Cool response of local leaders casts shadows on BJP prospects

The political pundits across India are busy in analysing the outcome of the first phase of the massive elections, which sealed the fate of 91 prospective law makers across 20 states and Union Territories. The voting for Assembly polls also took place in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and some seats in Odisha simultaneously. Any prediction of the poll outcome is difficult on the basis of the electorates’ behavior, which  appears to be more intriguing this time.

Its reasons could be attributed to the style of campaigning, which have failed to trigger off intensive political campaigning at the grass-root level amidst noisy, if not irrelevant election debates on various media channels. However, it is obvious that the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) dominated National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not facing the challenge from its political rivals, but the apathy of its party workers mostly from the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS).

Many believe that the cool response of these party workers enabled the Congress Party, which lacks party infrastructure at local levels, form governments in the erstwhile BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Rajasthan, the victory of the Congress Party was already predicted due to the poor image of the erstwhile chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who despite some efforts could not be replaced by the BJP leadership before the state polls.

The 2014 Lok Sabha polls was fought during a visible decline of the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the emergence of a reinvigorated BJP under Narendra Modi, who then had already established himself as the undisputed leader of the country’s most prosperous state Gujarat. Modi’s frequent interactions with the non-resident Indians across USA and Europe had enabled him to raise huge funds for his election campaigns. This time, however, BJP has raised huge funds through election bonds, now under the Supreme Court scanner. The political challenge for the ruling party has become formidable due to the poor governance accompanied by rampant corruption in the state like Uttar Pradesh, where a novice has been installed to rule the state having hardly any administrative experience. The attempt to compensate for this inadequacy through rhetoric could not cut much ice in the constituencies adjacent to the national capital New Delhi, NOIDA and Ghaziabad.

The apathy of the voters was also visible in the BJP-ruled Uttara Khand, where the voters’ turnout was only 57.85 per cent for the state’s five Lok Sabha seats. The low polling in Bihar with 50 per cent voting for four seats indicate that the grand alliance or mahagathbandhan could not assert against the NDA. In UP, the result are difficult to be predicted, because for eight seats 63.69 per cent voting where two central ministers General (retired) V.K. Singh and Mahesh Sharma, are fighting for their political survival. The 81 per cent voting on the two seats of West Bengal may be indicative of polarization in the state on communal lines.

The electorate is witnessing an assertive fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Indira Gandhi clan, Rahul, who despite many derogatory campaigns in the social media, has emerged as a converging point for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi was immensely benefitted by the speech of the then Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi describing Naendra Modi as maut-ka- saudagar –the man who is responsible for the death of innocent people, or someone in the ruling party calling him chaiwala or a tea vendor. Rahul and his supporters in private conversations express their gratitude to the dirty politicking cell of the ruling party for making false and irresponsible comments making him a central figure in the country’s political stage.

There was heavy polling during the first phase except in a few areas of Jammu and Kashmir, where the electorate dared the terrorists and case votes. The polling was 35 per cent. It was much more than expected in the strife-torn region. Except the killing of a sitting legislator of Chattisgarh in the Naxal-infested district of Dantewala, the electorate from the cool Jammu-Kashmir and the vast north-eastern region comprising Arunachal to the warmer climate of coastal Andhra Pradesh, the polling was peaceful.

The Election Commission of India on March 10, 2019, had announced a seven-phase elections schedule for the Lok Sabha polls.The second phase polling across the country is to take place on April 18, 2019. The three states Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar and West Bengal will be voting during all the seven phases of the ongoing elections.

The second phase on polling in UP will witness polling in Mathura, where film star Hema Malini is contesting again on the BJP ticket along with Agra and Aligarh. The three constituencies in West Bengal that will include Darjeeling and five constituencies in Bihar will vote on this day. These states elect as many as 162 Lok Sabha members. UP alone sends 80 members to Lok Sabha. The states of Bihar and West Bengal elect 40 and 42 seats respectively.

Odisha polling

The southern Odisha, the Naxalite-infested districts comprising Koraput and Malkangiri have been covered in the first phase of polling. The voters’ behavior in these areas, which were a part of the Madras presidency during thirties, differ with the rest of the state. The polling in first phase in four Lok Sabha constituencies and 28 Assembly seats were conducted peacefully, while in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh a BJP legislator was killed.

It took place in Koraput, Nabarangpur, Kalahandi, Berhampur Lok Sabha constituencies and 28 Assembly seats under them. The para-military troops were deployed formore than 60 lakh voters are to exercise their franchise in 7233 polling booths. Out of them 2375 booths have been identified as critical polling booths. In Malkangiri, the EVM were transported by helicopters.

