January 01, 2015

2015: THE POLLS TO LOOK OUT FOR...


What an year 2014 has been. After 'misgoverning' the nation, especially in its second term, India's grand old party was taught a lesson that it will, rather it should never forget. The Congress that has ruled the country for nearly six decades, was reduced to a tally of 44 seats, the lowest in its 130 year long 'illustrious' history. The mother and son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi tried to put on a brave face late that afternoon on the day of the results with Baba who spearheaded his party's spineless campaign, even smiling for the cameras as if 'nothing great had happened'. As if to rub salt into their wounds, the BJP under its controversial yet charismatic leader Narendra Modi edged past the halfway mark on its own, signalling the end of an era of unholy alliances and 'quid pro quo' politics that had lasted for nearly three decades. As the Modi wave raged on, regional satraps were swept away; leaders like Mulayum Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar were routed except in their boroughs while those like Mayawati were not even able to open their accounts. Of course, there were some notable exceptions; the likes of Jayalalitha, Mamta and Navin managed to keep the saffron forces at bay.

As far as the state polls are concerned, the BJP seems to have picked up from its superlative performance from December last year where it retained Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh while ending up as the single largest party in the capital. Months after that victory in the general polls, the BJP won over 120 seats in Maharashtra, nearly twice as much as its estranged ally, the Shiv Sena. As the two saffron parties patched up, Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as the CM of the western state. Up north, the party created history yet again as it won a simple majority in Haryana in a poll that saw the incumbent INC being a distant third. Few months later, the BJP led alliance grabbed pole position in Jharkhand and swept Jammu though it fell behind the PDP by 3 seats in the final tally. In Andhra, it was the return of Chandrababu Naidu whereas his once bitter rival K C Chandrashekar Rao became the first CM of the newly created state of Telangana. The only consolation for the Congress was a win in the Arunachal assembly elections. Meanwhile, Odisha's Navin Patnaik and Sikkim's Pawan Kumar Chamling held their respective fortresses in spite of the emergence of strong opposition from newer forces in their backyards.

So after a cracking year that saw seismic shifts in the entire political landscape of the country, what does the upcoming year have for us. The first state to go for polls in 2015 will be Delhi that has been under President's Rule ever since Arvind Kejriwal resigned from the post of the CM following a tenure that lasted less than fifty days and was marred by several unwanted controversies. The AAP that made a blunder by opting out of the government in the national capital is hoping to put the ghost of 2014 General Polls in the past and regain the trust of the masses, something that pundits believe will be easier said than done. While the Congress continues to be a non-entity here, like in most parts of the country, the BJP is hopeful that Modi mania and AAP's track record will help it get the required numbers.

However, the polls to watch out for will be elections to the Bihar state assembly. After registering an impressive tally in the May where it won 32 of the 40 parliamentary seats, the NDA was in for a shock as the grand alliance of the ruling JD-U, the RJD and the Congress managed to salvage some pride by winning six of the 10 assembly segments where by-polls were held in August, earlier this year. The next state elections will be the true test of the new found bon homie between former bitter rivals - Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. A victory for these former strongmen will have a tremendous repercussion on the politics of the country apart from reviving their individual political careers. In case the partnership does well, you can expect several other regional competitors to join hands in a bid to thwart the BJP which is emerging as a relevant player even in places where it earlier had marginal presence. A saffron win though will only further strengthen the aura surrounding the incumbent PM and further strengthen the BJP.

And then, there are some more states where the incumbent regimes seem to be shaky and snap polls could be held next year. The drama over the government formation is likely to continue over the next few weeks in Jammu Kashmir. Even if a coalition government is cobbled up in Srinagar, serious political differences between partners could force the governor to dissolve the assembly and ask the parties to seek a fresh mandate. Such fears are also emerging from Goa where Parrikar's departure has changed the political scenario in the state in spite of the fact that the BJP has a simple majority on its own; the state's deputy CM Francis D'Souza could raise the banner of revolt yet again and put the Parsekar government in minority in the house. In Jharkhand, the AJSU which has 5 seats could keep the BJP on tenterhooks and pull out of the government if its timely demands are not met. Perhaps, Assam could also go to polls in 2015 if the Congress fails to contain the rebellion brewing against Tarun Gogoi for some time.

Apart from state polls, here are the other big developments to watch out for in Indian polity as we usher in the new year.

(1) During the course of the high voltage campaign, Modi promised a lot of things to the electorate and a nation that had been let down by its political masters for five long years immediately gravitated towards the BJP. Now that the saffron outfit has comprehensively won the polls and the honeymoon period is over, the masses are eagerly awaiting for the big ticket reforms to be passed. Besides, with the entire opposition benches joining hands, it will be interesting to see how the incumbent regime manages to pass key legislations, especially in the Rajya Sabha where it lacks the necessary numbers.

(2) Following their phenomenal performance in the big polls, the BJP registered big gains in four of the seven states where elections were held in 2014. With Delhi and Bihar going to polls in the next few months, can the saffron outfit carry its good form into 2015? Bihar is particularly important since it will see the new look NDA take on the grand alliance consisting of the JD-U, the RJD and the Congress after the skirmishes that occurred between the two side over the last year.

(3) The last few months have been the worst in the history of the INC. After being beaten in state after state, we need to see if the new year can bring some good luck for the Congress. Also, we will see whether Rahul Gandhi has learnt from his past mistakes and has the ability to take the party forward, though many of the loyalists seem to have already given up on him.

(4) 2015 will be a crucial one for the latest avataar of the Janata Parivaar too. Apart from the Bihar elections where this new alliance has a lot at stake, we will see if the stalwarts including Mulayum, Lalu and Nitish can gulp their egos, overlook their past differences and stay together at the cost of their personal ambitions.

(5) Former CM Arvind Kejriwal and his party, the AAP are expected to come out all guns blazing to salvage some lost pride in the Delhi elections; however, regain the confidence of the people in the capital will be extremely difficult. The likes of Jaya, Mamata and Navin who did remarkably well in the general polls had their own share of controversies in 2014. While Jaya was briefly behind bars in the DA case, Mamata and Navin were busy fire fighting allegations against their confidantes in the Sharddha scam. What is in store for these regional bigwigs is something to look out for.