Thursday, April 10, 2014



My take on UP poll scene (as written on March 21, 2014)

                Uttar Pradesh, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, has held a lot of significance in the electoral politics of our nation. It is not only the size but also the nature of the political discourse in this state – the cradle of the vedic civilization and all the social factors emerging from there – has lent a certain dynamic to the elections there. In simple terms, politics of Uttar Pradesh has been determined so much by caste factors and the alignment between castes.
                It is also a fact that the Upper Castes that dominated the discourse here in the couple of decades since independence have been marginalized since the 1990s; and the discourse there have witnessed the emergence of the Other Backward Classes and the Dalits to the fore. That Uttar Pradesh has been the only state where a Dalit exclusivist party – the BSP – could win a majority in the State Assembly is a fact that establishes the substantial changes that have been witnessed in Independent India’s political discourse.
                One may argue that members from the Dalit community have become Chief Ministers elsewhere too. A case in point is T.Anjaiah in Andhra Pradesh in the 1980s. But he was a nominee of the Congress high command as distinct from Mayawati who led the challenge and a certain kind of Dalit assertion in the political discourse.  All this is history. Let us now come to the prognosis from this state for the elections 2014.
                To say that the Congress is not a major player in UP is to state the obvious. This process began in the 1960s and was pronounced in the 1990s, in what can be described as the Mandal era. In the elections of 1989, the Congress lost heavily to the Janata Dal; riding the wave of anti-corruption campaign (Bofors) but also marked by a coming together of key leaders seen as representing the Upper Caste Rajputs (V.P.Singh and Chandrashekar) with such OBC leaders and legatees of the Lok Dal (behind which the OBCs had consolidated) as  Mulayam Singh Yadav. Then came the BJP’s resurgence in the 1991 elections and the Upper Caste base that the Congress enjoyed, rather than returning to it, went with the BJP in the post-Mandal phase.
                This continued through the 1990s and the Dalits, who too went with the Janata Dal in the earlier phase, got on to support the BSP under Kanshi Ram and later on by Mayawati. The other large chunk, in terms of votes, being the Muslim community left the Congress post-Babri Masjid demolition and began chosing either Mulayam Singh in UP or Mayawati. The BJP, after riding on the post-Congress wave and making gains began to lose out since 2004. The NDA government of 1998 and 1999 was possible only because the BJP won a large number of seats; as much as 50 out of the 85 then The party scored poorly in 2004 and hence had to bow out. It was not different in 2009 too and the BJP’s losses were gains for the Congress.
                It will be a miracle if the Congress crosses half a dozen seats in Uttar Pradesh this time. And this will be a steep fall from the 21 seats it won in 2009. The question, however, is whether the BJP will be able to wrest all the seats that the Congress loses from Uttar Pradesh and also whether the Narendra Modi wave that the party is expecting to ride will help the party snatch seats from the Samajwadi Party’s kitty of 23 seats and the BSP’s 20. Well. Going by conventional wisdom which means to read the situation on the basis of the caste factor, the answer can only be an emphatic NO.
                There is very little evidence from the ground, in Uttar Pradesh, to suggest that caste as a category has simply vanished. The fact is that caste played its role, in as significant manner as it did earlier in the elections to the State Assembly in 2012. Two years since then is too short a period to expect the world in UP turning upside down and Modi effecting that transformation. In other words, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party remain as relevant and strong as they were a decade ago (in 2004, the SP inflicted a stunning blow upon the BJP) and so did the BSP.
                Given this, it is most likely that the outcome this time could be on the following lines: The Samajwadi Party and the BSP retaining the number of Lok Sabha seats as they won in 2009; 23 and 20 respectively sharing more than half the number of seats from Uttar Pradesh between themselves. The Congress losing substantially; its number could slide down to a mere half dozen from the 21 seats it won in 2009. And at least a chunk of these will fall in the BJP’s kitty, thanks to Narendra Modi and the buoyancy he has managed to effect on the BJP cadre’s morale; in other words, the party could secure upward of 20 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh; but certainly less than 30 seats from the State.

