February 02, 2012

THE STATES THAT MATTER - PART I



AN OVERVIEW

The stage is set, the contenders are ready and the stakes are high. As seven states go to the polls in this year, political parties will leave no stone upturned in a bid to form and retain governments in the Vidhan Sabha. Once the votes are cast and the results (The States That Matter - Part VII) start coming in, one state after another, there will be political upheavals both at the state level and the Centre. Long time allies will part ways and new alliances will be forged. Political heavyweights will put everything on line; while some will emerge successful, others will sink into the oblivion and new leaders will emerge to replace the older brigade. A total of 941 assembly seats are up for grabs which translates into 132 Lok Sabha seats and more importantly, 57 seats in the Rajya Sabha, whose importance has suddenly risen, thanks to the Central government’s inability to pass the Lokpal bill in the Upper House of the Parliament as it failed to get the required numbers.

In fact, the 2012 assembly polls will be, in several ways, a litmus paper test for the Manmohan Singh government, half way in its second consecutive term. The states that are scheduled to vote this year are spread out across the country, except for the south. Though the local issues dominate assembly polls, the rampant corruption in the Union government, magnified by Anna Hazare’s movement may impact the minds of the voters as they fulfill their fundamental duty to vote. A good show by the Congress and its allies will be a big boost for the UPA, struggling to get a makeover whereas an electoral setback may give more ammunition to the Opposition as it tries to tighten its noose around the Singh government. With Mamata Bannerji sending overtures to the JD (U), the prospects of the revival of a much stronger Third Front look brighter than ever in case the regional parties fare better than the national parties.
UP CM Mayawati with S C Mishra (Courtesy: IBN Live)
Although the Indian Constitution gives equal status to all the states and union territories, few will argue that Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous and second largest state is the big daddy and the complexities involved in conducting polls in this province are next only to the general elections. Considering its sheer size, the fragile law and order situation and the infrastructure needed to conduct elections in a free and fare manner, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has decided that voting for the Vidhan Sabha will be split into seven phases, starting 8th February to 3rd March and the results will be declared on 6th March, 2012.

The incumbent CM Kumari Mayawati having completed her full term, is keen to replicate her spectacular success in the 2007 where her party won a simple majority thanks to her unique strategy – Social Engineering that won her votes from all segments of the society. However, with new cases of corruption cropping up against her and her cabinet ministers day after day, Behenji may find it difficult to convince the electorate to give her a second chance in spite of sacking several of her tainted ministers and denying tickets to a large number of her sitting MLAs. Projecting the ECI’s decision to cover her statutes as an opposition’s conspiracy to belittle the Dalit community, Mayawati has gone back to caste based politics to retain the CM’s chair. By demanding that the mega state be split into four smaller units, she is aiming to put her many rivals into a tight spot. The principal opposition, the Samajwadi Party (SP) has undertaken a ‘Kranti Rath Yatra’ to reach out to the people and highlight the shortcomings of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) government. The father-son duo of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav are expecting their traditional Yadav-Muslim vote bank to back the party as it hopes to emerge as the single largest party in the state. (The States That Matter - Part II)

Buoyed by its superb performance in the Lok Sabha elections in the state of UP, the Congress under the leadership of Rahul baba has never missed out any opportunity to hit out at the BSP government and was at the forefront of the Bhatta-Parsaul agitation against forcible land acquisition. Realizing the fact that the polarization of Muslim votes in its favour was a chief reason for their political success in UP in 2009, the party has gone all out to appease the community with soaps like reservation for Muslim OBCs under the 27 per cent OBC quota and has roped in its minority face, Digvijay Singh to campaign in UP. Union Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is a pre-poll alliance of the Congress, is hoping to maintain its stronghold in western UP. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in absence of any pan-UP mass leader, is banking on its OBC face, Uma Bharati to eat into the BSP’s vote bank and is trying hard to woo back the upper caste votes that had deserted the saffron outfit in the last few elections. 
Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal (Courtesy: Free Visuals 4 U)
Like in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and son and deputy CM, Sukhbir Singh Badal will be battling charges of corruption and anti-incumbency as Punjab goes to polls on 30th January. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – BJP coalition government has been accused of shoddy implementation of central schemes and lack of infrastructure development in the state during its 5 year tenure by the opposition. However, the biggest headache for the Badal government will be losing votes to the Manpreet Singh Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab (PPP). The nephew of the Punjab CM and former finance minister parted ways after a series of differences over governing issues with cousin Sukhbir in November 2010. The ‘Sanjha Morch’ consisting of the PPP, CPI (M), CPI and SAD (Longowal) is gaining momentum and may end up spoiling the prospects of several prominent candidates. It will be interesting to see if the PPP can emerge as a successful alternative for the Punjabi people or will fizzle out like Cheeranjivi’s erstwhile Praja Rajyam did in Andhra after all the initial hype. (The States That Matter - Part III)

