Meaning Of The Verdict

By Prakash Karat

What is the meaning of this verdict? How is it to be interpreted? The first point to be noted is that while there has been a pro-Congress trend in some parts of the country, taken overall, there is no big shift in favour of the Congress. In terms of vote share, the Congress has got just about 2 per cent more than in 2004.

According to the Election Commission’s figures, the Congress party has got 28.55 per cent of the vote. In 2004, it had got 26.53 per cent. The Congress made big gains in Kerala and Rajasthan and improved its position in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Its allies like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal were also successful. That there was no wave or a strong all-India shift in favour of the Congress can be seen by the party losing ground in states like Orissa, Jharkhand, Assam, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Karnataka to mention a few. Here the Congress vote share and seats have gone down compared to 2004. In Andhra Pradesh, while its seats increased, the vote share of the Congress has gone down.

Another feature is that while Congress gained 2 per cent, the BJP lost around 3 per cent. The loss of the BJP has gone to the Congress but the combined percentage of vote of both parties stands more or less as it was in 2004. In 2004, the two parties combined got 48.69 per cent of the vote and in 2009 it stands at over one per cent less at 47.35 per cent.

This is at a time when the Congress and the BJP fought more seats than in 2004. This is particularly significant since it shows no reversal in the long term decline of the two parties. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties continue to have more than 50 per cent share of the vote.

BJP Rejected
The second point to note in interpreting the verdict is the failure of the BJP and its political platform. The people have rejected the BJP’s claim of providing good governance and defending national security. What they saw in the election campaign was the recurrence of communal rhetoric and the ingrained penchant for communalising all problems including terrorism.

Varun Gandhi’s virulent hate speeches and the eulogising of Narendra Modi as the future leader symbolised this campaign. The failure to capitalise on a host of issues such as price rise, unemployment and the continuing agrarian distress by the major opposition party underlines the depth of the rejection of the BJP.

The only NDA partner to do well was the JD (U) in Bihar and that is not due to the BJP but the positive impact of the Nitish Kumar government and the care he took to demarcate himself from the communal platform of the BJP.

Another pointer to the rejection of the BJP comes from Orissa. The BJD, which broke from the BJP just two months before the election, won a spectacular victory getting 103 of the 145 seats in the assembly. In the 2004 assembly election, the BJD-BJP alliance won 93 seats. Thus, the BJD improved its performance after breaking with the BJP.

Reasons for Congress Success
The third point to understand the verdict is that despite the neo-liberal predilections of the Congress-led government, some of the measures adopted have had a positive impact on the people. These are the NREGA, which now extends to the entire country, the Tribal Forest Rights Act and the increase in the minimum support price for rice and wheat, the loan waiver scheme for farmers and some such measures, many of whom were brought under the pressure of the Left parties.

Despite the agrarian crisis, such measures provided some relief to the rural people. Along with this should be seen the measures taken by some of the state governments such as the Rs 2 per kg of rice scheme in Andhra Pradesh and the Re 1 per kg scheme in Tamilnadu and other social welfare measures.

In Orissa too, the Rs 2 per kg of rice bolstered the support for the Navin Patnaik government. At the same time, the fact that four years of high growth of the GDP did not lead to redistribution of resources and incomes and instead sharply increased economic inequalities did play a role in restricting the Congress’s capacity to expand its popular base.

The Congress gained more support amongst the minorities who were keen to ensure that the BJP does not make a come back. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties were not seen as a viable alternative in most parts of the country and this accentuated the shift in minority support to the Congress.

The Congress party has also benefited from the concern of the people that the country should face unitedly the threat of terrorism and their fear that communalism can only aggravate the situation.

Setback for the Left
The CPI (M) and the Left have suffered a serious setback with the losses in West Bengal and Kerala. It was expected that the Left would get a lesser number of seats in these elections given the fact that in Kerala, the LDF had won an unprecedented 18 out of the 20 seats and the Congress got none in the 2004 elections.

In West Bengal too, the odds were heavier given the Trinamool Congress and Congress combining and all the anti-Communist forces launching a concerted attack against the CPI (M) and the Left Front. But the extent of the defeat in both these states has led to the CPI(M) getting only 16 seats, the lowest ever in the Lok Sabha.

