Indian Elections–Who Stands Where?

elec.jpgWhilst the race for the US President has narrowed down to a contest between “a black man and a woman”, the latest in Indian politics is that the Congress has denied the possibility of early General Elections even though their tone and tenor suggests otherwise. However, given the ‘Big Brother’ politics of the Left Front who may decide to bring down the government anytime, an early election is not all that distant a possibility. Even if held as scheduled, the elections are not that far, as this time next year the nation would be voting for its next government. If elections were to happen today, it needs to be seen who stands where.

Elections in India are not about the Congress and BJP anymore. Following the trend of coalition politics, it is between the Congress-led UPA, the BJP-led NDA, and the cluster of the smaller parties forming the UNPA.

Today, no section of the Indian population seems to be opposed to the current UPA government and this is not only because of the budget for the current fiscal, as portrayed by the media. The truth is that the government has followed similar low-tax policies in all its successive budgets. By the successful implementation of the NREGP, the RTI, the strengthening of the Domestic Violence Act, and the Midday Meal Programme, it has lived up to the public’s trust. Their only challenge is to combat or justify inflation. Perhaps UPA’s biggest strength is that an anti-incumbency wave has not yet set in.

Apart from this, another advantage of the UPA is that the Congress today is the single largest national party in Indian politics, and this is being said quite objectively. The BJP needs to reform its position in national politics, having to sort out internal conflicts within the party and also iron out differences with its allies. The newly formed UNPA comprises the smaller parties whose interests are primarily regional. It would be ironic to have Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav addressing similar issues. Hence, the role of the UNPA at the centre remains debatable.

Analyzing the scenario at the state level would, however, yield a differing observation. In the Assembly Elections held in states such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura, the Congress has witnessed a defeat. On the other hand, the BJP silenced its critics by its landslide victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Regional parties have an advantage that they are backed by the support of the states they belong to. Here, I do not refer to Mayawati’s UP victory. It is a well-known fact that elections for the Uttar Pradesh legislature are influenced by the anti-incumbency factor, which sets in every time. Thus, Mayawati’s victory in UP was quite over hyped. The Left Front has firmly placed its feet in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, and can always safely rely on the vote bank it enjoys in these states. At the end of this year, assembly elections are due to happen in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Whilst the BJP suffers from the anti-incumbency factor in the first four, the Congress’s chances in the last are fairly negative.

Responding to her party’s loss in the recent assembly elections of the north-east, Mrs. Gandhi admitted that this result was disappointing and called for stronger leadership to address this issue. She seems to have understood the problem spot on, as the problem with the Congress is its weak leadership. The party continues to bank on the Gandhi family name, and the family continues to be bigger than the party. Despite being the only political party with young, charismatic leaders like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Schindia, the Gandhi family scion, Rahul, seems to be the only member projected as a ‘youth leader’ (though a 37-year old in any other field would have to be going through a mid-life crisis to call himself one of the youth!). I do not debate the fact that the Nehru-Gandhi family has produced the strongest leaders India has had and concede that this should be marketed, but the party would also need to decentralize its decision making process much more, and market its policies more aggressively. It, unfortunately, has no prominent leaders at the state level.

All the same, the party seems to be waking up to this, with the usually demure Manmohan Singh giving a speech in Parliament which impressed even his critics, and has probably made the leader of the opposition reconsider his opinion of Singh being ” the weakest PM India has ever had.” The past few days have also seen Sonia Gandhi aggressively campaigning to market the Congress’s loan-waiver among farmers.

On the other hand, the BJP’s L.K. Advani, despite being aggressive, is a very weak successor of the well-respected and brilliant A.B. Vajpayee. The UNPA has a number of strong leaders, of the various parties, but multiple leadership is a different problem altogether. The alliance may finally split over an indecisiveness to unanimously choose a leader to lead it.

Citing the above, the Congress is probably the strongest contender today, but the coming days could just throw up the unanticipated. Underestimating the others would be, thus, in haste.

Rohan Sandhu


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