loss.But the reality is that the result is a rebuke to Modi. What the people of Delhi have told him is that they are not interested in the politics of animus and hostility towards people of other faiths. That they are for modernity — education, good jobs and progress. They are determined to go forward, not be dragged back to the dark ages.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Obsrver Research Foundation, Delhi and Contributing Editor, Mail Today)

Courtesy: ORF

delhi electionAt last, the three-week noisy and high voltage campaign marked by a slew of accusations, name callings and mud throwing is over. With the official closure of the campaign on February 5, it is time to take a close scrutiny of what the key political parties have been promising for the citizens of one of India’s biggest and richest metropolis. From free drinking water, reduced electricity tariff to free housing for poor, it’s raining freebies in Delhi. Of course, the Delhi poll promises are in conformity with the national trends – that populism and crass populism is non-negotiable aspects of country’s democratic politics. Yet, one thought political parties of this ‘enlightened’ metropolis that was turned into an epicentre of nation-wide anti-corruption stir in recent years and gave way to political newbie like AAP, would beat the national trend and offer something better.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the key contender for Delhi, was the last entity to release its poll promises – though not in the form of a “Manifesto” as the normal practice. It preferred to roll out a Vision Document based on the 6-S principle — Surakshit (safe), Swach (clean), Saakshar (literate), Sakshum (capable), Sanskari (culturally and ethically rich), and Sab ki Dilli (a Delhi for all) — propagated by the party’s CM candidate, Kiran Bedi. It is assumed that to make Delhi a world class city, the first area of improvement needs to be infrastructure. The BJP states its intention of doing so by promising to incorporate within the city an interconnected and wide-ranging Metro Rail, DTC bus, Metro feeder buses, trams and ring railway service. Construction of alternate roads and improving connectivity to rural regions such as Najafgarh, Narela, and Bawana, is also high on the agenda. Of equal importance is the issue of public safety and it is here one can see the stamp of Kiran Bedi, a former police officer. Police training, special police station for women, a special call centre for women’s safety and a Women Security Force based out of the CM’s office, and women only DTC buses, are just some of the initiatives flagged up by the party. With regard to knotty tariff issues, the Vision Document promises to reduce high electricity tariffs through competition amongst service providers, along with a CAG audit into existing discoms. In line with the national agenda of the Modi government, it promises efforts to make Delhi ‘the Solar Energy Capital’. Rain-water harvesting, development of areas around the Yamuna, increase in Green Area/Green Belt to 35%, WiFi-enabled cyber city, housing for slum dwellers, compulsory health insurance for all citizens, improvement in quality of primary education in rural areas, are just some of the other key issues of the document. And finally free housing for the poorest.

There are, however, glaring omissions in the document. For instance, the BJP has gone back on what it promised in 2013 by not promising statehood for Delhi. With no clear explanation offered, it has left the voter bemused as to how the BJP plans to get the Delhi Police, MCD, and DDA under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government. Another major issue which has not been spelt out very clearly is that of corruption. Since Kiran Bedi was part of the movement which fought so hard for the Janlokpal Bill, once she was nominated to become the CM candidate, it was expected that such a legislation would be high on her agenda. Instead, the BJP promises to set up an Accountability Commission (about which very little information is available) and strengthen the existing Lokayukta. The steps to decentralise power and improve citizen engagement also seem to lack credibility.

As regards to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), its 70-point manifesto is mostly a repeat of its 2013 election promises. The party that promises a transparent, participative and interactive government vows to legislate the Delhi Janlokpal Bill in fifteen days. Introducing a Citizen’s Charter in all Delhi government offices and providing protection to whistleblowers also comes under the ambit of fighting against corruption. The second key issue is of decentralisation. AAP promises to legislate the Swarajya Act to devolve power directly to citizens so that issues concerning local communities can be tackled directly by the citizens. The third issue taken up in the manifesto is of full-Statehood for Delhi. To bring the Delhi Police, MCD, and DDA under the State government, the AAP has vowed to use its political and moral authority to get Delhi full statehood. Apart from these three key issues, the AAP promises to reduce electricity prices by 50 per cent and will order an audit of discoms preferably by the Central Auditor General (CAG). In addition, the party claims that water is a basic right and if it comes to power, it will provide clean drinking water to all citizens at an affordable price. Their promise of lowering VAT and creating a business-friendly environment by putting a stop on “inspector raj” and “raid culture” have been lauded by the traders’ associations.