This calls for a serious examination of the causes for these reverses. We have to conduct a self-critical review to ascertain what are the factors which are responsible for this poor performance.

Both national and state level factors have to be analysed. The electoral-tactical line formulated by the Party at the national level and the national political situation which influenced the Lok Sabha polls must be studied. Along with that, the specific state factors in both West Bengal and Kerala must also be taken into account.

The Politburo, in its meeting held on May 18, 2009, has initiated such a review which will be completed by the Central Committee in its meeting to be held in June. After identifying the reasons for the failure, the Party will have to take the necessary political and organisational measures to overcome the shortcomings and mistakes.

On this basis, the Party will strenuously work to regain the support of those sections of the people who were alienated from the Party and the Left-led fronts. Such a self-critical exercise will also pave the basis for the Party taking up the organisational tasks set out in the Party Congress to strengthen the Party and to expand its mass influence.

Third Front Alliance
In the discussions held in the Politburo, there was a preliminary review of the Party’s effort to forge a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance and present it as an electoral alternative. The Central Committee, in its meeting held in Kochi in January 2009, had worked out the electoral-tactical line and given the direction that “the Left parties along with the secular parties should work together to make a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative realizable.”

The CPI(M) and the CPI had an electoral understanding with some of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and seat adjustments in Karnataka. On the basis of these state level understandings forged on the eve of the elections, we attempted to project them as a national level non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.

The defeat of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala and the failure of the alliance in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to win a majority of the seats undermined any effective presence of the “Third Front” at the national level. It is evident that such a combination which had its relevance in the concerned states was not a credible and viable alternative at the national level. Further, the electoral combinations, which were forged state-wise, precluded any national policy platform being projected.

There have been two consequences of the projection of a Third Front. Firstly, the BJP-led NDA was adversely affected by the formation of a non-Congress secular combination. The BJP and the NDA’s tally has come down since they were denied any significant ally in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

The second point to be noted is that the secular non-Congress combination has got 21 per cent of the vote and this shows the potential for building up a third alternative on the lines suggested by the CPI (M) in its Party Congress. That is, an alternative which is not merely an electoral alliance but a coming together of the parties and forces on a common platform through movements and struggles for alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP.

Money Power
A disturbing feature of this Lok Sabha election was the use of money on a scale not seen before. States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka saw an unprecedented use of illegal money. The Madurai constituency in Tamil Nadu was the worst example of the brazen use of money.

In other states too, this trend has grown which is vitiating the democratic process. More and more tickets are being given to moneybags and parties are collecting huge sums of money to be deployed for bribing voters. This is a threat to the entire democratic process and is particularly inimical to the Left’s interests which cannot indulge in such unscrupulous use of money power.

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Coping With Victory And Defeat

By Siddharth Varadarajan

With the poorly conceived Third Front promising little more than political instability and the Bharatiya Janata Party standing for greater social turmoil and division, the victory of the Congress is a vote for calm, centrist stability of the kind the country has not seen for more than two decades.

That voters have attached a premium to both the formation of a stable government and to the pursuit of social-democratic policies should come as no surprise given the spectres of economic hardship, terrorist violence and communal polarisation that haunt our collective psyche today.

The only irony is that the Left and the Congress, whose partnership for four out of the past five years provided the United Progressive Alliance both the aura of stability and the caché of populism, should have ended up such bitter rivals on the eve of the election.

On the eve of the general election, the coming together of major challenges like the world financial crisis, the implosion of Pakistan and the rising tide of religious intolerance within India and the region had shifted the matrix of rational policy in such a manner that the issues on which the Left and the Congress had parted company last year made no sense at all to voters in 2009.

On most issues of consequence, domestic and foreign, the distance between centrist and leftist policy was getting eroded. Having resisted the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme when activists first mooted the idea in 2004, the Congress took it up seriously only after the Left parties made it a priority.

Even then, conservative elements within the ruling establishment like Montek Singh Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission remained sceptical and sought to limit the Central government’s fiscal commitment to it.

Only when the economic slowdown hit India in 2008 — and the importance of NREGA as both a politically convenient safety net for the poor and an accelerator-multiplier to kickstart the economy became apparent — did the Congress make its implementation a priority.

The Congress may have been a late and even reluctant convert; but what matters finally is that the party and the Left ended up on the same page.