Sunday, April 06, 2014



Polls in Tamil Nadu: A backgrounder

            Among the ten States[1] where the Congress lost power in 1967, the party could never regain it, even once after that in Tamil Nadu. One may see this as due to the caste-wise make up of the population in Tamil Nadu as well as the long term dynamics of this in the making of the political history of the State. Unlike in those parts of the country with a fairly large percentage of the Upper Castes in the population, their proportion to the population is low in Tamil Nadu. It may be noted that unlike in the Gangetic valley, the category on non-Brahmin Upper Castes (such as the Bhumihar and the Rajputs), constituting the landed aristocracy, is almost absent in Tamil Nadu. This distinct feature lent a certain dynamic to the socio-political discourse in the State.

            Seen against this basic feature, the consolidation of pro-British forces in the early decades of the 20th Century (in the context of the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909 and the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms of 1919), as opposed to the Indian National Congress and the idea of freedom then served as a nucleus for the making of the anti-Congress platform historically. This was not the case with most other parts of the country where the feudatories, after flirting with the colonial rulers in the context of the Constitutional reforms, hastened to join the Indian National Congress and even managed to capture its organisation in many levels before 1947. The launch of the self-respect movement by Periyar E.V.Ramasami Naicker, after he raised the issue of untouchability being practised in the Congress-run schools and walked out of the Indian National Congress (in 1924), also gathered the feudatories around the platform as early as at the time of the elections to the Madras Provincial Assembly under the Government of India Act, 1935.

            This consolidation received an impetus when the Rajaji-led Provincial Government (1937-1939) moved to make the learning of Hindi compulsory in schools. The anti-Hindi agitation and the Self Respect Movement laid the foundation for the non-Congress political formation in the State and the formation of the DMK in 1949, even if it was possible only after C.N.Annadurai walked out of Periyar’s embrace, meant the emergence of an anti-Congress force. It may be true that the a similar pattern may be seen in the Socialst Party’s formation, in 1948, from out of the Congress and its emergence as a challenger to the Congress in the first general election. But then, those who founded the Socialist Party, from out of the Congress Socialist Party (the members of the Nashik group who acted from within the Indian National Congress) since the early 1930s, did not enlist the feudatories as did the DMK in its early stages. The way the Congress, under Rajaji, cobbled up a majority after the first general elections, to form its own government in Madras, lent to the opposition a certain force to emerge into the anti-Congress platform as early as after the first general election.[2] The impressive performance by the Common Wheel Party (CWP) in that election, specifically in what is now the Northern Tamil Nadu, laid the basis for the DMK emerging as a force in that region; in social terms, this manifest in the consolidation of the Vanniyar community, who had rallied behind the CWP in the 1951-52 elections, to make the muscle for the DMK by 1957 (by which time the CWP had dissolved). In the decade from then, the DMK grew into the force that wrested power from the Congress in the State (rechristened Tamil Nadu after C.N.Annadurai raised the demand after his entry into the Rajya Sabha in 1962), and consolidated itself into the sole representative of the intermediary social classes across Tamil Nadu.

The consolidation was further made possible when the State Government initiated reservation in State Government jobs for the OBCs in pursuance of the recommendations of the Sattanathan Commission in the 1960s; and what began in the Northern Tamil Nadu now spread across the State and thus the DMK ensured the Congress party remained out of power. This would happen in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, only after 1990 and after the Mandal Commission recommendations (reservation for OBCs in Central Government jobs) were implemented.[3] The DMK, however, underwent a split soon; if not as early as did the non-Congress formations that wrested power in in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in 1967. The birth of the ADMK in 1972, under M.G.Ramachandran, matinee idol and treasurer of the DMK until he was expelled, marked the beginning of the fragmentation that now characterises the political discourse in Tamil Nadu and also revived the Congress into a relevant force. The Congress in Tamil Nadu could re-invent itself as determining the outcome of elections and the DMK and the ADMK would ally with the `national’ party to win elections. Meanwhile, the OBC consolidation remained a feature of the state’s discourse even under the ADMK’s rule. The Ambasankar Committee of 1985 took the idea of reservation to OBCs to 69 per cent of the State Government jobs even while the Congress Government in Delhi allowed the Mandal Commission Report gather dust.