So far so good. But the problem arises when the party makes claims such as creating 8 lakh jobs in the city without substantiating as to how this is going to be done. Another similar claim is to build 500 new schools. Where does the party plan to build so many new schools? Also, there is already a shortage of teachers in existing schools. So how does the party plan to fill this gap? The AAP has also offered free WiFi in public places, albeit without a clear roadmap how it would roll out such a programme and how the costs will be met.

The Congress manifesto largely basks in the glory of Sheila Dixit’s 15-year rule. Its poll document highlights the achievements of the Congress during that period — such as Delhi Metro, making DTC the largest bus service provider in the world using clean energy (CNG), introduction of pensions for destitute women and transgender for the first time, making Delhi the first kerosene oil free city in the country, best rated implementation of the Right to Education Act, regularisation of 895 unauthorised colonies, and construction of six flyovers, 67 foot-over bridges, and 29 underpasses. The second part of its manifesto promises the right to housing, shelter, and property rights to slum dwellers and so on. This act will also include a provision of property rights through a “legal document of entitlement” giving freehold rights to all slum dwellers. Some other plans of the Congress include building double decker flyovers, underpasses, and introducing new Fast Metro Trains to combat the traffic chaos, opening four government-run vegetable shops to tackle inflation, providing special sensitivity training for police officers and government officials with regards to violence against women, opening 20 new colleges under Ambedkar University along with 150 new schools every year for 5 years.

While the Congress is successful in showcasing its past achievements, it fails to project what its vision is for the future of Delhi. Take for instance the issue of women’s security. While both the BJP and the AAP have come up with innovative methods to tackle the issue, the Congress has nothing new to offer. The same is the case for electricity and water issues — the party promises uninterrupted supply of both without giving any indication as to how this will be made possible. The lack of any concrete solutions to the acute problems are surprising as the party had run the State till 13 months ago and may have the knowledge about the problems and the way forward.

To sum up, principal parties are trying everything – from free water, subsidised electricity to guaranteed shelter – to woo the voters. A close scrutiny of promises makes it amply clear that big ideas such as Mohalla Sabha, Swarajya, Jan Lokpal or the right to shelter are for only side shows. The real competition is around freebies and easy handouts to garner support. In that sense, this elections are about freebies, crass populism and easy handouts. Even the BJP, with all its grand noises about good governance and tough measures on subsidies, has come out with its own freebies and lollipops for Delhi voters while many long term and vital issues such as Delhi’s fragile ecology (air pollution) or addressing migration, health and housing issues have received negligible attention from the main parties. So much for making Delhi a ‘liveable’ global city.


(The writers are public policy analysts with Observer research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy:ORFdelhi election



telangana-1After nearly 60 years of struggle, marked by two major agitations which saw an immolation in 2010 and the death of over 1000 people, the backward and impoverished region of Telangana has been carved out of the politically muscular state of Andhra Pradesh. Telangana will become the 29th state in Indian Union and the fifth state in south India once the Parliament of India approves the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill by a simple majority. India’s Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said that the UPA government hopes to bring the Bill before Parliament in its winter session and not the Monsoon session which begins August 5.

Political Arithmetic

The move by the Congress leadership (July 30) to bifurcate Andhra ahead of the 2014 general elections has been spurred by political expediency. It is difficult to ignore that things had been quiet on the Telangana front. In fact, K. Chandrasekhara Rao, supremo of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) which leads the Telangana statehood agitation had retired to his  farmhouse in Medak, about 70 kilometer  north west of Hyderabad. He was not even meeting party leaders. The joint action committee of Telangana was on silent mode for quite a while.

Undivided Andhra Pradesh is the third biggest state when it comes to seats in the Parliament. It sends 42 elected members to Parliament, of which 17 come from the Telangana region. Made up of ten districts, the Telangana region also has 119 assembly seats. Andhra helped the Congress regain power in the Centre in 2004 when it bagged 29 of the 42 seats. In 2009 the Congress tally went up to 33 and the architect of it all was the local Congress strongman Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. YSR also captured the state for the Congress.