On other economic matters which divided the Congress and the Left like financial sector liberalisation, the fact that the Indian banking and insurance sectors were insulated from the global turmoil which felled giants like AIG and Lehman Brothers provided a further basis for the two sides to speak the same broad language.

Instead of celebrating the return of the social-democratic paradigm and using this to leverage a further shift away from neo-liberal dogma, however, the Left found itself holding the can on the one free-market policy its rural support base viscerally opposed: land acquisition.

If nationally, the CPI(M) and its allies were pilloried for a leftism that was largely declaratory, the Left Front paid the price in its bastion of West Bengal for the “rightism” of its policies that allowed Mamata Banerjee to emerge as a defender of the peasantry’s right to till the soil.

Consider the irony: the Left broke with the Congress because it felt the latter had deviated from the Common Minimum Programme of 2004. But in 2009, it allied itself to a diverse set of political parties without any programme other than the desire to establish a “non-Congress, non-BJP” government.

So it was that the Left found itself at election time with allies such as the Telugu Desam Party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Biju Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party — groups that had no interest in pushing the direction of national economic policy one way or the other and which had all, in recent times, been closely associated with the BJP and its communal politics.

This programmatic dilution of the ‘Third Front’ allowed the grouping to look strong on paper but it was devoid of any political ballast. But even this might not have proved fatal except for another factor: As a result of its break with the Congress over an issue that was not so decisive to the direction of Indian foreign policy in the long run — the nuclear deal — the Left facilitated the creation of a coalition that went on to storm the seemingly impregnable red fortress of Bengal.

To be sure, there were and are valid reasons for the CPI(M) to have wanted to build a Third Front. But its failure to articulate a positive pro-people programme around which such a front could be established rendered the exercise electorally and politically futile.

As it looks towards rebuilding itself in Kerala and West Bengal and enlarging its prospects as a genuinely national alternative, the Left will have to be self-critical about its preference for conjuring up expedient top-down coalitions rather than organic, bottom-up alliances based on the kind of struggles and movements the communists know best.

Unless it does so, the parliamentary communist movement will find itself increasingly squeezed by Maoist extremism on the left and the electoral machine of ‘bourgeois’ parties on the right against which it cannot easily compete. If the Left needs to introspect, what of the BJP, which paid the price for believing that the Indian voter would prefer divisiveness and strife to the comforting anchor of centrism?

The rot in the party runs so deep that it cannot be reversed by the resignation of LK Advani. The very fact that its spokesmen thought Narendra Modi’s name would generate a wave in favour of the BJP despite the Supreme Court ordering a probe into his role in the 2002 mass killing of Muslims in Gujarat shows the extent to which they are out of touch with the pulse of the country.

But since the party did relatively better in Gujarat and Karnataka, especially the coastal region where Christians, Muslims and ‘immoral’ Hindus have been targeted by the Sangh Parivar, it is possible the RSS will conclude that religious polarisation is a good electoral strategy for the BJP to pursue. If this is the direction the party takes, its capacity to generate tension and insecurity in civil society will increase even if its national political prospects continue to remain dim.

As for the Congress, the party needs to guard against the hubris that usually accompanies the kind of dramatic, unexpected victory it has just received. The INC defeated the Left fair and square but must realise that its success owes more to the social-democratic elements of its economic policies than to the ‘reforms’ the party’s more affluent backers espouse.

Second, vanquishing the politics the BJP stands for requires more than electoral success. The socio-economic and administrative support structures on which the politics of communalism thrives need to be dismantled through careful, sensitive intervention.

The party must resist the old Congress way of pandering to identity politics as a low-cost way of doing the right thing by India’s diverse electorate. India’s Muslims, for example, want equal opportunities and justice, not the banning of a book or the expulsion of a Taslima Nasreen. Providing these will involve taking on entrenched interests and attitudes, especially in the police and administration, something the
Congress has always shied away from doing.

Finally, the re-election of the UPA must not be seen as a licence to indulge in the ‘Congress culture’ of the past. The public got a glimpse of that culture when some leaders started pushing for Rahul Gandhi to be made Prime Minister as soon as the scale of the party’s victory became apparent.

Sonia Gandhi did well to nip these demands in the bud. If she can go further by pensioning off entrenched interests and democratising the functioning of the party’s leadership, the Congress will be better placed to meet the expectations of those who have voted for it.