Interesting all is not well within the Congress camp too. Captain Amarinder Singh, the head of the party’s Punjab unit is seen as arrogant. Several candidates who were denied tickets have will either entered the contest as independents or have switched over to the SAD including Amarinder’s brother, Malwinder Singh. Besides, Mayawati is hoping to ride on the wave of Dalit assertion in the Daoba region, asking people to make her mentor, Kanshi Ram’s dream of a BSP government in his home state of Punjab come true and open her account in the state.
Uttarakhand CM Khanduri with ex CM Pokhriyal (Courtesy: India Today)
In the third assembly elections since its creation, Uttarakhand will see a straight fight between the ruling BJP and the Congress. Following the 2009 Lok Sabha elections that witnessed a 5-0 whitewash for the saffron party, the BJP high command replaced the sitting CM B C Khanduri with Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. However, the move backfired and with a slew of corruption charges against Nishank, he came to be seen as the ‘Yeddyurappa of the North’ and soon became an embarrassment for the party. Although Khanduri, who replaced Pokhriyal has managed to salvage back some pride for the BJP by passing Anna Hazare’s version of Lokpal bill, reports of in fighting between the two leaders may harm the prospects of the party. Besides, former CM Bhagat Singh Koshiyari still nurtures the dream of returning as the state’s CM. (The States That Matter - Part IV)

The Congress is raising the issue of regular power cuts and lack of regular water supply in the state as it tries to replicate it superb performance in the state in the last general elections. Led by Harak Singh Rawat, the Congress is hopeful that delimitation exercise will benefit it in the upcoming polls. Although at the forefront of the movement for statehood, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) has failed in its objective to emerge as the state’s premiere political party. A coalition partner in the present government, the UKD will be hoping to get as many seats as it can so that it can emerge as a king maker in case both the national parties make to get a clear majority like in the last assembly elections. Like in Punjab, the BSP is hoping to make inroads in Uttarakhand in the 30th January elections.
Manipur CM Okram Ibobi Singh (Courtesy: IBN Live)
As the volatile state of Manipur goes to polls on 30th January, the emotive issues will determine who forms the next government in Imphal. Congress CM Okram Ibobi Singh will be trying his best to seek a consecutive third term in office. The principal opponent this time around will be a pre-poll alliance between the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), JD-U (Janata Dal – United), RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), CPI (M) and Manipur People’s Party (MPP). Like several other North-eastern states, insurgency has crippled the economy of Manipur leading to widespread unemployment and discontent amongst the local population. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), dubbed by Manipuris as ‘Draconian’ has given sweeping powers to the army and alleged atrocities by the men in uniform, including fake encounters and sexual molestation has further alienated the people from the Indian mainstream. 

The ethnic strife between the Nagas, demanding a greater Nagaland – ‘Nagalim’, comprising of areas dominated by the Naga people and the Kurkis demanding for a separate district in the Sadar hills region is another major political issue. The blockade by the Kurkis and the parallel blockade imposed by the Nagas on the state’s two national highways that lasted for over 100 days led to a severe shortage of essential commodities, with prices of food items and fuel skyrocketing. Hoping to en cash on the situation, Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) has decided to contest the Manipur polls and may do well in the Naga dominated Senapati district.
Goa CM Digambar Kamat (Courtesy: Top News)
Also going to polls in the first half of 2012 is the tiny state of Goa. The Congress which is in power since February 2005, is facing the heat as several of its prominent leaders are facing charges in the illegal mining scam. The report has indicted present CM Digambar Kamat and former CM and Speaker Pratapsinh Rane for colluding with the mining mafia and not taking action against them. The illegal land grabbing by the Russian mafia and non-Goans along with the ‘Bhasha Andolan’, a movement for making regional languages as the medium of instruction at the primary level are the major issues for the opposition, the BJP as it tries to whip regional sentiments for its benefit. (The States That Matter - Part VI)

The BJP under the leadership of Manohar Parriker is hoping to capitalize on the Congress government’s failure in the last 7 years to come back to power. The Maharashtrwadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which ruled the state till the late 80s will be fighting for its very survival as it has to win at least 3 seats to retain its poll symbol. Although the MGP is keeping its options open and is yet to decide on its alliance with the BJP, the Goa unit of the NCP has finalized to chalk out a seat sharing pact with the Congress. Meanwhile, former state cabinet minister, Mickey Pachecho of the Goa Vikas Party (GVP) has forged an alliance with the United Goans Democratic Party (UGDP) and is aiming to muster as many seats as possible so that he can emerge as a king maker in case of a hung assembly like in the past.

6th March – the day on which the election results will be declared, will certainly be one of the most important days in the year’s political calendar. From religious ceremonies to freebies to promises, politicians are using all tricks to gain power. But like always it’s the people’s mandate and the masses will decide who will get win and who will bite the dust. We may not be able to predict who will win first round of the battle of states, the whole exercise will, for sure, strength the ethos of Indian democracy.



SOURCES

(1) Wikipedia - Legislative Assembly Elections India, 2012 (Link)


(2) NDTV - Issues that matter (Link)

IMAGES

(1)  UP CM Mayawati with S C Mishra (Courtesy: IBN Live) (Link)
Source: IBN Live - Mayawati slams Congress on quota, scams

(2) Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal (Courtesy: Free Visuals 4 U) (Link)

Source: Free Visuals 4 U - Punjab Chief Minister, Prakash Singh Badal

(3) Uttarakhand CM Khanduri with Pokriyal (Courtesy: India Today) (Link)
Source: India Today - Nishank fired after drama to delay exit flops

(4) Manipur CM Okram Ibobi Singh (Courtesy: IBN Live) (Link)
Source: IBN Live - Congress will win minimum 35 seats: Manipur CM  

(5) Goa CM Digambar Kamat (Courtesy: Top News) (Link
Source: Top News - Fight against attempts to defame state: Digambar Kamat