There is IPL like ambience to the current political scenario in the country, thanks to a series of elections to various state assemblies – some of which have already been held in February, while others would be conducted in due course of time – right up to the year’s end. 2014’s first quarter will witness the grand finale in the shape of the Lok Sabha elections. No wonder, every “match” is being taken seriously by the various “players/teams”; as a victory will send them inching towards the top of the table, and a loss would decrease their chances of figuring in the finals. The two national parties – the BJP and the INC – are marshalling their manpower, and other resources (including propagandists and spin-doctors), to score requisite (brownie) points.
Until recently, the Indian National Congress had been toying with the idea of staying with its traditional left-of-the-centre position. However, sensing that the newly powerful middle classes are not exactly appreciative of such populism, the UPA-2 has decided to get out of the policy paralysis. Consequently, things have begun to look up once again. The inflation rate is flagging, the industrial output has begun to increase, and the government is showing enough will to actively pursue the legislating of the Companies Bill 2012, which would replace the almost six decades old Indian Companies Act, 1956, and thus facilitate corporate governance on more contemporary lines. It is also seriously pursuing various bills relating to banking, education, pension, micro finance institutions etc. So, even as Modi talks of development, the UPA has been quietly engaging with vital reforms of various development related institutions and instruments.
Unfortunately, outside of the parliament, the INC has been rather laidback in projecting its progressive image vis-à-vis economic and industrial development. This has enabled Modi to steal the thunder by focusing on Gujarat’s impressive showing, and presenting himself as the Great Saffron Hope to the development hungry Indians. If you listen to Modi, you would think that Gujarat is the only state that has done well. States like Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have been no less impressive, but the media seems to be entranced by Modi’s hype. Nevertheless, this has had an important political fallout.
The Sangh Parivar is increasingly feeling obliged to anoint Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 polls, relegating veterans like LK Advani, and the more liberal and erudite Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj to the standbys’ status – in case Modi is not acceptable to other NDA allies. The JD (U) Chief and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has already made his stand clear vis-à-vis Modi’s expected anointment. Unimpressed with the latter’s secularist-developmentalist shibboleths (of course, subtly couched in saffronite demagoguery), Kumar is aggressively positioning himself as the messiah of the minorities and society’s other deprived sections. He is also showcasing his achievements in Bihar’s governance and development. Although the BJP’s reaction has not been too incendiary, the party bosses are not exactly applauding Nitish Kumar’s sallies into the Parivar territory.
With the Karnataka polls fast approaching, and elections to five more states due during this year, political gamesmanship has certainly begun to sizzle. There are speculations galore vis-à-vis political (re)alignments. Already, political parties have become overly conscious of their respective constituencies. Governance and corruption related issues have underscored the saffron versus secular debate. Will the Karnataka election results set the trend for other state assembly elections later in the year? Would these, in turn, become indicators to the outcome in the 2014 parliamentary elections? Going by the tone and the tenor of the current political discourse, this is what is being expected. Therefore, even as caste and community based calculations would be factored in while choosing alliance partners as well as party candidates, governance and corruption may well become decisive. To hark back to cricketing parlance, the “horses for courses” phrase is becoming increasingly appropriate to the unfolding political processes – not only in Karnataka but at the national level too. Muscle and money power would, as always, play decisive role in betting on a horse for a particular course. You can bet on one thing though – while various party bosses may ignore commitment to party ideology, they may feel impelled to factor in individual track record and personal character, thanks to the increasingly intensifying media focus and the consequent increase in public awareness.
At the macro level, since the Third Front can be taken as defunct ab initio, the 2014 polls will remain a two-horse race. Or, perhaps, we should say two-chariot race with each chariot pulled by six or more horses. Now, which horse will be harnessed to a particular chariot will depend upon the factors enumerated above, plus political expediency of course. Presently, both the alliances – the UPA and the NDA – are facing rather unruly partners trying to pull in different directions, intent upon breaking loose. The DMK, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party are currently testing the management skills of the INC’s troubleshooters. On the other hand, the NDA is not sure whether the Janata Dal (U) would be the only troublesome partner, what with AIADMK’s Jayalalitha’s capacity to spring surprises at the last moment, and BJD’s Naveen Patnaik keeping the cards close to his chest while spasmodically spouting secularist verbiage. The Shiromani Akali Dal is the only party that is presently supportive of the BJP-led alliance, but it too has not unequivocally endorsed Modi’s Prime Ministerial candidature.
And, now the final question. Who will be the Maharathi (great charioteer) of each grouping? In the INC, Sonia Gandhi will certainly play the sarathi’s role, but who would be donning the warrior’s wherewithal? Rahul Gandhi has already demurred. Manmohan Singh, in his usual understated mien, has not ruled himself out. But, would it be P. Chidambaram finally? Whatever be the case, at least there is no infighting on the issue.
On the other hand, Modi has to contend with other warriors – three of them already named above. There is one more potential rival, who might well prove to be the dark horse; or should we say, the warrior capable of shooting bolts from the blue? He is suave, well versed with statecraft, and a party veteran who can be tough and straightforward as well as pragmatic and soft, depending upon the situation. No guesses, really. His name is Rajnath Singh. Watch out for him in the run up to 2014.
Published in The FinancialWorld dated 18 April 2013