The Congress party’s fortunes in the state have been flagging since the death of YSR in a helicopter crash (February 2009). While Andhra Pradesh has a Congress chief minister in Kiran Kumar Reddy, it has lost Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of YSR who floated the YSR Congress Party when the Congress top brass in Delhi refused to make him CM and hand him his father’s political legacy. Jagan, though in jail on corruption charges, has been increasing his political influence in the coastal and Rayalaseema region of Andhra. His agenda has been an undivided Andhra.

telangana-2By announcing its decision to bifurcate Andhra and create the new state of Telangana, the Congress feels it has upstaged its main political rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won over K.Chandrasekhara Rao and his TRS, weakened the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which is its main rival there, and opened a window of opportunity to have an alliance with Jagan Reddy. While Jagan has opposed the formation of Telangana, as did his father after coming to power, he has also expressed his distaste for joining hands with the BJP or the TDP. The Congress hopes to forge a post-poll alliance with his YSRCP and reap the advantage of seats Jagan will win in his stronghold.

Interestingly Jagan’s father had stoked the Telangana separatist sentiment to oust Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP in 2004 and bring the Congress to power. But once he became the Andhra chief minister he became a virulent opponent of Telangana. He retained his hold in the 2009 elections on the anti-Telangana agenda and decimated the TRS in its own region. He convinced the Congress leadership in Delhi that there was no genuine demand for Telangana. The agitation was almost but dead till his own death changed it all.

K.C. Rao of the TRS has done business with the Congress earlier too. Rao was initially with the TDP, but split from it because of Naidu’s reluctance on the Telangana statehood demand. In 2001 he formed the TRS and in 2004 forged an alliance with the Congress for the polls. TRS became part of the UPA coalition. After watching the Congress flip-flop on Telangana and go back on a promise made to him, Rao withdrew support. He fought the 2009 election as a faction of the opposition coalition. Now that the Congress has made his dream come true (almost), it expects in a gratitude the support of Rao and the Telangana seats.

However, Rao has ruled out a merger with the Congress till a separate Telangana state becomes a reality. He does not want to be short-changed again. Soon after the announcement, the Congress General Secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, reminded KCR to keep his promise of merging with the Congress. Some in the TRS are opposing an outright merger with Congress. They feel that the vacuum created by such a move would be encashed by their arch rival TDP which has a vast network of cadres in the region. They want the Congress to form a poll alliance with TRS and another former ally MIM so that in a multi-cornered contest TDP stands to lose out. They also want the Congress to promise certain number of assembly and Lok Sabha tickets.

The Congress’ move has also tripped the BJP. Rajnath Singh, the BJP chief, had announced that the NDA government will deliver Telangana once it comes to power post 2014. With this promise its campaign head and perceived prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was scheduled to embark on an Andhra tour to revive the BJP in the Telangana region. Modi was scheduled to address a series of meeting starting with a public meeting at Hyderabad on August 11 to focus on the contentious statehood issue. However, the BJP has changed its plan now, and is now concentrating its energy in the Seemandhra region. BJP circles said that Modi will now address half a dozen meetings in Seemandhra, starting in the temple town of Tirupati and ending at port city of Visakhapatnam.

How Many More New States?

The Congress’ announcement on Telangana has had two immediate consequences. It has fuelled languishing movements for statehood across the country. There is a new energy in the demand for Gorkhaland in Darjeeling and fresh agitations in Assam for Bodoland. BSP leader Mayawati has called for a further division of Uttar Pradesh. The demand for Bundelkhand, planned to be carved out of Madhya Pradesh and UP, as well as Vidarbha from Maharashtra has now gained a fresh momentum.

Within the Congress, the party has seen a spate of resignations. Guntur Member of Parliament has resigned his seat and from the Congress. Three Congress ministers in the state government and 26 legislators have resigned in protest. More are expected to follow. Chief Minister Reddy, who has been opposing the bifurcation, had in a letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi drawn attention to the fact that out of the 2.5 crore voters in Telangana, 50 lakh were settlers from outside the region and they were a force to reckon with in 5 Lok Sabha and 34 assembly segments. The settlers fear persecution in the new Telangana state. They will be miffed with the Congress and vote against the party. This could be a problem for the Congress.

Birthing new challenges

Andhra Pradesh has been one of the fastest growing states in the country and has brought down poverty level to 9.2 percent, which is half of the national average. Being a larger state it had a bigger say in decision making at the Centre and managed to secure more funds, which may not be possible after bifurcation.

The division will bring many challenges such as sharing of resources, including river waters, mineral and oil resources. Telangana region is landlocked and will have to incur additional expenditure to access ports in coastal Andhra Pradesh for exports. Similarly, businesses in Andhra will have to pay more to access bigger markets like Hyderabad.