In this region, the main fight is between Biju Janata Dal and the Congress Party. The BJP could not dent in these tribal areas. It has presence in the coastal districts only. However, at Jeypore, the business hub of the Koraput district, BJP is trying to woo voters, but it could not make much impact so far.

Changing mood

The poll strategists of the ruling BJP, who must have been worried due to the apathy of the party volunteers in some parts of UP, feel elated from the much better response from the coastal Andhra Pradesh and a part of Odisha. In spite of clashes in Andhra Pradesh in which two people were killed, BJP is confident that it is going to have a presence in this coastal state with its ally YSR Congress. It goes to the credit of BJP leadership that it ended its alliance with TDP to reap bigger political gains in the state, where the perception is that Sonia Gandhi has deliberately ensured its bifurcation, and Jagan Reddy was falsely implicated in false cases by the UPA government.

Jagan’s father, YS Rajsekhar Reddy, had died in a helicopter crash within a year of being elected as the chief minister of the state. He had trounced TDP by his aggressive pro-farmer policies, but he lost favor of the Congress high command. Even before the mortal remains of YSR were brought back, people started shouting Jagan as our CM, which many thought was Jagan’s screenplay, but whatever by the evening of September 2, 2009, more than 90 MLAs signed asking for Jagan as CM. Jagan was very young at that time, may be 36 years. The Congress leadership ignored him and appointed Konejati Rosaiah as the CM. This led to dissent among Jagan and the loyal followers of YSR, who felt their leader was cheated. They established Party or Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), which is now an ally of BJP.

The polling trend in Andhra Pradesh (25 seats) and Telangana (17 seats) of more than 66 and 61 per cent must have satisfied the BJP leadership of their intensive campaigning and poll alliances in these states.

Interestingly, the BJP, which is considered to be a rightist pro-Hindu outfit, has a progressive face in the Andhra Pradesh. The Christians in the coastal districts too endorse BJP, may be due to its alliance with Jagan’s party. The same political rise for BJP is not visible in Tamil Nadu, where its alliance with the ruling party has so failed could not make any impact on the electorate. Both DMK and AIDMK are using Hindi banners and pamphlets to woo these new voters. However, it is difficult to predict that the voters in the state will support the Congress or BJP in near future.

Northeast

At Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, the BJP has set up a huge party office, which indicates that it is ready to replace the Congress as a main political outfit in this sensitive state. It may not be able to win the Lok Sabha seat from the state, but it is quietly percolating down by enrolling a large number of volunteers in this pre-dominant Christian state. During the first phase of polling Mizoram and Manipur witnessed a voters’ turn out 60 and 78.2 per cent respectively. These states elect one seat each to the Lok Sabha.

The large number of voting in Tripura to the tune of 81.8 per cent for its one seat may go in favor of the ruling BJP, which had trounced a left party regime in the state polls. In Sikkim, BJP has hardly any presence. There was 69 per cent voting for its one seat to the Lok Sabha. The heavy polling of 78 per cent in Nagaland reflects the changing mood of the electorate in this strife-torn stare. In Arunachal, BJP may reassert its position for two seats, where polling was more than 66 per cent.

Black Money

The Election Commission has succeeded in unearthing more than 2600 crores, which included 607 crores in cash, liquor worth 198 crores, drug and narcotics worth 1091 crores, precious metal worth 486 crores, freebies & other items worth 48 crores.

The seizure of 11.5 crore in cash at a cement godown in Vellore district by the IT investigation wing on Monday appears to have confirmed the Election Commission’s worst fears about the influence of money in the Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu. Intelligence agencies have estimated that more than 10,000 crores could be pumped in by various political parties into campaigning and for bribing voters in TN and Puducherry before the second phase of polling on April 18.

The country may witness more drama and mudslinging in the ongoing polls of the Lok Sabha Elections, which are being conducted in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 this year.

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Parties in UP try hard to woo voters after low turnout in Phase 1

Priyanka Gandhi’s Road show in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh faced frontal confrontation with hooting slogans chanting “Modi-Modi” by BJP supporters but Gandhi scion displayed unusual calm and patience by just smiling and showering flowers and garlands on them. The spontaneous reactionary gesture of “Gandhigiri” stunned and silenced them. Such approach to handle agitated masses were reminiscence of Indira Gandhi era when she pacified the agitated students of JNU who had shown her black flag and raised slogans before her to “go back” but after a function was over she went to students and solved their problems then and there.

Now her campaign entered into second phase of electioneering where in Fathepur Sikri her party’s stalwarts Raj Babbar is pitted in a triangular contest with BJP and BSP nominees. In this phase, UP will witness polling in Mathura, where film star Hema Malini is contesting again on the BJP ticket. Agra, Hatras, Bulanshahr, and Nagina are reserved constituencies for scheduled castes and Congress has pitched Prita Harit, Triloki Ram Diyankar, Bansilal Pahadiya and Omwati Devi Jatav are trying their luck on Congress ticket and Priyanka Rahul have planned to address public meetings in all these areas to regain its support base that was eroded with the rise of BSP. Massive Road shows are planned in the areas from 15th April in this belt. In Agra Prita Harit is posing tough battle for sitting BJP minister SP Singh Baghel, who entered into the saffron politics just on the eve of 2017 assembly elections.

