The ambivalence has never been greater than that at the present. As the year of elections is about to start in May and end most probably May 2014, the inability to read which way the wind is blowing, which parties would emerge winners in state elections and whether the UPA 2 could be back for the UPA 3 rule of another five years, or its regional party supporters would decide whom to support, or the BJP would pack up UPA and the coalition partners and stitch a new coalition under its leadership, is all very irksome.
The best of philologists are avoiding all predictions. Neither print nor electronic media has any surveys done of the likely coalition taking over at the Centre. They have in recent months done polls for the leaders preferred for being Prime Minister. In all these polls Narendra Modi has got the first slot and leads Rahul Gandhi at the second by huge margin. But this is no indication of which party will form a coalition. For instance, even if BJP gets 150 or 160 seats and Congress secures only 50 to 60 seats, the chances of all other parties in the name of secularism joining the Congress to form a coalition is more likely.
So prediction is possible for the Centre. The other reason for ambiguity is that even for state assembly elections any prediction is not possible. Although all, Karnataka in May and then in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan in November are all politically vital states.
Compounding the confusion is the uncertainty about when elections for Parliament would be held. The schedule is for May 2014 at the latest. But Sharad Pawar a heavyweight politician and a member of the Union Cabinet said that early election was possible since the UPA had become vulnerable post-withdrawal of DMK. Mamata and Mayawati too have been saying that parliamentary polls could be held early.
The politically astute Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, who always bats for himself and who is in an evident hurry to prepare the ground to head the next government or at least be able to play a role in the formation of the new government, is the only one who has given a particular time—November. This means just a little six months are left.
“I have come to know about a confidential report which says that elections will be held in November.” He indicated that the Congress wanted elections in November. This could be so. There had been discussions in the inner circle of Mrs Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi whether the general election be held along with the state assembly elections or when it is due in May 2014. The argument in favour of holding it with the state elections was that if the Congress did not do well in the states it would reflect badly in the parliamentary elections in 2014.
But if the UPA does not ask the President to call fresh election and Parliament is dissolved, Yadav is the only person apart from Mamata Banerjee to benefit from an early general election. The law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh where Yadav’s son Akhilesh is the Chief Minister is deplorable. If then general election is not held early and the present law and situation persists, one wonders how many parliamentary seats Yadav’s party is able to win. The situation is bad in West Bengal as well, but very cleverly Mamata has been taking care of her vote bank. BJP, Left and DMK would prefer that it is held in 2014. They are not fully geared for election, especially the BJP, presently having both internecine and leadership strife.
The early November parliamentary elections would take place if either the UPA asks for it or Yadav withdraws his support. He has been hinting about it but rather cleverly he has not been giving any date by which he would withdraw his support. He dropped enough hints that he could be changing course—berating the Congress as a “party of cheats”—and bringing the Third Front politics back into play.
The Congress strategists are watching his moves. On landing in the Capital after the BRICS summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “I cannot deny that such possibilities exist but I am confident that government will complete full five years and elections will take place at the scheduled time when the government’s term ends next year.”
The SP chief is clearly thinking of how his party can gain from the emerging situation and an early election and described them as “most important” to his party cadres. Yadav seems to be keeping a close watch on the Congress and taking his cue on the next elections from the party’s moves. Sources have indicated that the Congress party, expecting a win in the Karnataka elections scheduled for May, is keen to make the best of the favourable election climate instead of waiting for more difficult state elections to be held later in the year. But what is making it difficult for Yadav to withdraw support is that he is unsure whether the UPA government would definitely fall. There is every possibility that the Left might support from the outside or even the BJP abstains from any motion of no-confidence. It is not interested in early election because as said earlier its internal troubles and strife have not ended.
In such an ambiguous situation, nothing can be predicted. At the most, one can guess, logically, that the 2014 schedule is likely to be kept. Combining general election with that of states could harm Congress the most. Its sole all-India-campaigner is Rahul. Except in Delhi and to some extent in Madhya Pradesh, Congress does not have a credible state leader to help Rahul. Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are very vulnerable. And even if Congress wins in Karnataka, its impact would not last long. And in any case a favourable impact of winning in Karnataka could be swamped and negated by the expected catastrophic outcomes for Congress in Andhra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, if not in Delhi.