Security Worries  

As crucial is the security issue. The Srikrishna Committee report has pointed out the proximity of Telangana to “live” Red zones. Telangana will have to protect itself from turning into a Naxal hotbed just as Chhattisgarh (carved out of Madhya Pradesh) and Jharkhand (carved out of Bihar) have become. The report also mentions that Maoist sympathizers have been supporting the Telangana stir. Many have been whispering that the main reason for KCR walking out of the UPA coalition and government at the Centre was pressure from the Naxals.

It’s not clear yet how the complex electoral arithmetic underpinning the decision to create a new state will play out for the Congress. By agreeing to create a new state, the Congress, the grand old party of India, may have taken a calculated gamble, but has also provided fresh fodder for many languishing movements for statehood. It’s time to move beyond mere political calculations and take a hard look at the economics of creating new states.



povertyThe current discourse on poverty in India, triggered by a report of the Planning Commission last week claiming that the official poverty headcount ratio had come down from 37 per cent of the total population in 2004-05 to 22 per cent in 2011-12, hardly reveals ground realities.

Here’s what it means: 137 million people have been lifted out of poverty during the period, 2004-05 (when the Congress-led UPA government came to power) to 2011-12.

The combined opposition from the Left parties to the BJP took this opportunity to take up cudgels against the UPA government for the ludicrous suggestion that the poverty cut-off line was Rs 27 per day per capita for rural areas and Rs 33 for urban areas at 2011-12 prices.

Then there were some Congress leaders who cut a sorry figure when they claimed that a person could eat a meal in Rs 5 or Rs 1.

Both camps failed to see the real point and seemed incapable of acquitting themselves honourably in the debate. The entire political class indulged in a lowly, high-decibel debate which was entirely devoid of content.

The unkindest cut was perhaps dealt by news channels as they repeatedly insulted the common man by the ridiculous claims and counter-claims of some of the representatives of the country’s political class.

The discourse on poverty also reflected the viewpoints of two world-class economists – Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati. While Sen champions integrating development expenditure to fight poverty within growth, Bhagwati stands for rapid growth, which he claims, will take care of the underprivileged as results of growth trickle down to the poor.

So, what is this method of poverty measurement?

The present methodology for determining poverty is based on consumption expenditure, and has been in use for many decades and no government in the last four decades thought about sharpening it. A fixed poverty line was established in 1973-74, in terms of income/food requirement.  It was stipulated that the calorie-standard for an individual in rural areas was 2400 calories and 2100 calories in urban areas. Then the cost of foodgrain (about 650 gm) that fulfils this normative standard was calculated.  This cost was termed poverty line.

In 1978, this was Rs 61.80 per person per month for rural areas, and Rs 71.30 for urban areas.  Since then, the Planning Commission has been calculating the poverty line every year adjusting for the rate of inflation.

In 2000-01, the poverty line rose to Rs 328 for rural areas and Rs 454 for urban areas that changed to Rs 368 and Rs 560 for rural areas and urban areas respectively. This was the barest minimum to support the food requirement and did not include other basic requirements like health, education and shelter.

What is the poverty line useful for?

Traditionally, poverty line was used to explain the downward percolation of economic growth to the poor. This was imperative for assessing whether the country’s development was being experienced by the poor in the same way as it impacted the rich, and the rate of poverty decline.

The benchmark also helped to judge which states were doing better in poverty elimination. One must remember here that in the 1970s, India experienced hunger deaths and the issue of poverty had acquired an important status in the development discourse.

In recent time, the Tendulkar Committee gave a quantitative definition to the country’s poverty. In 2011-12, the Tendulkar poverty line was Rs 4000 per rural and Rs 5000 per urban family of five. Though opposed and criticised by many, it still nearly corresponded to the World Bank’s well-established poverty line of $ 1.25 per day in Purchasing Power Parity terms. The World Bank’s poverty line translates to about 50 cents/day in current dollar terms. Incidentally this definition is used by over 100 countries, by the United Nations and other international agencies.

And what is the present status of poverty and the poor?

There is no doubt that below-subsistence-level poverty has indeed fallen in our country, but a large section of people continue to be poor as seen from their non-access to basic services like shelter, public health, nutrition and education.