The first phase of polling witnessed very low turnout of voters as compared to 2014 elections and just recorded 63.69 percent, which suggests that this time it was not a retaliatory polling despite best efforts of political leaders by delivering provocative speeches. In this phase, the fate of union ministers and former Army chief Gen VK Singh and Union Minister Mahesh Sharma have hung in balance.

The electioneering in the first phase of elections has taken much hype after big rally of prime minister Modi in Meerut. In this phase eight constituencies — Saharanpur, Meerut, Kairana, Muzzafarnagar, Bijnor, Bagpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar (NOIDA) by and large peaceful polling concluded on 11th April, 2019. In this Jat-dominated area the prestige of Union ministers Mahesh Sharma and Satpal Singh, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant, Congress leader Imran Masood, Harendra Agrawal and former minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui is at stake. Rahul-Priyanka, Modi-Yogi and Akhilesh-Mayawati all the players have done extensive campaigning in the area but political analysts feel that the combination of SP-BSP headed for an edge over voters in first phase.

The election commission of India has taken cognizance of Yogi jibe of “Modiji ki Sena” and Mayawati’s communal remarks to woo Muslim support as violation of model code of conduct but spare them with just a warning.   

Political temperature in Uttar Pradesh is gradually running high with all the major stakeholders in national polity are busy in securing their future from this most crucial heartland state that accounted for largest numbers of seats in Lok Sabha in the 2014 elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power in 2014 by securing 71 seats out of 80 and crushed prospects of all his rivals, even his fellow aspirant colleagues, who were optimistic of their chance in event of a hung parliament. 

BJP continuing with its campaign thrust around avenging surgical air strikes in Balakot in wake of Pulwama attack killing 40 soldiers and successful launch of an anti-satellite weapon system (ASAT) by DRDO- “Mission Shakti”- achieving the ability to cripple enemy communications and reconnoiter systems severely during war, and blind the entire military of an enemy force. “The entire gamut behind it appears to be dodging the burning issues by trickery-tactics,” feels political analyst Sharat Pradhan who foresees gigantic gains for brand Modi behind such moves.

Launching blistering attack on Congress and SP-BSP-RLD alliance Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Meerut termed it as “Mahamilawat” and cornered them for questioning “Mission Shakti,” an anti-satellite weapon system that brought India among the elite space club of the world’s super powers.

Attacking dynastic politics and corruption among regional parties Modi said their popularity graph as hero is running high in Pakistan then here by asking evidence of air strikes. 

“Does this country need heroes of India or heroes of Pakistan? Do we need saboot (proof) or sapoot (good sons)? My country’s sapoot are my biggest saboot,” Modi said, referring to the row over the impact of Balakot strike on February 26, in retaliation against the Pulwama attack. He also cornered Mayawati for selling out state-owned sugar mills at throw away prices and non-payment of cane growers dues left behind Akhilesh Yadav to the tune of Rs35,000 crores that BJP government cleared after coming to power in the state. Touching the sentiments of cane grower belt, he highlighted how his government has sent pension to around two crores farmers in their respect.

Despite such pitching narratives, the hot battle for 2019 elections in Uttar Pradesh is not looking just a cakewalk for Modi this time, as he has to answer more questions than he fired salvos in last elections and thereafter. This time he has to face completely changed caste chemistry and political scenario in wake of alliance of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) and resurgent Congress Party proactive with new face of Priyanka Gandhi questioning him from the ground for his ambitious electoral promises, policies and achievements. The situation is heading for largely triangular contest baring a few tactically left seats for post electoral alliances. 

Congress party has rearmed it with a game changer sort of step on the lines of its successful previous loan waiver policy brought just ahead of 2009 general elections. The party chief Rahul Gandhi has come up with a new plank of populist measure of minimum income guarantee scheme. The scheme envisaged to cover nearly 25 crore poor people in the country who will get financial assistance of 72,000 per annum if the party is voted to power. The new ambitious minimum income guarantee scheme has been named as “Nyay.”

Rahul Gandhi termed it as “a final assault on poverty.” “Minimum income line” is 12,000 per annum and the scheme will benefit individuals earning less than that,” he explained. He further claimed MNREGA the rural employment guarantee scheme introduced by the UPA government, and said that it had taken 14 crore people out of poverty in its first phase. The NDA government has reduced its budget allocations resulting in huge unemployment. Similar ideas have been gaining popularity world over to eradicate poverty known as a universal basic income (UBI) scheme. 