All these are now things of the past. Neither the ADMK nor the DMK want to touch the Congress this time. This is just the opposite of what it was in the 1980s when both the Kazhagams were desperate to have  the Congress on its side and it is a fact that for a couple of decades since then, the one that had the Congress as ally won elections in Tamil Nadu; it was the ADMK in 1984, 1989 and 1991; and the DMK in 2004 and 2009. The story was a little different in 1996 when the DMK had the Tamil Maanila Congress with it (leaving the rump of the Congress with the ADMK) or the ADMK-BJP alliance making it big in 1998 and the DMK-BJP alliance in 1999. A feature in all these years since the 1980s was that the political discourse in Tamil Nadu revolved around two formations; around the DMK or the ADMK. This, too is a thing of the past insofar as April 2014 is concerned. The extent of fragmentation is such that each of the 39 Lok Sabha constituency in Tamil Nadu will witness a three cornered contest this time. Apart from the DMK (or its allies) and the ADMK (just by itself), there is the NDA (consisting of small parties that command support in areas that are exclusive to each other). The Congress may have fielded candidates everywhere but is indeed an insignificant player all over. Notwithstanding the bravado displayed by a Karthi Chidambaram or a Mani Shankar Aiyer! And in a few constituencies where the Left has been forced to contest (after being shown the door by Jayalalitha) its candidates may just be counted as adding a fourth corner to the contest; but may end up forfeiting their deposits.

The fact is that the contest in Tamil Nadu remains between the ADMK and the DMK;it may also be added that April 2014 is indeed an opportunity, in the true sense of the term, for M.K.Stalin to establish his own hold over the party organisation. The party may end up losing seats and if trends in the past couple of elections were to continue, he may end up in a situation where he will stand alone as the DMK’s leader; such others as Dayanidhi Maran and A.Raja as well as his step-sister M.Kanimozhi, who had emerged as power centres within the party may go into oblivion after May 16, 2014 while M.K.Alagiri may soon end up facing criminal charges that Jayalalitha is certain to slap against him once he damages the little prospect that the DMK has in this election. The ADMK chief will like to have him around and speak against his father and his brother until April 24, 2014 and she may not even wait until May 16, 2014 to put him in place.

And this leaves us with the front consisting of the DMDK, MDMK, PMK, IJK and the BJP to be talked about. None of them, indeed, are even as significant as the Apna Dal in Uttar Pradesh, with whom the BJP has tied up. Sonelal Patel’s party in UP  can help Narendra Modi rest assured of a chunk of votes in Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. But the parties that now constitute the NDA in Tamil Nadu are at mutual war with one another and either exist in mutually exclusive zones. Vaiko’s MDMK for instance exists in only his hometown and is not strong enough even there to win an assembly segment on its own. The IJK, meanwhile, has not even shown its clout in panchayats where it has put up candidates notwithstanding the money that its patron has with him, thanks to his enterprise in higher education! The PMK, whose emergence in the 1980s (representing the beginnings of the process of fragmentation of the state’s political discourse) had begun to weaken almost a decade ago and is now a spent force. And as for the DMDK, Vijaykanth had shown potential to emerge as a pan-Tamil Nadu party since he entered the political arena in May 2006; his party, fighting alone, polled close to 10 per cent in the first elections. And he imagined himself as a king-maker when Jayalalitha (with whom he entered into an alliance for the May 2011 assembly elections) only to end up as Leader of the Opposition and subsequently with a section of his MLAs trooping out of his party to support Jayalalitha. The DMDK could re-invent itself now only by riding piggy back on Narendra Modi; well, the BJP too found itself forced into a situation to ride piggy back on Vijaykanth! In any case, this could only have relevance as a long term strategy and certainly longer than May 2014.

Tamil Nadu, in April-May 2014,may witness a multi-cornered contest and this is certainly a departure from the decisive break in the political discourse as witnessed in 1967. The element that was most pronounced in that year – the Congress party’s defeat – remains an integral part now too. It is a point of no return. But the other aspect of the 1967 elections – consolidation of the OBCs as a decisive factor behind the DMK’s emergence – is now over and the fragmentation in the socio-political sense has thrown the field wide open to a radical realignment of forces. The DMK, in this context, has the potential to re-invent itself, ahead of the assembly elections scheduled for May 2016, if the party, under M.K.Stalin’s leadership, consolidates the alliance it has now forged with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Puthiya Tamilagham (PT), two mutually antagonistic Dalit platforms holding a base in the Northern and Southern parts of Tamil Nadu respectively, keep its relationship with the small outfits that have arrived as representatives of the Muslim community in the State and also regain its support base that it lost to the PMK in the last few decades. As for now, it is the ADMK all the way.
    