The present poverty line in today’s discourse should probably be called the starvation or destitute line. Like the World Bank, India too could have two lines-$ 1.25 denoting extreme poverty and $ 2 denoting moderate poverty. But a line or maybe two with any tag is required for statistical objectives. Figures help in allocation of resources and formulating policies and action plans.

And what has caused this furore over the cost of a meal?

The controversy that erupted as a result of the Planning Commission report was the fallout of the negative political environment in the country.

That the entire discourse centred on whether a person could have a day’s meal in Rs 33 in an urban area and Rs 27 in a rural area was a distressing sign of the apathy for the plight of the poor.

TV channels went to great trouble to prove that the said amount was insufficient to meet a person’s daily food requirement. No TV channel or any other forum tried to establish whether a poor person can cook two meals after purchasing the required ingredients. After all, the poor man doesn’t usually buy his meals from the market.

The government of the day and the Planning Commission became the villains in the debate as the media sensationalised the issue by selectively highlighting those aspects which are not central to the target of poverty eradication.

So, what facts are central to the debate and that were overlooked?

The fact that the government, despite falling poverty levels, thinks it fit to introduce food security is an important point that needs to be debated.

Or the fact that it will help the poor only if it reaches those that truly need it.

Corruption, graft and leakages in the PDS and government programmes and schemes make poverty a maze that must be negotiated with cunning skill, both by the poor and the government as both try to improve living standards.

In the end what could have been an insightful and incisive debate was hijacked by proponents of contrary points of view, with political leaders and political scientists intent on scoring empty debating points.

Let’s face it, both economists as well as politicians are, by their very definition, fundamentalists, and thus are averse to accepting the others’ arguments or view points.

Usually, the ground reality lies somewhere in between. Extreme poverty levels have indeed come down as a hunger deaths are rare, but living conditions of the poor continue to remain abysmal and below accepted norms as almost 60 percent of the Indian population remain deprived of basic amenities.

Indeed, as progress acquires the 21th century nuances, poverty must also be graded into bands such that different ‘kinds’ of poverty can be addressed in focused ways that make a real difference, and poverty ceases to be the cost of a plate of rice and dal at the corner dhaba.

(Dr Satish Misra is a veteran political commentator. The views expressed in this column are personal reflections of the author).     






modi-rajnathThe summer of 2013 is promising to be a major watershed in Indian politics.   Though signs of change were on the horizon, yet it required a meeting in the Goan capital Panaji to act as a catalyst to bring the political pot of the country to boil.

It looked like another laidback Sunday, but political storms don’t come by invitation or appointment. On June 9, BJP president Rajnath Singh announced that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been appointed as the chairman of the party’s election campaign committee serving friends and foes a fait accompli. More than a month later, the party chief left little to imagination, when he virtually anointed Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in New York July 19, leaving no room for confusion on the issue.

BJP versus the Rest

The politics of the country has undergone a sea change by these two announcements which were possibly meant for two different audiences. While till then, Indian politics was the Congress versus the rest, now it has turned into the BJP versus the rest.

The current political discourse has turned Modi-centric as all political parties, big or small, react to his statements, observations, comments and doings. He may not be wished well by many, but cannot be ignored either by friends or foes.

Unravelling Modi mystique

modi-kingIt needs to be understood as why a controversial leader who enjoys popularity and has a following among not only Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) large family but even among others who are convinced that the root of all problems and below-potential performance of India lies with the Congress is being preferred at this juncture by his party.

Out of the power game for over nine years in New Delhi, the BJP and its extended saffron family was in search of a formula which can possibly catapult it to New Delhi Delhi throne, and in Modi they saw their only hope.

A detailed exercise of feedback from party workers and sympathisers of the RSS was conducted and it was found that Modi alone fitted the bill and only after that it was decided to project him as the prime ministerial face of the party.

In choosing Modi, the BJP, under the RSS’s remote control, decided to embark on the road of ‘realpolitik,’ abandoning the earlier platform of principles and idealism. Undoubtedly, there were other leaders in the party like L. K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley but none, in the RSS’s hard-boiled assessment, could galvanise the party cadres as well as the youth of the country who are looking for better employment opportunities and a higher standard of living.

The urban youth and traditionally anti-Congress elements of the country’s polity who nurse a deep hatred for the Nehru-Gandhi family is another reason for selection of Modi because he alone is capable of turning Gandhi-baiting into votes for the BJP. Gujarat Chief Minister’s aggressive and abrasive choice of words, along with his populist oratorical style, attracts this constituency immensely and the Sangh leadership is confident that this would stand the BJP in good stead.