The caste-ridden communities dominate elections results in most populated state of Uttar Pradesh. It harsh reality that alignment of caste leaders with political party brighten their winning chances on the strength of support from their communities. But despite caste and communal fragmentation the people having extreme political consciousness as it displayed lead role in the freedom movement of the nation sacrificing many lives for the cause and they are democratically alive citizen. Even congress stalwart Indira Gandhi lost 1977 Lok Sabha polls after she proclaimed emergency and snatched fundamental rights of the citizens.

Right from rise of the forces of “Hindutava” to the downfall of Congress rule in the state in 1989, since then the state has witnessed various models of consolidation and disintegration of votes in the name of religion, castes and communities.

The Congress party use to rule the state on the core strength of Dalit, Muslims and Upper castes votes, but of late its vote share scattered among regional parties like SP-BSP emerged as champions of their causes and Muslims too split away from it after Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya during Congress led Narshimha Rao government in 1992. Thereafter Congress party could never comeback to power in its grassroots bastion.

Mulayam Singh Yadav aggressively campaigned and surprised everyone by entering into electoral alliance with Dalit crusader Kanshi Ram’s newly formed Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But this combination could not survived long and that pave the way for BJP to flourish its base in Uttar Pradesh to gain political power.

Political observers feel, “Had the combination of OBC (including Yadavs), Muslims and Dalits continued it could have effectively checked the saffron upsurge in the state to attain formidable power. But it broke down very soon over pity differences between Mayawati and Mulayam and ultimately on 3 June 1995 his government fall after deep scars of State Guest House episode.”

Mayawati assumed power with the help of BJP and the alliance broke down during Kalyan Singh’s regime. Politics is always pregnant with possibilities and nothing is impossible in politics. The new generation of Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav tactfully patched up differences with BSP chief Mayawati and reentered into pre-electoral alliance of 50:50 each leaving just two seats for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Now the re-alliance between two estranged political rivals is on the test of public scrutiny, as it will be interesting to see how it works down the grounds as their grassroots workers were at loggerhead.

 Ironically, in Uttar Pradesh, both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati clan and close aides are under the net of CBI and Enforcement Directorate, for allegedly accumulating “unaccounted wealth and money laundering” by acquiring disproportionate assets as compared to their known source of income. Recently entertaining the a fresh application of Vishwanath Chaturvedi, the apex court headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogai and Justice Dipak Gupta issued returnable notice within two weeks to CBI to place status report before the court with regard to disproportionate assets of Mulayam Singh Yadav, his sons Akhilesh and Prateek in pursuance to its orders to CBI.

The apex court by its judgement and orders dated 13-12-2012 directed that CBI may take such independent action, as it considers fit, on the basis of the inquiry conducted by it pursuant to the directions given by the apex court in the judgment after review. The court also insulated CBI from extraneous factors by directing it to function without seeking any direction from the Union of India or on the basis of any direction that may be given by it. On the other hand, the apex court had dropped the case against Dimple Yadav as she was not associated with Yadav family at that point of time.

Just ahead of crucial elections for the survival of political supremacy, the troubles for Yadav clan appears to be over till elections as Supreme Court directed the CBI to file an affidavit within four weeks on the records to place status of the case instead of oral submissions. The ball is in CBI hands against Yadav clan, which has to take a call whether to register a regular criminal case against them under section 154 Cr.PC after assessing evidential material collected during preliminary enquiry or drop it because CBI has to place its status report of its investigations before the apex court within four weeks from 12th April. The court had directed CBI in 2012 to take independent action without seeking any directives from Union government but it failed to take the allegations against them to a logical end, after inordinate delay of more than six years.

Similarly, the disproportionate assets case against Mayawati is pending before the apex court and has not come up for hearing since long but tax and enforcement officers have repeatedly putting pressure on her by raiding and questioning her close relatives and officers. Political circles believe that such moves proved instrumental to uproot the prospects of congress party to stand united with secular opposition parties against BJP. However, once again destiny played vital role in uniting SP-BSP and forging pre-poll alliance that was beyond the imagination of common people.

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Priyanka is all set to play a national role

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress’ star campaigner is certainly not going to remain confined to Uttar Pradesh, the state under her charge, but is all set to play a national role and travel all over the country countering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s blitzkrieg.

“We have been flooded with requests from almost every state unit that Priyanka should campaign there. We are working out the details,” a senior AICC functionary involved with Priyanka’s campaign said adding that Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are certainly on the cards.

Incidentally, she addressed her first public speech on March 12 after becoming AICC general secretary in charge of UP East at the Congress Working Committee meeting in Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Another big event is planned in the western state, said the sources.