[1] The Congress party lost a majority in the elections to the State assemblies of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.    
[2] The Congress did not win a majority in the Madras Legislative Assembly in the 1951-52 general elections; and an attempt to forge a non-Congress government including forces across the Left and the Right and around the Common Wheel Party was scuttled when Rajaji enlisted support of a section of the independents to form the Congress Government in the State. The CWP, in fact, was an expression of the early consolidation of the intermediate castes against the Indian National Congress then.
[3] Itmay be stressed here that the SVD and the BKD Governments that came in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in 1967 initiated reservation for OBCs in these two States but the consolidation in the political sense was not as strong as in Tamil Nadu for two specific reasons; one that the clout of the Brahmans along with the other upper castes were numerically and economically huge in comparison with that in Tamil Nadu and two that the SVD and the BKD did not constitute a coherent platform as did the DMK and the non-Congress governments in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh epitomised instability and the combines splintered within months due to internecine conflicts among its leaders.  

Friday, March 14, 2014



Andhra and Telengana: It's advantage BJP even when the party does not hold a promise there!!!
 
                While holding firm on the view that the outcome of the elections from a set of States will determine who will be our Prime Minister after May 16, 2014, I am also of the view that the choice is restricted between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi or any one whom his mother Sonia Gandhi  nominates. In other words, I will stick my neck out to say that there is no scope for a non-Congress-non-BJP government as it is. May 1996, when Deve Gowda emerged as Prime Minister is a story of the past and will remain an elusive idea at least in 2014.
                With this in mind, let me look at, closely, into the situation in the two Telugu speaking States—Andhra Pradesh and Telengana – from where as many as 42 MPs will be elected to the Lok Sabha. After the decision, guided primarily by partisan considerations of the Congress party, 17 Lok Sabha seats fall in Telengana and the 25 in what is now called Seemandra. And if we agree to keep the cynical designs (that led to the division) out of our minds for a moment, we may argue that the Congress is better off in the 17 seats. It’s ally in 2004 and 2009, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti, is no doubt guilty of having betrayed Sonia Gandhi when it refused to merge into the Congress even after its demand was executed.
And the TRS is likely to retain the couple of seats – Mahboobnagar and Medak -- that the outfit won in 2009. That the TRS does not claim any organizational presence in the rest of Telengana and the two seats it won in 2009 was also because of its alliance with the Congress. In this sense, the Congress organization as well as its ability to convert that into votes is beyond doubt insofar as the Telengana State is concerned. No doubt that the Congress had Y.S.Rajashekar Reddy on its side in the 2004 and 2009 elections; and that his legacy was taken over by his son, Jagan Reddy, after YSR’s death in September 2009. But then, the formation of Telengana, in the hurry in which it was executed, has helped the party wrest the organization and its mass support in 2014. The TDP is in an unenviable state and may find it hard to retain Khammam, the lone seat that the party had won from the Telengana region in 2009. And Jagan’s YSR Congress too may draw a blank from here.
This, however, is only part solace to the Congress. The party’s impressive score – 33 out of 42 along with the two TRS MPs and the lone MIM representative – had contributed significantly to the making of its total number of seats – 204 – after the 2009 elections. The BJP had drawn a blank from united-Andhra Pradesh and the TDP, its ally in the NDA had won only six Lok Sabha seats then. The Congress is in poor shape in 2014. And the party organization in Seemandra is almost gone, thanks to the making of Telengana. Sonia Gandhi will find it hard to field candidates with some strength in the 25 Constituencies across the truncated State. We are already hearing about sitting MPs, including cabinet ministers either wanting to retire from electoral politics or such of those like D.Purandeswari, one of NTR’s daughters whom the Congress had found to be on its side, joining the BJP!
And unlike in Telengana, the Congress mass base had shifted to Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress in the past few years and what was still left with the party has been lost in the anger against the bifurcation of the State. The Telugu Desam Party, indeed, is there with its cadre intact making the contest for most of the 25 seats there between the Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Jagan’s YSR Congress. It is possible and most likely that these two parties share the 25 seats between themselves leaving the Congress and the BJP with chances that may lend them a couple of seats in the best case scenario. A case in point being the Vishakapatnam Lok Sabha seat where the Congress’s T.Subbirami Reddy and the BJP’s D.Purandeswari. But then, in the 24 other constituencies, it would be a contest between Jagan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu insofar as Seemandra is concerned.
And between the two parties, it is for sure that the BJP stands a chance of their support in the event the party comes closer to government formation. While Naidu has been an old ally of the BJP, thanks to his anti-Congress stance, Jagan Reddy too has no strong convction against the BJP.  It is, after all, a fact that Jagan Reddy was involved, with the now infamous Reddy brothers of Bellary (the mine mafia), in financing Sushma Swaraj’s campaign against Sonia Gandhi some years ago.
In other words, it’s a win-win situation for the BJP, notwithstanding the fact that the party is nowhere in the reckoning from Seemandra, after the poll results are out. The BJP can bank upon either the TDP or the YSR Congress, whoever gets most of the 25 seats from Seemandra. In other words, while the Congress strength will be far lower that 33 this time from these two States (and thus pull down its Lok Sabha tally at least by 20 seats), the BJP can count on the support of at least 20 seats more this time.Well. In the remote possibility of the Congress getting close to 272, it can get Jagan to support if the party agrees to keep the CBI a caged parrot!
(This is the second part of a series I am doing on polls 2014. Plan to take up UP and Bihar next)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014