Global embrace of Modi?

modi-eu1Whether the BJP’s strategy would indeed turn out to be a winning formula or not is a question whose answer time alone will be able to give. The political history of the country has no lessons on this. It is unique in many ways.

With Rajnath Singh removing confusion on Modi’s prime ministerial candidature in New York on the very first day of his five-day trip to the US, the BJP now appears to be battle ready as it has made all the necessary preparation for the electoral war in 2014, if not earlier. General has been appointed, men and machine have been put in place and resources have been marshalled to win what promises to be the mother of all electoral battles in 2014.

modi-euIt is indeed intriguing as to why Rajnath Singh chose a US city to make the announcement. The BJP planners and policy makers seem to be of the view that support from the US was needed to make the party under Modi come to power. The party is working hard to get the US sanctions against Modi lifted as has been done by the European Union earlier.

Ready for Battle 2014

The war against the country’s grand old party – the Congress – is going to be fought by the BJP under the overall command of the RSS whose chief Mohan Bhagwat has ensured that the party remains united. A strong evidence of Sangh’s effort was available when the BJP announced the formation of a dozen poll- related committees last week which has all the senior leaders as its members. Even party’s senior leader and one of the prime architects of the BJP, L K Advani, who had rebelled against the foisting of Modi on the party by resigning all the party posts in month of June, has also fallen in line with the RSS chief’s intervention as he has accepted the role of a guide.

The first tremor of the Modi’s elevation to national electoral politics was felt in Bihar where a 16-year-old alliance between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP came apart, turning friends into foes. JD (U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, an astute political player and a product of caste politics, took no time to terminate the alliance, this opening doors for the revival of the idea of a non-Congress and non-BJP Third Front.

While there are many contradictions in the formation of a credible alternative to either the Congress or the BJP as ambitions of regional leaders like Mulaym Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, J. Jayalalithaa and, last but not the least, Nitish Kumar come in the way of such a front, the BJP under Modi would have to win enough Lok Sabha seats on its own strength to enable it to stake a claim for forming a government at the Centre.

Whither NDA?

After the exit of the JD (U), the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is bereft of credible partners. Only Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal are still in the NDA tent. These two parties cannot significantly contribute to the BJP’s tally. The saffron party would, therefore, sorely need other parties in the coalition to turn the BJP’s fortune but only a spectacular electoral performance can attract others to the NDA’s fold. This seems unlikely at the moment.

Going by the past electoral performance, the BJP’s highest tally in the Lok Sabha polls has been 183 and that too under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whose appeal went beyond the saffron camp and reached even those sections of polity and society whose loyalty towards secularism was unchallenged. The critical figure of 183 was reached in 1999 after the Kargil war and the NDA was unable to complete its full term as the then Vajpayee government had lost the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha after withdrawal of support by the AIADMK of Jayalalithaa.

The Vajapyee government was seen as a victim of manipulative politics and thus enjoyed sympathies across the country but whether the tally can be repeated by an aggressive campaign needs to be closely analysed to be understood.

Modi wave?

Modi is popular in urban centres, but whether his appeal would demolish the entrenched barriers of caste, religion, regionalism and language is doubtful at present because today politics is an aggregation of all the above factors and interests. Modi would have to generate a similar wave like that of 1971, 1977 or 1984. In all other elections, no party has been able to win and form the government on its own.

Even in 1977 general elections, held after the lifting of emergency, the Congress was ousted not only because of the popular anger against the government of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but also because that index of opposition unity against the Congress was the highest.

The BJP, under Modi’s leadership, is bound to increase its tally but one is not sure whether that be enough for it to come to power. Crystal-gazers should play safe; the best-laid electoral predictions have gone terribly awry in the past few years.   A string of assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi in December this year would offer enough indications of the emerging trends in the country’s unpredictable politics.

It may sound a tad too pessimistic, but India seems to heading towards another prolonged period of political instability. A naked and brutal struggle for power bereft of all principles and ideologies seems to be on the cards.

(Dr Satish Misra is a veteran political commentator. The views expressed in this column are personal reflections of the author).      


karnataka-polls4Karnataka had been the pride of India a decade ago when its capital Bengaluru earned a niche as the software capital of the country and the ‘garden city’ where professionals from all over the country and top-billing foreign investors made a beeline in quest of an el dorado.