Priyanka, who is considered to be a natural politician and bears a striking  resemblance to her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, is already making the right moves and creating waves around her persona and the Congress party. Her deployment is being seen by party strategists as adding fire power to the nationwide campaign led Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. Party sources said Modi will it hard to hit back at Priyanka the way he attacks Rahul, who is trying to counter the PM’s narrative of muscular nationalism with his concept of justice for all (Nyay).

“Priyanka is the brain behind the Nyay concept and is explaining it to the voters…she is connecting with the women voters by holding small sessions with them and telling them that they are at the centre of Nyay,” said a senior party insider.

The proof of her popularity, said party sources, is the buzz generated around Priyanka in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh since she launcher her campaign through the highly publicised boat ride from Prayagraj to Varanasi from March 18-20 to target the eastern UP which was traditionally the party strong hold.

So far her campaign has been full of symbolism. Be it the stay at the historic Anand Bhavan in erstwhile Allahabad, the home town of Nehrus, to a boat ride from Prayagraj to Varanasi to highlight PM Modi’s failure in cleaning the river Ganga over the past five years and the pain of people residing along the river bank. During her subsequent road shows in Faizabad and Fatehpur to Ghaziabad, Bijnor and Saharanpur in western UP, enthusiastic crowds have brought immense joy to the party strategists who hope to reap a good electoral harvest in the coming weeks.

“Out of these the Faizabad-Ayodhya and the Saharanpur road shows were very successful in terms of voter turnout. While the former one was a Hindu majority area, the latter had a mix of Muslim and jat population. The message is clear…people want a change,” said a senior UP Congress leader. 

True to her style, Priyanka, who introduced Rahul to voters of Amethi in 2004, has been supporting her brother all along. Be it the launch of party manifesto for the 2019 polls on April 3 in Delhi where she urged the youth to read the document carefully to describing her brother as the most courageous man she knew after the Congress chief filed his nomination from Wayanad parliamentary constituency in Kerala on April 4 or accompanying him to the collectors office when he filed nomination from Amethi on April 10. In between Priyanka also dropped subtle hints that she may fight the polls from Varanasi against the PM pushing the BJP managers into a frenzied guessing game. However, insiders said Priyanka fighting the elections is unlikely as it dilutes the focus away from her national campaign. 

Congress insiders said Priyanka knows the field well and has been choosing the issues to slam the BJP carefully. Be it reminding the present generation about the former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi while attacking the BJP for not respecting all martyrs alike to poking fun at PM Modi’s 2014 promise of converting Varanasi into Kyoto city of Japan, she has been speaking her mind.

She took a jibe at the PM to defuse his focus on Pakistan by saying that Modi visited US, China and Japan and ate biryani in Pakistan but did not have the time to visit a poor family in his parliamentary constituency. Old timers recall how she hit back at Modi when as the BJP prime ministerial candidate in 2014 he was attacking her husband Robert Vadra over alleged corruption charges and the Congress party was not sure how to counter him. “Her sharp rebukes silenced Modi..the PM knows that she should not be provoked unnecessarily and has advised his party leaders accordingly,” said a leader.

Displaying awareness of local issues she tweeted to express solidarity with the farmers who lost their crop in the recent untimely rains and hail storm.

Priyanka’s deployment is clearly seen as the Congress response to the regional parties BahujanSamaj Party-Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal who came together to counter the BJP but chose to drop the grand old party from the alliance. Priyanka’s entry has unnerved the mahagathbandan partners who thought the Congress with just 2 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 7 of the 403 assembly seats in 2017 polls, was a walkover in UP.

In 2014 elections, the Congress had won only Amethi and Rae Bareli, represented by Rahul Gandhi and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, respectively, while the BJP had won 71 seats. Sources said Priyanka wants to change perception about the party as she unfolds her vision for an alternative politics which goes beyond the caste ridden equations in the state.

The nervousness among BSP chief Mayawati and SP boss Akhilesh Yadav has showed in their recent comments that the Congress’ renewed aggression had made the UP contest three-cornered which may end up helping the BJP.

Besides the Lok Sabha polls, she has set her eyes on the next assembly polls in UP in 2022. In her numerous interactions with party workers in the hinterland areas Priyanka has been chiding party workers to work hard for the 2019 national elections but also prepare for the 2022 battle. Priyanka’s mission is clearly aimed at reviving the party in the state, where the Congress has been out of power for the past 29 years, and sending the right signals to the political rivals.

“The deployment of Priyanka is bringing us the benefits…it will hit the mahagathbandhan as Muslims want to support the Congress at the national level and may support the regional parties in assembly polls,” said a Congress strategist.

Commenting on Priyanka the leader this leader said that she does not operate on massive daises like Modi and even addresses public meetings where the gathering is small. “She is not looking at a big show. She goes by people’s affection and trust. For instance, one or two meetings had lesser crowds than expected in Fatehpur constituency but she went on,” said the leader.