Courtesy: The Hindu

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Third Time Lucky?

By Mahesh Rangarajan/DNA/May 11, 2009

The spectre of a Third Front government looms large over the political scene. Both the Congress and its premier rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are struggling to cross the 150 line in the Lok Sabha. The hill is tough to climb for each party though for very different reasons.

Since 1996, it has been impossible for the BJP to aspire to power without brining a significant clutch of regional party’s on board. And the Congress has found that for the most part, the key to power lies in befriending the Left parties.

There have been difficult moments in Jayalalithaa’s parting with AB Vajpayee in 1999 and in the Left-Congress divide of August 2008. It is sign of the times that large parties are unwilling to foreclose options.

Both fear the return of a Third Front as it would provide a different kind of alternative. At the base of the endurance of such an idea is the simple fact that one of every two Indians does not vote for either the Congress or the BJP.

There have been two Third Front governments in history and both were short-lived. VP Singh lasted from December 1989 till December of the following year. The Deve Gowda and IK Gujral ministries together lasted only 21 months.

On the first occasion, it was the BJP that propped up and then toppled the government. On the latter occasions, Congress did the honours. It is therefore ingenuous for either party to say Third Front ministries are inherently unstable. The prime reason they broke up was to do with the choices of the larger national parties.

More serious is the idea that economic crisis necessarily follows in the wake of such governments. The balance of payments crisis of the summer of 1991 is laid at the doors of VP Singh and Chandrasekhar.

But the seeds of the crisis were laid in the Rajiv Gandhi era, which ended in December 1989. By then, the fiscal deficit of the Union and states combined stood at a hefty 10 per cent.

Similarly, it is often forgotten that the devaluation of the rupee and the painful adjustments that followed happened for the first time under a Congress government and that too one headed by none other than Indira Gandhi. In 1966, after three failed monsoons, India was in a fragile state and there was no option but to accept the bitter medicine prescribed by the US.

More serious is the charge that coalitions fare worse in the sphere of domestic economic policy. VP Singh waived farm loans for over Rs10,000 crore and a few months later announced implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations for reserving jobs for the OBCs.

Yet, these were followed up in 2004-2009 by Manmohan Singh. The difference was that the farm loan waiver was now seven times as large. And those reservations were extended to higher educational institutions.

In effect, there are larger forces pushing for these changes and they operate even when the governments are headed by one large party or consist of a mosaic of parties. Obviously, it is not coalitions per se but the art and style of governance that matters the most.

The coalitions that have governed India did set down some significant milestones. VP Singh took steps to restore peace in Punjab. The United Front stood for a federalist principle in Indian politics and fell because it refused to give into the Congress bullying on the issue of the dismissal of the Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu.

It is indeed the case that coalition regimes have coincided with times of economic retreat. This was the case in 1979-80 when the economy shrunk by 5 per cent. There was similar turbulence though not of such degree in the start and the end of the 1990s.

But for the most part this was also due to larger economic trends at the global level. No one could have predicted the impact of the first Gulf War on oil prices in 1991. If this undid the positive record of the National Front, the United Front’s dream budget of 1997 was undone by the Asian flu.

In any case there are major contrasts between 2009 and 1996; the last time such a formation had looked feasible. One is that regional parties have by now been stable partners in alliance governments. On one occasion, even the Union finance minister was from a regional party.

Second, the experience of such parties in administering complex and large economies has grown manifold. Leaders like N Chandrababu Naidu and J Jayalalithaa have run large states with significant overseas trade and large secondary and tertiary sector economies.

There are reasons galore to criticise a Third Front. Most crucially it lacks an arbiter in case differences arise. But the larger charges of economic mismanagement and political drift hardly stand up to serious scrutiny.

It may not be a blessing given India’s myriad problems but a Third Front is a political possibility, not a spectre to give anyone sleepless nights. It might even enable more decentralisation in an over-centralised federal polity.

Welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi

By Roger Alexander

Now that I have your attention…

A carefully placed remark by Arun Shourie that Narendra Modi should be the prime minister of India and Arun Jaitley’s quick endorsement – “Gujarat under the leadership of Narendra Modi has emerged as a role model for India” – has unleashed paroxysmal excitement in media circles. And true to form, most corporate media outlets in the country are spending considerable resources to follow and interview not the Butcher of Gujarat but the state’s “saviour”.