The presumption that Congress would lose in most if not all states going for polls in November is based on the state-wise analyses. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje is an indefatigable campaigner who is far ahead of the present Congress leader and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. She is generally expected to take power away from Gehlot.
In Madhya Pradesh the incumbency factor notwithstanding, the present BJP’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, despite in his second term, is popular. The Congress is expected to put up Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is clean too. But both being wise and on the acceptability scale, Chouhan could score over Scindia.
In Karnataka, if the BJP’s win and that of Yeddyurappa’s party in the recent urban bodies election is joined, the total comes to be equal to seats held by the undivided BJP in the state. So even if the Congress—which is without a leader of mass appeal—gets more seats as expected but Yeddyurappa agrees to help the BJP form government—another unknown factor is what price Yeddyurappa would demand—Congress could be left frustrated. Sources said Narendra Modi through various channels is trying to persuade Yeddyurappa to join hands with his former party and lead the campaign. The bait is said to be the gaddi of Chief Minister.
But in the case of Yeddyurappa’s declining to help the BJP, Congress, if it uses both Lingayat and Vokaligga caste leaders, is sure to take Karnataka from the BJP. So uncertainty prevails and the outcome depends on several ifs and buts.
In Delhi, Sheila Dikshit is a good campaigner but not only there are her rivals in her own who would like to see her defeated, her credibility is low due to serious graft charges. Kejriwal’s party too is expected to win good number of seats. The BJP has a weak leader in Vijay Goel who was made president under the pressure of Advani. The party is further burdened by factionalism in the state unit. It is thus again impossible to predict whether BJP can secure more votes than the Congress.
It might. Dikshit is tainted with several charges against her and her detractors in the party would have no hesitation in revealing to media any information that further taints her credibility. The BSP too would surely put up candidates in select constituencies. Her candidates would have almost the same vote bank as AAP candidates. So again the political climate is so uncertain that no prediction is possible.
Such uncertainties, however, do not bother the people on the street, who are facing tremendous pressure of ever-rising prices, the upward mobility of crimes like rapes and other security problems. They are troubled by corruption that affects their everyday life. Harried and harassed people want a radical change of the ruling coalition, especially the Congress, which being the lead party is blamed for all the ills.
The young over 40 per cent of the population are ambitious and aspirational, they want decisiveness and good governance, both not provided by the UPA 2. They are also angry at the scale of corruption that has tainted so many ministers.
So the outcome of polls might remain ambiguous but what is certain is that people want change at any cost. What the change would be is also under wraps. What a state to be in. And if the social media is to influence 160 Lok Sabha seats, the prediction of the parliamentary election becomes more confounding. The twitter war between the Congress and the BJP is expected to hot up to the point that it could become personal. But the pro-BJP facebook users and twitterati are far more experienced, and could test the patience of the novice NSUI and Youth Congress operators. Their’s battle in fact could be more entertaining to follow than the hum-drum of actual election.
Summing up the year ahead seems to be one of uncertainties of surprising results and in which many would fall and many would rise.
The political scene in 2014 could be drastically different. Hopefully, the Indian polity undergoes positive changes and men of probity become part of the new ruling junta. What nags is the fear that all this is too much to wish for. Unscrupulous men are well entrenched and they have the money and means to keep good men at bay.
The only way such men can be routed is if voters rise above caste and communal politics. It seems to be happening, not many seem concerned about secularism, the facade of several parties including the Congress.
There is no debate or impact of talks about secular parties and fascists. Because the election is taking the presidential style, Modi vs Rahul, these represent many common dreams but their styles are different. The people would vote on the basis of what each represents. The bogey of 2000 has been exploited for too long. In 10 years a new generation has come up, with new goals and ambitions.
By Vijay Dutt
(The author is former London-Correspondent, Hindustan Times)