Priyanka who is seen charming the voters during roadhshows and greeting them with folded hands, never loses an opportunity to take a selfie for the youngsters. Moreover, she personally receives feedback from variety of sources and patiently listens to people who approach her.

The critics however still question if the buzz around Congress will get votes for the party. “We were lacking mainly on having a direct communication with the voters and could not present the Congress as an alternative. People see her as coherent. We hope the fence sitters will be attracted towards the Congress,” said a senior AICC functionary.

“Besides, Priyanka’s entry has reenergised the party workers and their morale is up,” he said, adding membership enrolment via the application Shakti has gone up manifold after Priyanka’s entry.

Poll observers said the Congress is not a cadre-based party and works more like a mass- based system. “It fights on issues… Priyanka’s charisma will get us the votes,” said a leader.

Party insiders said the Priyanka had always been in favour of the go alone line espoused by Rahul but played a key role in sewing up the alliance with the SP ahead of the 2017 UP assembly polls as most MLAS favoured the tie-up. However she is determined to do everything possible to reboot the Congress in UP which sends the highest (80) members to the Lok Sabha. And certainly if there is a post poll situation where the Congress can work together with the mahagathbandhan allies to keep the BJP out of power, Priyanka the strategist will have a role, said the party insiders.

For the past many years she has played a back room strategist role and has advised her mother and former party chief Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul on the poll campaigns and even in selecting candidates for the party.

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Supreme Court verdict is a big boost to investigative journalism

A journalist’s unraveling of the truth is a way of working in the best interests of society and this is for what Tehelka stands for. The Supreme Court’s recent verdict to consider the relevance of Rafale deal documents published in media is as such a big boost to investigative journalism. It was only in December that the Apex Court had dismissed a petition that alleged ‘commercial favouritism’ in the 59,000-crore Rafale deal sealed in 2016 with France for buying 36 fighter jets.  The unanimous judgment by the three-member bench, led by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, is a welcome verdict.

The Supreme Court has overruled the objections that it should not take cognisance of ‘stolen’ documents. The Ministry of Defence too objected to the review petition saying that it would amount to putting classified information in the public domain. The Court has observed that the test of admissibility of evidence lay in its relevance.  The Court observed that there was no provision in the Official Secrets Act under which executive could ‘restrain’ publication of papers marked as “secret”. The objections over the admissibility of some documents, earlier alleged to have been “stolen” and then found to be “photocopied in an unauthorized” manner, have been overruled. 

There were claims of privilege under the Evidence Act and threat of invoking Officials Secret Act, but the Court relied on the principle that how a piece of evidence is obtained is immaterial, as long as it is relevant to adjudicating an issue. The decision on the admissibility of the documents points to the rights of a free press and underscores the significance of public interest. The judgment also makes it clear that the Official Secrets Act cannot be invoked to escape legal scrutiny on matters involving public interest.

The onus of leaks, would be on the one who leaked the documents and not on the media houses that choose to publish these. It is not important how the documents were procured but merits of the documents. Raising the bogey of national interest to stall judicial scrutiny will never work. Earlier in a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court had sometime back upheld freedom of speech on internet and struck down draconian law — Section 66A of Information Technology Act, which police has used indiscriminately to arrest persons who criticize government and political leaders and earn their wrath. The Court found the law to be ambiguously worded, prone to misuse and, therefore, stretched far beyond the “reasonable restrictions” criterion laid down under Article 19( 2) of the Constitution”. In view of the Supreme Court  judgment, the government should welcome scrutiny as the final judgment on the merits of the Rafale deal is still to come.

