Monday, 18 May 2009

Why the Lok Sabha results make me happy in spite of making me unhappy

My prediction about the seats for the BJP were way off the mark. I predicted around 150 but the BJP managed just 116 seats. But, do I still have reason to rejoice? Yes, I do and here's why:

1. The Right didn't win. But, nor did the Left. The good news: If 2004 saw the Left's best ever performance, 2009 saw its worst ever. Mauled by the fiery Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, India's red bastion of three decades crumbled. The Left won in just 15 of the 42 seats in the state and its net tally came down by 20. In its other bastion Kerala, it won just 4 of the 20 seats. Its countrywide tally of 24 is its worst ever.

2. Mulayam Singh's SP lost its opportunity to be kingmaker. Its UP tally dropped by 13. It is now down to just 22 seats. And even as the Congress indicated that it may not need the SP's company, Amar Singh met the PM and offered support. As if he had any other choice. Out of power in UP, the Samajwadis didn't want to lose out on the clout in Delhi too. The good news: Parties that want to ban English and computers are out.

3. Out goes Mayawati from the power corridors of New Delhi, at least for 5 years. The good news: Leaders who want to erect statues of themselves all over the place, build nothing else but memorials and whose partymen routinely kill people who are unable to contribute to party funds are out. Mayawati's party may have increased its net tally by 2 seats but at 21, it is nowhere near the 40 - 50 that most analysts were predicting. (Even I had grudgingly given 30 seats to the BSP in my analysis but had made it clear that I would not want her in any seat of power in Delhi.)

4. Laloo and Paswan, two blatantly casteist leaders are out and Bihar can get to see some good governance under Nitish Kumar. Paswan's LJP won no seat with Paswan himself losing. Laloo Yadav's RJD did a tad better than LJP. It won 4 seats even as its tally dropped by 20. The good news: This is the best news that the people of Bihar can ever get.

And yeah, so I'm one happy man today!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Anti - Hindi goes for a toss

Well, political parties in Tamil Nadu may rake up the anti - Hindi agitations of the 1960s every now and then but clearly they are no longer 'anti - Hindi'.

First, Jayalalitha spoke in fairly fluent Hindi while campaigning for Mulayam in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections of 2007. She attacked Sonia Gandhi over Quatrochi. Her pet slogan was ' E hai Mulayam is vatan me, Ek hai chanda jaise gagan me,.' (There is one and only one Mulayam just like there is only one moon on the horizon.) A small clipping of her speech be found at here.

Then came Karunanidhi, who considers himself to be the protector of the Tamil race. He quoted a Hindi couplet on communal harmony after a backlash over his comments on Ram. Earlier arguing in favor of the Sethusamudram Canal Project, Karuna had called Lord Ram a drunkard and questioned his 'engineering expertise to build the Ram Setu'. A video showing Karuna reciting the couplet is here.

But, while the politicians themselves speak in Hindi when it suits them or when they have to please their northern allies, they lose no time in recalling the protests of 1960s whenever they feel they are losing ground to the other before elections. However, Jaya has always been a bit more soft towards Hindi. Even in a recent panel discussion on the news channel Times Now, her partyman Maitreyan began his answer to anchor Arnab Goswami's question in Hindi. This video can be found here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

BJP & NDA's prospects in 2009

As has been said many times over, the 15th Lok Sabha elections this year will be he sum total of state elections. So, let's now take a look at the BJP's poll prospects in 2009 state-wise.

Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal

We start with India's crown Jammu & Kashmir. BJP may be an untouchable in Kashmir but will most likely win both the seats in Jammu keeping in sync with its performance in the Assembly elections last year riding on the Amarnath agitation wave. Then, in the hill state of Himachal, BJP is likely to win 3 of the 4 seats riding on the development agenda of the Prem Kumar Dhumal government.

Punjab and Haryana

Punjab is not going to be so easy for the BJP - SAD combine because of Parkash Singh Badal's family politics. (Shiromani Akali Dal chief Badal is CM, his son Sukhbir Badal is Deputy CM, his nephew is finance minister. Plus, his son-in-law is there in the cabinet too. And, Sukhbir's brother-in-law (Sukhbir's wife's brother) is a minister too.). The BJP - SAD combine won 11 of the 13 seats (SAD - 8 & BJP - 3) last time. This time, they may win around 6 or 7 (BJP - 2 & SAD - 5) if the Sikh anger over Congress works in favor of the combine. In neighboring Haryana, the BJP is now allied with the INLD unlike in 2004. The Congress government of Bhupinder Singh Hooda seems quite fine on the issue of development but the alliance might just help the BJP better its score of 1 in 2004. In 2009, I predict the BJP - INLD combine to win 6 seats, with both parties sharing the honors equally.