Not surprisingly, the BJP has been quick to cash in. So what started as a ringing endorsement of Narendra Modi’s “industry and business-friendly” policies by “captains” of Indian Inc, including Anil Ambani, Sunil Mittal and Ratan Tata, is now being palmed off as gospel truth.

Indeed, even the Supreme Court’s recent direction that Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots be probed by the Special Investigation Team is being termed a “shot in the arm” for the chief minister by self-appointed TV commentators and pollsters.

Their electoral calculations point out that this investigation will “enhance Modi’s standing”. BJP spokesman also gleefully point out that the SC’s directive will help the BJP in electoral arena.

These shameless apologists don’t care that Modi’s so-called “Vibrant Gujarat” is a figment of their warped imagination, a PR coup. But fortunately, truth is stranger than fiction.

Vivian Fernandes of CNBC-TV18, a pro-business channel, reported from Ahmedabad recently, “The land of the Nano is not just hungry for investments, it is just plain hungry. Also, it fares even worse than Orissa.”

According to the first-ever India State Hunger Index there is not a single state in the country where hunger levels are low or moderate. In most, they are alarming. The index is a combination of three measures: calorie deficiency, underweight children and infant deaths.

Of 88 countries studied internationally, Indian ranks 66. And within India there are wide variations. The index paints a grim picture of Gujarat under Modi’s rule. The reports reveals that despite double digit overall economic and agricultural growth, Gujarat is 13th on the Indian list, below Haiti which is ranked 69. So despite double digit overall economic and agricultural growth, Modi’s “Vibrant Gujarat” is at the same level as Orissa.

The BJP’s drummer boys claim, “Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo.” They point out that the state grew at approximately 12 per cent in 2006-7 against India’s overall growth of about 8 per cent that year.

But what is so great about this statistic? In 1994-1995 Gujarat surged at the rate of 13.2 per cent. There was no Narendra Modi then. In the years 1994-2001, Gujarat’s state domestic product registered a growth average of between 10 and 13 per cent. There was no Modi then either. He stepped in only at the tail end of this period so obviously he has done nothing special.

On the other hand, despite decades of growth, as much as 93 per cent of Gujarat’s workforce still toils in the informal sector. This is why growth is not always development. In fact, on the Human Development Index, Gujarat fell one place in 2003-2004, and now ranks below Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In terms of rural prosperity, Gujarat is at number five and well behind Punjab, the front ranker.

There is more. Workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme in Gujarat receive half of what their counterparts get elsewhere. Interestingly, this fact was recently released by a Parliamentary Committee headed Kalyan Singh, once Hindutva’s poster boy.

According to Ernst and Young, hired by Modi as consultants for the Vibrant Gujarat conclave of 2005, in terms of investment climate Gujarat ranked behind Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and on par with Karnataka at that time.
In terms of Workforce Quality, the same professionals gave Gujarat a very average “B grade” as it failed to measure up on a number of counts. It may be recalled in this connection that the Asian Development Bank in 1996 had ranked Gujarat as number two in India in terms of its investment climate. But in 2005, it was rated at number five.

So it is obvious that it is Modi’s highly personalized executive style, rather than his gift for economic miracles that attracts India Inc. “They give as much thought to Gujarat slipping in the development index as they would a drain inspector’s report. What matters to them is the manner of delivery. Modi did not just give Nano shelter, but also readied permits for Ratan Tata in three days flat…Here is a man who can bend the law at will, but you have to be good to him. Sweetening politicians is easier than playing by the book,” observes JNU professor Dipankar Gupta, adding, “CEO’s now look at Modi just as the ancient Israelites must have looked at Moses.”

Not surprisingly they don’t give a damn about Modi’s abysmal human rights record. The latest statistics put out by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reveal that Gujarat stands third in the list of states of complaints about human rights violation.

According to Vijay Zala and Zahid Quereshi reporting for the Ahmedabad Mirror on March 16, 2009, “A total of 3,813 complaints of human rights violation were received from Gujarat. That’s a notch higher than Bihar, much maligned for its lawlessness.” Overall, Modi’s Gujarat ranked third in the rogues’ gallery.

