Next month's polls will
lead to Manmohan-Advani face-off
next round of assembly elections in five states, and also
possibly in Jammu and Kashmir, will be of high importance
for all the political parties for they will set the tone for
next year's general election.
of the two major protagonists - the Congress and the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) - emerges victorious in most of the states
will have the advantage of stitching up the alliance led by
it. The loser, on the other hand, may find that some of its
allies and would-be allies are drifting away from it.
the general election will be a contest between two major formations
- the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic
Alliance (NDA) led respectively by the Congress and the BJP
- the outcome of the assembly polls will give some idea as
to which of them has a better chance in next year's nationwide
even more than the prospects of the UPA and the NDA, the battle
of 2009 may also come to be seen as one between Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh and the BJP's prime minister-in-waiting, L.K.
Advani. In fact, this will be the first time in Indian politics
that the electorate will see a virtual presidential-style
confrontation between two individuals in addition to the routine
contest between the two major parties.
the general election will see a direct fight between the UPA
and the NDA, the assembly polls, which are being billed as
the semi-finals, will be mainly a head-to-head tussle between
the Congress and the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,
Rajasthan and Delhi. In Jammu, the BJP would like to see (if
the elections are held) whether the recent Amarnath controversy
has bolstered its position.
in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the BJP's fear
is the incumbency factor as it has been in power for the last
five years with nothing much to show for it. But to what extent
the Congress will be able to exploit any popular disaffection
is open to question because the party does not seem to be
too energetic at the moment in any of these states.
shows its lethargy more than the fact that it has failed to
implement its own advice to finalise the party's list of candidates
at least 45 days before the elections. This recommendation
was made by the A.K. Antony Committee after the Congress'
defeat in a string of elections, including Karnataka, Uttarakhand
and Gujarat, but it was apparently quickly forgotten.
reason why the Congress has always found it difficult to finalise
the lists is the conflicting demands of its factional leaders.
Madhya Pradesh, for instance, has a fair number of them -
Arjun Singh, Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia
- all of whom often work at cross purposes.
Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, however, it doesn't have any such
heavyweights. Neither Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh nor Ashok
Gehlot in Rajasthan answer to this description. The Congress
has to depend almost solely, therefore, on the incumbency
factor to unseat the BJP.
Congress also faces the same factor in Delhi. But its hope
apparently is that Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's frenetic
efforts to turn the national capital into a world class city,
as she says, before the 2010 Commonwealth Games will bear
fruit. The ceaseless construction activity that has enveloped
all of Delhi is something which was last seen (though on a
smaller scale) before the Asian Games of 1982.
is noteworthy, however, is that even in the assembly polls,
much of the campaigning will be on issues that will dominate
the general election later, namely, terrorism, inflation,
the nuclear deal, anti-Christian violence et al.
the Congress is concerned, the last two may well prove to
be its main talking points even as the party hopes that the
prices will show a downward trend. Following the anti-Christian
outbreaks in Orissa, Karnataka and elsewhere, the Congress
will probably expect a consolidation of Christian votes behind
it. But this may not apply to the Muslims in view of the feeling
that the terrorist attacks have led to a targeting of Muslim
localities by the police, breeding frustration and anger among
the insecure residents.
the Congress has stoutly resisted pressure from the BJP to
enact a stringent law on the lines of the Prevention of Terrorism
Act (POTA), which was open to abuse, especially in the BJP-ruled
states, this show of restraint does not seem to have won it
any admirers among the Muslims. At the same time, the Congress'
attitude has enabled the BJP to accuse it of being soft on
the BJP's hopes of deriving electoral mileage from terrorism
have been undercut to a considerable extent by the attack
on Christians and the burning of churches in which the BJP's
fraternal organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
and the Bajrang Dal have been implicated.
is more, their violence has been tacitly endorsed by the Rashtriya
Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which is the head of the saffron
brotherhood, including the BJP, on the grounds that it was
an expression of "Hindu anger". Similar views have
also been aired by the BJP's president, Rajnath Singh.
impact the campaigning on these points makes on the electorate,
the Congress will have to watch out for the Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP), which may well play the spoiler in these elections
by taking away the Dalit votes from it. Similarly, the BJP
may face some difficulty from its former firebrand leader,
Uma Bharati, who has pockets of influence in Madhya Pradesh.
these swirling political currents, there is little doubt that
the semi-finals will be a riveting affair, leading up to an
Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)