August 24, 2014

WILL BIHAR STOP THE MODI MANIA?

AUGUST BY-POLLS WILL BE THE FIRST REAL TEST OF MODI SARKAR

Courtesy: Times of India
It has been nearly 100 days since Narendra Modi led the BJP to a handsome victory in the May 2014 General Elections. The magnitude of the win was such that a lot was expected from the former Gujarat CM after he shifted his base to New Delhi. With 282 seats in the Lower House of the Parliament, many thought that the new regime would pass certain key reforms since it was free from all sort of 'political compulsions' that the previous Central governments were subjected to by their allies. A look back at Modi's innings so far reveals that his report card has been average so far. On one side, the Centre has taken a firm stand on our Foreign Policy. The recent cancellation of Secretary level talks with Pakistan apart, the invitation to the SAARC Head of States at the time of Modi's swearing in and his visits to Bhutan and Nepal indicate a clear thought process in India's dealings with other nations in the neighborhood, something that the UPA regime hopelessly lacked. His interaction with the soldiers posted in Jammu Kashmir recently too has been appreciated. The markets also have responded well. However, one should also remember that the recent spike in incidents of communal clashes coupled with irresponsible statements made by some in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar has raised doubts about the intentions of Modi Sarkar. Prices of certain essential commodities continue to remain high whereas crime against women have increased to rise in recent months. At this juncture, the by-polls in four states will be a good indication to see if the Modi mania that had gripped the nation at least for the first half of the year continues to remain strong or not. Besides, with the recent realignment of political forces in Bihar, the results of these elections will also have a major impact on the strategies that the parties adopt in the next four months wherein at least four states will go to the polls.

With Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav joining hands, the political equations in the state of Bihar have been completely redrawn. The NDA's superlative performance here in May this year where it won 31 out of the 40 seats has raised serious question mark over the political future of the two former CMs of the state. With the JD-U being reduced to mere two seats, many believed that the Kurmi leader's decision to part ways with the BJP was a political blunder and the move would herald his downfall. Similarly, question marks were being raised about Lalu Yadav's relevance in state politics after the RJD could only bag 5 seats in spite of an alliance with the Congress. Aware of the fact that they had to work together to save their political careers, two of Bihar's biggest politicians dissolved their differences spanning nearly two decades and joined forces to combat a resilient saffron outfit which is looking much stronger following the May results. The Congress too decided to lent its support to the cause of thwarting the Modi bandwagon. In fact, this rather 'unholy' alliance has already won a few skirmishes with the NDA. After the resignation of Nitish Kumar as the CM of the state following the JD-U's rout in the Lok Sabha, the three parties worked together to make sure that the new government under the leadership of Jitan Ram Manjhi would survive the test on the floor of the state assembly. Moreover, the allies also fought the elections to the Upper House of the Parliament together and won.

With ten seats namely Narkatiaganj, Rajnagar, Jale, Chapra, Hajipur, Mohiuddinagar, Parbatta, Bhagalpur Banka and Mohania on the line, the Bihar by-polls will for sure be as intensely fought as the General Elections three months ago. In fact, the bearing that the results may have on the political scenario of Bihar is unprecedented, considering the fact that the state is scheduled to go to polls next year. Firstly, having jumped into the electoral fray together, the results will indicate if the masses have given their consent to the JD(U)-RJD combine. If the two new partners do well, they would contemplate continuing the alliance in the next state assembly elections too. On the other hand, a flop show would put serious question mark over the future of this partnership. Actually, several leaders in the JD-U have already hit out at Nitish for sealing the deal with the same party which he had earlier accused of hampering the growth of the state when it was in power. Similarly, the by-polls will also be an acid test for saffron leader Sushil Kumar Modi. With PM Narendra Modi not campaigning in the state, the outcome will also prove if the former Home Minister has the mettle and the support base to lead the saffron outfit in 2015. Finally, the victory of the former Kumar and Yadav, that is if it comes true, could also start a new trend in the country wherein regional rivals open up a united front against the BJP. The RJD supremo had already asked Mayawatiand Mulayum Singh Yadav to join hands to prevent the rise of the 'Fascist forces' in Lucknow, an idea which was considered by the SP chief but flatly rejected by Behenji. A good showing by the 'Mandal forces' may force the Dalit icon to rethink her decision.