Today, the software revolution has moved no further and yesterday’s ‘garden city’ has become a ‘garbage city,’ thanks to poor political direction and corruption that has seeped into all spheres, including in provision of civic amenities and in maintaining the ecological balance of the bustling city. Infrastructure has suffered years of neglect and bureaucratic delays and is posing a big deterrent for new investors.

Fed up with the misdemeanours of successive Congress governments, the electorate in Karnataka opted for an untested BJP in 2008, but five years later the wheel has turned a full circle and the Congress is back in the saddle. The lone citadel of the BJP in southern India has fallen to the Congress in the recent State assembly elections not because of anything dramatically positive done by the Congress but due to poor governance, internal squabbles, rampant corruption and instability under the BJP rule. In the popular soccer jargon, the BJP has scored a self-goal.

Ahead of the elections to five state assemblies – Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh and Mizoram — and the 2014 national elections, Karnataka offers lessons for both the BJP and the Congress but seldom do these principal Indian political players learn the right lessons from what could be useful pointers.

The Congress has everything going for it – it has been given a clear mandate by the electorate and needs to depend on nobody outside to deliver results. It has been given another chance to set things right, but will it honour the clear mandate for change? Factionalism and internal squabbling have been the bane of the Congress for long. Therefore, all eyes would be on the new government to see if the Karnataka Congress has been chastened by the loss of power for many years. That the party has too many leaders in Karnataka and some of them are prone to undercut the chosen leader is a sad reflection of how things are the same. Already, one of the frontrunners for chief ministership, G. Parameshwara, is nursing a grouse against another prominent contender Siddaramaiah of having engineered his defeat in the assembly elections which has ruled him (Parameshwara) out of contention. Significantly, Parameshwara had Sonia Gandhi’s confidence and would perhaps have been chosen as chief minister had he not been defeated. Siddaramaiah, who is best suited to don the mantle, had left Janata Dal (S) six years ago to join the Congress and evokes strong dislike among diehard Congressmen like Mallikarjun Kharge who is also a strong aspirant for chief ministership.

While initially the chief ministerial aspirants may fall in line on a diktat from Sonia Gandhi, it would be no mean task to control dissidence in the long run, whosoever is the choice of the high command for chief minister. Internal squabbles may, therefore, be as much an impediment for the Congress leadership as they were for the BJP. It is also true that like the BJP regime, the Congress, too, has indulged in corruption and nepotism whenever it was in power in the state. Yet, the positive side of it is that the BJP rule had been so pathetic that the Congress can win kudos if it just gets a few things right. The party would, of course, need to keep corruption in check while giving thought and weightage to day-to-day problems of the people like power, water, garbage removal and affordable housing. The challenge is even greater for the BJP because if it has to bounce back in terms of seats in the impending Lok Sabha elections, it has to build up a credible reputation as an effective opposition that has learnt its right lessons.

The silver lining for it is that while the elections in Karnataka were fought on local issues, the parliamentary polls will be fought on the performance of the Manmohan Singh government which has been dismal, especially in its second term in office. Yet, the BJP cannot solely depend on the public perception against the Congress at the Centre. It has to show progress on the ground in its own party. Grassroots work for the welfare of people needs to be done to change the public mood in Karnataka. The party also requires to work towards greater unity and cohesion in its erstwhile southern bastion. It is widely accepted that the jettisoning of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, following charges of corruption and nepotism against him by the state’s Lok Ayukta, and the subsequent split in the party with Yeddurappa setting up his own party damaged the BJP severely. The poor leadership that his successor chief ministers Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar provided to the state when corruption was given a free rein also affected the BJP’s fortunes grievously.

The BJP must recognise that one of the reasons for its failure was its obsession with self-preservation at the cost of governance. The much-depleted BJP will now have to make its presence felt by taking up public issues in right earnest with responsibility and effectiveness. It would also need to identify and nurture a few leaders with impeccable credentials. The party high command, too, would need to play a constructive role in developing the party in Karnataka.

The people of Karnataka are not prone to giving an incumbent government too long to show results. Perhaps, that’s why no government has won a second term in succession since 1985. That poses a massive challenge for the Congress. Not only must it give the state a clean administration but it must strive to restore Bengaluru to its erstwhile glory through good governance. Bengaluru’s infrastructure is crying for attention. So is the state’s development, which is lacking drive and energy for the last few years.

(Kamlendra Kanwar is a Bangalore-based political commentator.)

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