Remembering a dark chapter of British rule

This volume focuses on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, through a selection of hard hitting prose and poetry, penned by our literary giants — Saadat Hasan Manto, Mulk Raj Anand, Krishan Chander, Bhisham Sahni, Abdullah Hussein, Sarojini Naidu, Mohammad Iqbal, Josh Malihabadi, Nanak Singh and several other stalwarts. Each essay and verse tucked in this volume brings back those haunting memories of unarmed innocents killed in that shockingly brutal way. Though a century has passed by but not those imprints and memories. After all, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was so very lethal that it would always stand out. Who can forget the fact that 1650 rounds were fired on the unarmed, in a matter of ten minutes, blocking all possible exits, preventing all possible interventions …as though killings of the hapless was the sole agenda of the killer, Dyer. To quote academic Rakhshanda Jalil , from the introduction to this volume- “On 13 April, at 1.30 pm, Dyer learnt from Mr Lewis, the manager of the Crown Cinema, that a meeting was going to be held at the Jallianwala Bagh despite prohibitory orders. Accompanied by his Brigade Major, Captain F.C. Briggs, in one car, and J. F. Rehill, Superintendent of Police and R. Ploomer, the Deputy Superintendent in another, Dyer reached the Bagh by 5.30 pm. He was accompanied by fifty Gurkha and Baluchi soldiers…Placing 25 soldiers each on either side of a raised strip near the entrance, Dyer ordered his men to fire: 1650 rounds of 303 marks were fired for 10 minutes. He issued no warning and continued firing even as people ran towards the exits. He directed fire where the crowd was at its thickest and also towards the exits. Of the estimated 15,000 people present in the Bagh, between five to six hundred died and approximately 1500 were wounded. Dyer left as abruptly and swiftly as he had arrived. No arrangements were made to rescue the wounded who lay soaked in their blood all night since a curfew was in place from 8 pm to 6 am. Only a handful of people ventured into the Bagh in search of their loved ones; many of the wounded died during the night … ” I could go on writing about this massacre, as details stand out …leaving one numb with pain and sorrow. Perhaps, this verse of Sarojini Naidu titled — Panjab 1919 – tucked in the pages of this volume, relays much —

“How shall our love console thee, or assuage/ Thy hapless woe; how shall our grief requite/The hearts that scourge thee and the hands that smite/ Thy beauty with their rods of bitter rage?/ Lo! Let our sorrows be thy battle –gage/ To wreck the terror of the tyrant’s might/ Who mocks with ribald wrath thy tragic plight,/ And stains with shame thy radiant heritage!/ O beautiful! O broken and betrayed!/ O mournful queen! O martyred Draupadi!/ Endure thou still, unconquered, undismayed! / The sacred rivers of thy stricken blood/ Shall prove the five -fold stream of Freedom’s flood,/ To guard the watch-towers of our Liberty.”

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Mahabharata 2019 Begins

At the forefront of the opposition is Rahul Gandhi who is leading the exuberant Congress party, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati who have formed an alliance of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party with Rashtriya Lok Dal. West Bengal has Mamta Banerjee, while in other states, regional parties are waiting to play a significant role in national politics.

Voting for 91 constituencies in the first phase of 2019 Lok Sabha elections has already taken place in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh that are crucial among 20 states and union territories that went to polls on April 11. The BJP facing a tough contest in all the seats due to the alliance of Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal. The Congress is likely to cut into votes of both the BJP and the combined alliance.

In Bengal, 18 candidates are contesting from two constituencies and the main parties are the BJP, Congress, TMC, and Left. Andhra Pradesh, still smarting over the bifurcation of Telangana, was all set for what appeared to be a tight contest for its 175 assembly seats and 25 Lok Sabha seats in the first phase. In Bihar, four Lok Sabha seats had polling.  The second phase would be on April 18.

During the first phase, a man died in violence while glitches in Electronic Voting Machines were reported from several states. Sporadic violence was reported from Andhra Pradesh, where a worker of the Telugu Desam Party died after a clash in Anantapur. The Chief Election Officer of Andhra Pradesh admitted that 362 Electronic Voting Machines were malfunctioning.

The Phase 1 saw polling in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Lakshadweep. It witnessed polling in 25 parliamentary constituencies in Andhra Pradesh, 2 in Arunachal Pradesh, 5 in Assam, 4 in Bihar, 1 in Chhattisgarh, 2 in Jammu and Kashmir, 7 in Maharashtra, 1 in Manipur, 2 in Meghalaya, 1 in Mizoram, 1 in Nagaland, 4 in Odisha, 1 in Sikkim, 17 in Telangana, 1 in Tripura, 8 in Uttar Pradesh, 5 in Uttarakhand, 2 in West Bengal, 1 in Andaman and 1 in Lakshadweep.

Besides national parties like Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress, regional parties are also a force to reckon with. To begin with, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh that has formed an alliance will prove to be a forceful third front in the state. Then there is Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha and Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in Sikkim that has strengthened their grasp with multiple successive terms in the respective states.

On the eastern front is the formidable Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) that are fighting against the ruling party, while there’s Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party in Meghalaya and Atul Bora’s Asom Gana Parishad in Assam that has joined forces with BJP for the Lok Sabha polls.  In Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena is in coalition with BJP, while Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will fight the ruling party. Another formidable contender in the upcoming elections is N Chandrababu Naidu and his party the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh. In Telangana, K Chandradshekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Smithi (TRS) and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are also forced to reckon with.

The election fever has reached its crescendo with Bharatiya Janta party, the Congress and regional parties raising the poll pitch. Some alliances have been formed and some are on the way but electioneering has already begun on a high note. It is at this time that in his blog post published on March 21, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley wrote, “I have repeatedly maintained that a fundamental difference between truth and falsehood is that truth holds together and falsehood falls apart”. To each fake campaign of the ‘Compulsive Contrarians’ over a period of time, ultimately the truth has prevailed. Either it is the electoral mandate or the judicial process which gives the final verdict.