The Ahmedabad Mirror reporters talked to noted human rights activists, police brass and representatives of NGOs to know how bad the situation was on the ground level. Among those who gave an insight into the human rights situation in the state were senior lawyer and rights activist Girish Patel, NGO Citizens for Peace and Justice’s Teesta Setalvad, senior lawyer Mukul Sinha and social scientist Achyut Yagnik.

According to Girish Patel, violation of human rights is rampant in Gujarat. “This is the only state where ‘state terrorism’ prevails, where encounter deaths, forced disappearance of people, custodial violence, misuse of POTA and illegal detentions are common.”

He said district magistrates in Gujarat invoke Section 144 for long duration, which is an infringement of citizens’ human rights. The Gujarat Human Rights Commission is left non-functional, which burdens NHRC with a lot of monitoring in the state.

Patel said civil and political liberties of people are being violated in Gujarat in the name of development. Many projects launched in the state have taken away shelter and means of livelihood of poor people. The Kankaria lake front and Sabarmati river front projects in Ahmedabad have displaced a number of marginalised people, who were promised rehabilitation but never provided.

He said Modi claims to make the state free of fear, corruption and hunger. But while the three scourges remain, what has gone is the state of being ‘free’. Coining a new term – Unfortunate Resident Gujaratis (URG) – Patel said that is what has become of the state’s people.

Teesta Setalvad encapsulated the human rights situation in the state. “The mismatch between industrial and economic progress of Gujarat and its abysmal human rights record only points at how low the level of human development index in the state is. People must be provided health care, education, employment etc for Gujarat to be truly vibrant,” she says.

Social scientist Achyut Yagnik said three sections — Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits — have all along faced atrocities and human rights violations in Gujarat. The frequency and intensity of atrocity on these sections have increased since 2002. “There are two Gujarats – the ‘aam’ and the ‘khaas’. Of the two, the ‘aam’ Gujarat has been suffering badly at the hands of the ‘khaas’ Gujarat,” he points out.

Senior lawyer and social activists Mukul Sinha said incidence of human rights violations have increased in Gujarat since 2002. “Victims don’t get compensation, legal aid and proper rehabilitation. Crime against women has also increased. And disturbingly, rights violation cases occur more in the developed areas of the state,” he observes.

Yet, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of this state, is actually being seriously promoted as the Prime Minister of India!

The likes of Prannoy Roy, Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai may think that Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi make for great prime time television. So besides giving the BJP the boot in these elections, it’s time right-thinking viewers gave these shameless media pundits the thumbs-down as well.

Roger And Out

Who’s Afraid Of The Third Front?

By Roger Alexander

Blessed are those who do not watch TV news channels or read newspapers, for they have missed nothing. Indeed, even as the month-long election process come to a close on May 13, newspaper readers and TV addicts alike remain clueless. This is not an election in which there will be winners and losers; this is a “game of numbers”, we are told.

The most important number – indeed the “magic number” – is 272. Any party that can can “cobble together” 272 MPs will form the next government. In other words, we are told the best cobbler will win.

So there’s a catch, and it’s called Catch 272.

No political party can claim it can win 272 seats on its own. Indeed, no pre-poll alliance can reach the magic number. So the media has gleefully job of the cobbler. And self-appointed pollsters/opinionators are busy dreaming up scenarios of post-poll tie-ups.

The easiest way to build castles in the air is to first knock the Third Front as a serious contender out of the picture. You see, if the Third Front is allowed to remain in the reckoning as a bloc, even if the Congress and BJP join hands they do not add up to 272 and therefore unable to form a national unity government, a concept that has fund favour with many commentators. You see, in this scenario the Left parties have no role to play; good riddance.

Rather than recognise the Third Front, our pollsters/opinionators are more comfortable with a category labelled “others”. In this discourse, it’s easier to steer “flotsam and jetsam” towards one or the other “national party”.

The high falutin “analysis” from the likes of Prannoy Roy and Rajdeep Sardesai is that almost all regional parties will happily join either the Congress or the BJP and some, like Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP or the AIADMK can do business with both.

In this scenario, even the Congress and BJP would not be averse to ditching existing allies and align with their opponents to reach the magic number, we are told. This is not rank opportunism, for long the hallmark of the so-called national parties, but a legitimate democratic exercise to form a “viable and stable government”.