Elections 2014-My Prognosis

                General Elections 2014, is once again, similar to that in 1998. As it was then, the Congress party has not named its Prime Ministerial candidate; while the BJP has declared Narendra Modi this time as it did with Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998. Well. This was the case in 2004 too. The BJP-led NDA seemed certain of a return and Vajpayee was still its posture boy even while L.K.Advani had conveyed his `availability’ for the job. The Congress was written off by pundits; and yet it so happened that the party managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and after the melodrama involving Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh was made Prime Minister.
                There is something significant about the political discourse that marks the situation after 1996. The two `national’ parties may be called so only because their influence extends beyond a single state; and both depend on `regional’ parties that hold sway in a single state and do not exist elsewhere. There are few States – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajastan, Chattisgarh and Karnataka – where the two `national’ parties contest against each other. And yet we see the discourse being dominated by Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. The two `national’ parties put together had only  319 members in the Lok Sabha that is now in its last days.
                It is most unlikely that things will be any different after the coming general election. If at all, it is likely that the BJP will wrest a few seats from the Congress in Uttar Pradesh (where the Congress party had won 21 seats while the BJP won only 10 seats in 2009); it could be the other way round this time. The BJP’s gains in Uttar Pradesh, if things go this way, would help the party neutralize its losses, imminent as it is, from Karnataka. The BJP had won 19 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka in 2009 against 6 seats by the Congress. There is the likelihood of this being reversed, notwithstanding Modi and the return of Yedyurappa.
                It is for sure that the Congress party will lose elsewhere too. The BJP is most likely to improve its score from such States as Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The score in 2009 from MP was Congress 12 and BJP 16; and from Rajastan, it was Congress 20 and BJP 4. This will change. The BJP may win at least 5 more seats in Madhya Pradesh and it is likely that the score from Rajastan could be the reverse this time. In other words, the BJP wins at least 20 seats more from these two states and the Congress will be down by as many seats from these two states. And this part of the tale, where the two national parties stand insofar as elections 2014 is over now.
                It is inevitable, then, to look at the coming elections from the prospects of the two `national’ parties in the majority of States vis a vis the regional outfits there. And also from the dynamics of such States as Uttar Pradesh (where the contest is between the Samajwadi Party and the BSP), Bihar (between the JD-U, the RJD-Congress alliance and the BJP-LJP combine), West Bengal (between the Trinamul Congress and the Left), Andhra Pradesh (between the YSR Congress and the TDP), Tamil Nadu (AIADMK and the DMK) and Haryana (between the INLD and the AAP) as holding the key to who forms the Government after May 2014. I must add that there are such States as Maharashtra, where the Congress-NCP combine is pitted against the BJP-Shiv Sena combine or Punjab where it is a contest between the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress or Orissa where the Congress will fight against the Biju Janata Dal.
                It is imperative, hence, to study the polls from the realities in these States. And also take into account what the AAP would end up achieving. The new party has shown its strength defying pundits and their prognosis in Delhi. It seems to be making an impact elsewhere too. All this can be done in due course. 

( I plan to do a series on this ... Will start with Andhra Pradesh-Telengana and go to other states/regions that I consider important this time... )