Then, comes the NCT of Delhi. In 2004, the BJP had one just one of the seven seats. V. K. Malhotra had won the posh South Delhi Lok Sabha seat, largely due to the Punjabi vote. In fact, the victory was a foregone conclusion. But, post - delimitation, South Delhi is no longer that posh seat and has large chunks of urban villages from the erstwhile Outer Delhi constituency. And even Malhotra is no longer in the fray. But, the Sikh anger over 1984 may lead to the party winning a couple of seats this time around, especially after Jarnail Singh's shoe throwing incident at Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

UP and Uttarakhand

Before we look at Uttar Pradesh, we'll look at the other hill state of Uttarakhand that has 5 seats. Here again, CM B. C. Khanduri's development agenda will get the party at least 3 of the 5 seats. Now, we go to UP. BJP would surely love to do a 1996 or 1998 in UP. Those were the years when the Ram wave swept the state and the BJP walked away with 50 of the 80 seats. Now, there is no such Ram wave. But, there are other factors that will favor the BJP. Firstly, the Brahmin - Dalit alliance of Mayawati is beginning to show cracks. And, people have begun to see that the dalit ki beti is as good as Mulayam. The criminal - politician nexus and jungle raj, that Maya promised to replace, continue and government officials who refuse to contribute to BSP funds are murdered. This has led to disenchantment among the people. Secondly, the Congress and SP are fighting alone. Thirdly, the BJP has now a new NDA partner, the RLD that is somewhat of a force in Western UP. (RLD is contesting 7 seats.). Fourthly, Muslims are disenchanted with SP due to its alliance with Kalyan Singh and more so, because senior SP leader Azam Khan is openly in revolt. This may split the Muslim vote further between the SP, BSP and Congress and also a new group called the Ulema Council that has put up candidates in some seats. Fifthly, the so - called Varun effect may consolidate the BJP's core votebank. In light of these factors, BJP may end up winning around 20 seats bettering its 2004 tally by 10. The RLD will pitch in with 3 or 4 seats.

Bihar and Jharkhand

In the other big state of the Hindi heartland Bihar, the BJP - JD (U) alliance is expected to do well riding on the goodwill of CM Nitish Kumar who has given Bihar good governance after two decades. The JD (U) is expected to win at least 15 seats and the BJP around 7 to 8 seats. In Jharkhand, the BJP is expected to do well too after Shibu Soren's loss of credibility. The BJP is likely to win 8 of the 14 seats and the JD (U) may chip in with one or two.

Orissa, West Bengal and Assam

Then, we have Orissa. The BJP - BJD alliance has split and BJP is contesting alone. Naveen Patnaik in alliance with the Left and NCP may win around 10 of the 21 seats and the BJP will win 2 or 3 seats. Of course, the result for the BJP would have been better had the two fought together. Then, in West Bengal, Jaswant Singh may get the BJP its lone seat in this state if the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha manages to ensure his victory from Darjeeling. In West Bengal, the Congress and Mamata Bannerjee's Trinamool Congress are fighting elections together. For the first time, this Left bastion of three decades has been challenged. This time, one can expect he TMC to win around 12 seats. Post 16th, the Left and Congress are likely to have a deal leaving the TMC open to join the NDA again. After West Bengal comes Assam. In Assam, the NDA partner this time is AGP. Last time, the two had fought separately. Here again, the Muslim vote is likely to be split due to a new coalition of Muslim parties, the Assam United Democractic Front (AUDF). The tally from Assam is expected to be BJP - 5 and AGP - 5.

The other BIMARU states (Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh)

Ah! We suddenly moved eastwards from UP and left out two of the BIMARU states Rajasthan and MP. So, we again go back slightly westwards to Central India's Madhya Pradesh. In 2004, BJP won 25 of the 29 seats from MP. This time, it is expected to do well again barring some minor losses. This can be attributed to the low - key but hardworking CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. I believe the BJP will win at least 20 seats this time riding on the development mantra that was demonstrated in the BJP victory in the Assembly polls last December. Same is the case with the new state of Chattisgarh. Chouhan and Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh are two of the most hardworking BJP CMs who also manage to maintain their low-key profile. The BJP won 10 of the 11 seats from Chattigarh in 2004. Now, they may win at least 8 if we account for a minor anti - incumbency that is bound to set in after 5 and a half years of a BJP state government. We head to Rajasthan now. In Rajasthan, the BJP won 21 of the 25 seats last time. This time they may win just about 10 to 12 after having lost the Assembly polls last December.

Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa

From Rajasthan, we cross over to Gujarat. This BJP bastion let the party down in 2004. BJP won just 14 of the 26 seats last time. This time, expect the party to pull up its socks and win at least 18. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena - BJP alliance and the Congress - NCP alliance are most likely to share the spoils equally. This means, the BJP - Shiv Sena will get about 24 of the 48 seats with both parties sharing the honors almost equally. In Goa, the BJP and Congress are likely to win one seat each from the two up for grabs.

BJP's Southern Star - Karnataka

Forming the Karnataka government has been the BJP's way of shedding its baggage as a Hindi heartland party. But the question is if the BJP's star will deliver in 2009. In 2004, the BJP got 18 of the 28 seats. This time, it may get around 14 or 15. This may increase if Yeddyurappa's honeymoon with the electorate is not over yet.

Tamil Nadu (and Pondicherry)

The BJP is a marginal player in a state where being Dravidian counts. And to top it, it has no proper ally. Its allies include Subramanium Swamy and actor turned politician Sarath Kumar who are also marginal players. Safely, we can expect the Congress - DMK alliance to be battered at the hustings. And Jayalalithaa's alliance comprising of AIADMK, PMK, MDMK, CPI and CPI(M) is expected to win at least 30 of the 40 seats in TN and Pondy of which the Leftists will have 4 to 5 seats. But, the remaining 25 are with JJ, who can very well migrate to the NDA. It will also be interesting to see how actor Vijayakanth's DMDK fares in its maiden Lok Sabha election.

The BJP is unlikely to win any seats from Kerala. Here, the Congress will make gains at the expense of the Left.

Andhra Pradesh

This is another state where the Third Front currently exists as a 'Mahakootami' (Grand Alliance) of the Telugu Desam, Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), CPI and CPI(M). But, cracks have already appeared with the TRS attending the NDA's unity rally in Ludhiana this week. Expect the TDP to win about 20 of the 42 seats and the TRS to win about 5. While the TRS has already almost crossed over into the NDA fold knowing the BJP's track record on small states, the TDP may need some prodding before it follows suit. As a party that thrives on anti - Congressism, it cannot do business with the Congress. So, the BJP, being a marginal player, suits its agenda. Again, here, one should look out for how actor's Chiranjeevi Praja Rajyam fares in its maiden Lok Sabha election.

Rest of the Northeast and UTs

The above discussion has covered about 525 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. It has left out the north-eastern states (except Assam) and the Union Territories (except Pondy) that account for one or two seats each. Even without discussing them, we get an almost good idea of the NDA's poll prospects.

Going by my predictions, the existing NDA (i.e. BJP, SAD, Shiv Sena, JD(U), RLD and INLD) may get around 190 seats with the BJP getting around 150. If the TDP-TRS, AIADMK - PMK - MDMK, Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal decide to go back to the NDA's fold, we might have L. K. Advani at the helm of affairs. This is the only possibility for the NDA. And, even this looks difficult. Let's see why:

1. While the TRS will easily crossover, the TDP may not want to go back to the "communal" BJP. Same is the case with the Trinamool or BJD.

2. AIADMK's JJ has no such compulsions. But, she knows that she can make the DMK minority government in TN fall by just aligning with the Congress. No Article 356, No dirty play, simple withdrawal of support to the DMK government by the Congress.

But, though difficult, it is not impossible and some bargaining will definitely ensure that Mamata, Jaya, Naidu and Patnaik come on board.

Another possibility (something I don't like) is that the BJP can try and get Mayawati's BSP (with around 30 seats) on board. But, she is likely to be make quite a few unreasonable demands, that may be difficult to fulfill. She may demand to be made Deputy PM or Home Minister. And, then where would we be? I'd rather have the BJP in the Opposition than Mayawati as Deputy PM. The thought of a Lutyen's Delhi peppered with towering statues of empress Mayawati and BSP symbol elephant is .... well, leave it. Even thinking about it makes me shiver.