What we are not told is that these so-called national parties do not exist in large swathes of the country. The Congress has virtually disappeared from the Gangetic plains. Mulayam Singh Yadav was willing to give Sonia Gandhi just 17 seats of the 80 from UP. Lalu Prasad was willing to concede just three of the 40 in Bihar. And Mamata Banerjee has parted with 14 seats (most of them “unwinnable”) in West Bengal that elects 42 MPs.

In Tamil Nadu/Puducherry Karunanidhi has allotted just 16 seats to the Congress from the state’s quota of 40 constituencies. In Maharashtra, once its bastion, the Congress is contesting just 25 of the 48 seats, the rest going to Sharad Pawar’s NCP. Together, these states send 250 MPs, i.e. nearly half the Lok Sabha’s strength. And this party and its cheerleaders in the media insist it is a national party.

Similarly, the BJP just does not exist in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. In Bihar it has to ride piggy-back on Nitish Kumar and in Maharashtra Bal Thackeray is its big brother. In Haryana its fate is decided via an alliance with Om Prakash Chautala and in Punjab, it has to be content with the crumbs that Prakash Singh Badal throws its way. Together, these states account for 256 seats, i.e. nearly half the Lok Sabha’s strength. And given its emasculation in Uttar Pradesh, one wonders what kind of national stature is the media talking about.

If you look at vote share, the Congress and BJP respectively attract around 25 per cent of the votes nationally; and in this election both parties combined will win less than 50 per cent of the votes. Yet both fancy themselves as the natural party of governance. And the cheering media is determined to perpetuate the myth.

However, voters are not buying this argument. Voters, more than the media, are acutely aware that India is a complex and diverse country. They have different loyalties and identities that drive their aspirations and actions. They may not have enough to eat, but they know that they have a vote in a country where electoral democracy is deeply entrenched and difficult to dislodge.

Not surprisingly, regional parties have grown from strength to strength in the last two decades, making coalitions an indelible part of the national political discourse. Remember, since 1996, a motley bunch has ruled from New Delhi. The NDA was an amalgam of around two dozen parties and the UPA’s survival was dependent on a similar number of allies. So why does the media scoff at a Third Front, which is also a potpourri in the same mould?

The most significant fact behind the rise of the Third Front as a serious challenger to the status quo the corporate media favours is that the bulk of people who have been adversely affected by neoliberal economic policies – workers and peasants, students and self-employed, those searching for jobs and those working at multiple jobs to make ends meet – are seriously looking for alternatives that can deliver.

The smaller regional parties have very different bases, perceptions, identities, ideals, political strategies and forms of organisation and mobilisation. Some of them have already been, or continue to be associated with fronts formed by one or the other of the two large parties. But the current evidence of the disintegration of these fronts is not without significance.

Among other things it indicates that the smaller parties recognise that the role and power of the larger parties is likely to be further constrained in the near term. Otherwise, the likes of Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan, Naveen Patnaik and Mulayam Singh Yadav would not have cut themselves from loose from the apron strings of the big parties, especially at this juncture.

This is what the current election is all about. The electoral outcomes in the past decade reflect the political churning that is going on at a furious pace. It continues apace and it is likely that it will throw up newer and different combinations of parties in power (who would have thought that the Congress would dump its myopic Panchmarhi Resolution to always go it alone in the dustbin of history?).

Indeed, what we are witnessing is a work in progress. The Third Front is a sign of a national polity that is emerging out of an immensely complicated reality, in a process that has taken several other countries much longer – often as much as a century – to complete. But we Indians are an impatient lot. We want it here and now.

For the likes of Congress and BJP spokespersons and their drummer boys in the media, democracy is only a game of numbers. It’s not about real people and their real lives or real problems; it’s not about the future of India and her children. But alas, even the numbers do not stack up for either the Congress or the BJP.

By my reckoning, the Congress will be lucky to get more than 100 seats and the BJP will manage to win a few more since it can boast of a few strongholds like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat whereas the Congress has none (yes Zero, unless you count the Andaman& Nicobar Islands where the party has only lost once since Independence).

I’m not making this up. Just over a month ago before the election process got underway (and before Lalu Prasad threw the Fourth Front bombshell) the then UPA was supposed to be winning 257 seats, well within striking distance of the magic 272 mark, with the BJP a distant second with with 210 seats and “others” with 76 seats. Game, set and match Congress, was the verdict.

