November 01, 2013

THE STATES THAT MATTER: NOV-DEC 2013


THE DRESS-REHEARSAL BEFORE THE GENERAL ELECTIONS


The State elections - November/December 2014

As a politically eventful year nears its end, five states will go to the polls in November-December 2013, most of these seeing a straight fight between the two major parties in the country - the Congress and the BJP. On the eve of the impending battle in 2014, the upcoming elections are an excellent opportunity for the ruling UPA (United Progressive Alliance) to asses the performance of the central government in the last decade of its rule or as its detractors say, its misrule. Though anti-incumbency is on a all time high and the ratings of the PM and his party are falling at a rather alarming rate, the INC is putting its 'best foot' forward with Vice President Rahul Gandhi talking on issues that affect the aam admi like his mother's deteriorating health, the assassination of his father and grand mother in spite of their 'great' contribution towards the country and the startling claim of ISI's role in instigating violence in Muzzaffarabad. I must say that Baba is quite courageous; to go on the big stage and talk 'nonsense' in front of thousands of people hit by poverty, price rise and unemployment is no mean feat.

For the principal Opposition - the BJP, their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is on a blitzkrieg, addressing rallies in these states, asking people to support his outfit while personally targeting the Prime Minister. While conveniently forgetting his administrative failure during the 2002 Godhra riots - the primary reason for the fall of the Vajpayee regime way back in 2004, he is being portrayed by the right wing as a 'Super Hero' who will rid India of all the problems that plague her. In a country which traditionally draws its strength from cultural, religious, regional and linguistic diversity, a 'divisive' leader like NaMo is a complete misfit. Needless to say, in a democracy like where its only the numbers that count, who actually cares about morals after all? And the BJP is no exception. Thankfully for the people, none of the constituents of the much hyped Third Front have any significant presence here. Although the General elections may be just about seven months away, we also need to realize that state elections are to a large extent fought on local issues and a great performance here may not be easy to replicate at the Center in the days to come. Nonetheless, a good show will for sure, boost the morale in the victor's camp.

In Delhi, Sheila Dixit will lead the charge for the Congress as she battles for a forth consecutive term. Although there seems to be wide spread dissatisfaction about her government, she still continues to be quite popular amongst the masses, something that her party is hoping will work in their favor. In spite of her personal image, the furor over the Delhi Common Wealth Games corruption scandal, the outrage following the Nirbhaya rape case and rising prices will make it extremely difficult for the Congress to cross the half way mark of 35 on its own. In fact, for the INC, winning this poll on its own will be like climbing the Everest without any oxygen cylinders. Meanwhile, the BJP should be credited for completely messing up the situation which till recently was heavily tilted on its side. The indecisiveness over its leadership here, something that we generally associate with the INC, has stolen the thunder off its campaign. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) born out of Anna Hazare movement's Lokpal movement is emerging as a serious contender as it is raking up the issues that affect the people of the capital. With Arvind Kejriwal training its gun over the two major national parties, the newly launched outfit may severely damage the prospects of both Sheila Dixit and Harsh Vardhan.

In Madhya Pradesh, CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan is relying on his work in the last seven years at the helm of affairs to win a third straight term in Bhopal for the BJP. I wonder whether not taing any strict action against the sand mafia here is also one of his many 'developmental' schemes. While trends seem to indicate that his party is likely to reach the magic mark of 115 quite comfortably, even though it may end up losing about 20 seats, the saffron brigade cannot be complacent and drop its guard. Hope the party remembers the disaster of 2004 when its complacency allowed the Congress to script a famous win. MP and young Turk Jyothiraditya Scindia, with his clean image and connectivity with the youth, is overlooking the elections for the Congress, which like its nemesis in Delhi seems to not have learnt any lessons from bitter experiences in the earlier elections. In neighboring Chattisgarh too, the charisma and the development work of Raman Singh is working for the BJP, in spite of the fact that parallel government of the Maoists is controlling several parts of the state. Unfortunately for the Congress, it lost most of its top brass in the ghastly Darbha attack and ever since has become directionless. Ajit Jogi, the former CM is its only hope in giving some competition to the BJP.

If media reports are to be believed, Vasundhara Raje Scindia is all set to return as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan for a second term, five years after losing power to Congress' Ashok Gelhot. Raje has done her homework well this time around, mending differences with other leaders in the state as well as those in Delhi. For the state government, fighting anti-incumbency that seems to be looming large, will be rather difficult. However, writing off a veteran like Gelhot can be a costly mistake. The last state to go to the polls is Mizoram in the North east where the Congress is presently in power. CM Lal Thanawla will face a potent threat from the Mizo National Front led by extremist turned politician Zoramathanga. As the fight for the five states intensifies in the coming days, expect fireworks, numerous allegations and counter allegations, many defections and several mammoth rallies to woo the voters. While local issues may ultimately decide the winners, there is no doubt they will impact the big general elections scheduled in May 2014 in more ways than one.