Down south, in Karnataka, it is the Congress which is on the back foot. After registering a massive victory in the 2013 elections to the Vidhan Soudha when it swept away all the Opposition, the INC was delivered a rude shock as the BJP, now reinforced with the merger of the KJP and the BSR Congress into it, won nearly twice as many seats as the grand old party. The victory of former CM B S Yeddyurappa from Shimoga and his former cabinet colleague B S Sriramalu from Bellary has necessitated polls in the Shikaripura and Bellary(Rural) respectively. The third seat - Chikkodi-Sadalga was won by the Congress candidate Prakash Hukkeri who too made the cut to the Lok Sabha. The by-elections have become a prestige issue for CM Siddaramaih who has campaigned extensively in the three seats after there were rumors of discontent against him within the party. Though he may enjoy the complete faith of president Sonia Gandhi, he would prefer to silence his critics within the Congress ranks. With the Deve Gowda led JD-S refusing to field any candidates citing paucity of funds, the fight is between the two major national parties. Having been made the party's national vice president few days ago, it remains to be seen if the former KJP chief could pass on the electoral baton to his son B S Raghavendra who is contesting the polls as a BJP candidate. Likewise, the saffron nominee from Bellary is Sriramalu aide Obalesh. Besides the incumbent CM, the by-polls are also important for the two saffron leaders.

Like Siddaramaih, Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal too is jittery ahead of the by-elections to the seats of Talwandi-Salboo and Patiala. If the results of the General Elections are anything to go by, the Akalis are certainly going to have a tough time in winning the two seats. If there was one party in the NDA which will be disappointed after the May 16 results, it has to be the SAD. Strong anti-incumbency against the Punjab government was the reason that the NDA could only win six of the 13 parliamentary seats from the north-western state. In fact, after the defeat of the Finance minister Arun Jaitley from Amritsar, Akali leader Naresh Gujral was frank enough to admit that the DDCA chief was paying the price for the failure of the incumbent regime. Meanwhile, the resignation of former CM Captain Amarinder Singh from the Patiala constituency following his victory over Jaitley and the defection of Talwandi-Sabo MLA Jeet Mohinder Singh to the SAD camp has resulted in the by-polls for the two constituencies. For both, the Badals as well as the Congress, a victory will be more of a morale booster since the incumbent regime has the necessary numbers on its side. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) which surprised everyone by bagging four parliamentary seats here will be the one to watch out for. It remains to be seen if the recent turmoil within the AAP will harm its chances in the only state where it is presently strong.

Lastly, elections will also be held for three seats - Vijayraghavgarh, Bahoriband and Agar in Madhya Pradesh. After sweeping the state late last year and winning a large majority of seats in the parliamentary polls, the saffron outfit is expected to bag all three seats. However, the multi-crore entrance scam came in the limelight has become a major embarrassment for MP CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan and his party. After filing a defamation case against Congress spokesperson K K Mishra is looking to extract revenge on the INC which is using this as an issue to make a comeback. And what better way to do this than winning these by-polls. As if the allegations from the Opposition benches were not enough, Union Minister and Shivraj's rival within the saffron camp - Uma Bharati too had demanded a probe into the entire fiasco. All these things apart, the BJP is expected to win all of these constituencies like it did in the last state elections. Meanwhile, the results of the by-elections in MP and other states will be out on 25th August.

For more on the August-September 2014 By-polls, click here (Link)


IMAGES

(1) Courtesy: Times of India
Original: Times of India - Regrouped Lalu, Nitish take on BJP in Bihar bypoll today (Link)