In the last week of April, the figures were revised drastically. A headline in DNA, a Mumbai daily, said it all: “The ‘Others’ Are Back”! The breakup was: Congress+ 188, BJP+ 183, Others 172. Obviously, parties like the MNF, NPP, SDP, MIM, PMK, KC, ADMK, PRP, LCP, BNF, FPM, IFDP, JSS, JMM, PWP, PMK, TRS, UDGP will all be “kingmakers”.

And therein lies the rub.

Roger And Out

BJP denies tickets to quarter of MP MLAs

Nov 1, 2008

The BJP has denied tickets to nearly a fourth of MLAs in Madhya Pradesh, in its first list of candidates, reports The Economic Times. The list, announced on Friday, comprises 115 candidates, accounting for half of 230-member assembly. As many as 28 sitting MLAs, including one minister have been dropped.

Minister in the public works department, Narayan Prasad Kabirpanthi, has been dropped. He had contested from Naryaoli in the last elections and will be replaced by Pradeep Lariya. Of these 115 seats, the BJP had won 75 in the last assembly elections; 47 of the sitting MLAs have been given a ticket.

This exercise of letting go of MLAs to counter the adverse effects of incumbency proved to be succesful in Gujarat. The party has stuck to this formula in Chhattisgarh as well. It is expected that a similar exercise will be undertaken for Rajasthan.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the three poll-bound states where the BJP has been in power for the past five years. The BJP brass, in consultation with the local units, has decided to neutralise the damage by denying tickets to candidates whose report cards as sitting MLAs in the past five years were not found up to the mark.

In its first list the party has fielded 14 women candidates, 19 OBCs, 20 Scheduled Caste and 33 Scheduled Tribe candidates. Ram Pal Singh, who represents the Vidisha parliamentary seat, which he contested in a bypoll after he vacated his Budni seat in favour of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, is marking a return to state politics.

He will be contesting from the newly formed constituency of Shilvani. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan will contest from his home constituency of Budni. other notables who have been given a ticket are Sundarlal Patwa’s nephew Surendra Patwa from the Bhojpur seat, which he lost to Congress candidate Rajesh patel in the last elections.

Assembly speaker Ishwar Das Rohani will be contesting from the Jabalpur Cant seat.

Meanwhile, the Congress stuck to the quota script and awarded nominations to loyalists of powerful state leaders in Madhya Pradesh. While backers of Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Kamal Nath walked away with a major share, the party took care to guard political interests of Mr Arjun Singh, Mr Suresh Pachouri and Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia.

The first list of 117 candidates released by the Congress clearly indicated the party was adhering to the ‘quota system’ although there was talk of abandoning it.

Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Pachouri will not contest the assembly poll. Raghogarh, which is being represented by Mr Singh, has gone to his associate Mool Singh. Mr Singh was chief minister of the state for 10 years.

The list released by the party for the next month’s poll includes several former ministers and senior leaders including leader of opposition Jamuna Devi and former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav.

While Ms Jamuna Devi has been renominated from Kukshi, Mr Yadav will contest from Kasrawad. Mr Ajay Singh, son of Mr Arjun Singh, has been renominated from Churhat. Former assembly speaker Sninivas Tiwari is the party nominee from Sirmour.

Hazarilal Raghuvanshi, who is the deputy speaker, has been nominated from Seoni-Malwa. Among former ministers who have been given tickets include Satyadev Katare, Mahindra Bodh, Raghavendra Singh, Parvatlal Ahirwar and Radnesh Solomon, brother-in-law of former chief minister of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi.

Roger And Out

Sangh Parivar & BJP Can’t Disown Role In Terrorism

By Kavita Krishnan

29 October, 2008

No longer can the Sangh Parivar and BJP ever disown its role in terrorism. A former firebrand ABVP leader and so-called ‘sadhvi’, Pragya Singh Thakur, has been arrested for her role in the Malegaon blasts of September 2006 as well as in the more recent Modasa blasts. Even more ominously, two ex-Army officers are implicated in the blasts, and it has come to light that an institution called the ‘Bhonsala Military Academy’ in Nagpur has been imparting arms training to the Bajrang Dal.

Read the whole story:
Roger And Out