Important UPA Ministers and leaders coined the vicious theory of ‘Hindu terror’ during the UPA Government. The ‘Compulsive Contrarians’ adopted it. It was an effort to distract attention from Jehadi terror. It was a conspiracy to give a bad name to the otherwise liberal majority community in India. On terrorism, Hindus were drawn into equivalence. Terror is alien to the Hindu culture. In fact, it’s alien to India’s legacy. We are amongst the few successful nations in the world which have managed to overcome terror and insurgency in several parts of the country. Not a single Indian has ever been arrested or killed in attempting a blast or terrorist violence across the border.

In a series of incidents across the country during UPA-1, an effort was made to invent ‘Hindu terror’. In one case, the actual terrorists were arrested. Upon rethinking by the Government, a charge-sheet was filed against a set of individuals belonging to the

Hindu community and completely contradicting the earlier investigation. In the Samjhauta Express blast, the US State Department and the United Nations kept indicating a certain Jehadi organisation and individuals responsible for the 2007 blasts at Panipat. However, it was considered by the then Government as a ‘Hindu conspiracy’. Yesterday’s verdict by the Court has judicially put the last nail in the coffin of the so-called ‘Hindu terror theory’.

Godhra train fire

The burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra in 2002 was an attempt to instigate social and communal tension in the State. The accused in the case were identified. There was voluminous evidence available. The accused were arrested at different points of time, charge sheeted, their bail applications were rejected right up to the Supreme Court. Many of the accused were convicted earlier and an accused arrested subsequently has recently been convicted by the trial court.

Many ‘Compulsive contrarians’ who had made a career out of creating social tensions in Gujarat started contending that the burning was self-engineered by either the State or the Kar Sevaks. In the most irresponsible act of the UPA Government, the Ministry of Railways under Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav selected, without consultation of the Chief Justice of India, a retired Supreme Court Justice, UN Banerjee, as a Commissioner for Railway Enquiry.

The Judge willing to oblige the Government and its political interest, submitted a report that there was no burning by the mob and that the fire had taken place from inside the compartment where the Hindu pilgrims were. I regard this subversion of evidence in order to cover up the heinous crime as the worst stigma on the UPA Government and its Prime Minister. Such a report had no evidential value. Yesterday, the trial court, after perusing all the evidence, has convicted one more accused.

Nirav Modi Arrest

Nirav Modi started cheating the Public Sector Banks in 2011. It was a continuing crime. His crime was detected in 2018 by the. Banks and investigating agencies under the present Government. His assets have been frozen, are being auctioned, a criminal prosecution against him have been filed, recovery action for the dues owed to the banks and creditors are being pursued. He is alleged to have been escaped from one jurisdiction to another.

It goes to the credit of our investigating agencies that they were pursuing him. On our request, he has now been arrested and denied bail. There is a strong unanswerable case against him and hopefully, India will get him back. Whoever cheats India and its institutions cannot get away. He will be found out. This also busts the fake campaign that the present Government had anything to do with him.

There is an inherent danger in relying only on fake issues. They crack up and collapse as three of them did yesterday. I hope the manufacturers’ of fake campaign learns some lesson. They don’t seem to be considering their brazen attitude.

In another blog post, Arun Jaitley wrote that conventional print media followed conservative norms.  Every ‘news’ that a reporter brought was checked and verified. Due care and caution was taken. Documents were perused, alternative versions were taken and then a ‘news’ which cast aspersions against individuals, was published. Television liberalised this conventional view. The race for TRPs has led to every news becoming a ‘Breaking News.’ 

Today there is a complete breakdown of ‘Breaking News.’ The social media has discarded these norms altogether. For many in social media, this rule has been abandoned. They believe that norms have become anachronic. Defamation is a right and the ‘targets’ reputation is irrelevant. If the right to publish is a part of free speech, equally the right to live with honour and reputation is an essential ingredient of the Right to Life. Both are Fundamental Rights. One cannot override the other.

Experiments with falsehood

An experiment with falsehood was attempted in the Godhra train burning case. A ‘fire from within’ theory was created. In the Ishrat Jahan case, a successful operation against Lashkar-e-Taiba module mastermind by the intelligence and security agencies was passed on as a political operation. These were the precedents that ‘caravans’ of modern-day falsehood seek to follow. 

They now get ample support from ‘falsehood perpetrators’ from the ‘Liars on the Wires’ and the digital. Their bread and butter depend on falsehood. The campaign in the Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi cases, Rafale and the non-existent loan waivers are prime examples of this in recent days. Jaitley wrote that he was personally saddened when a media organisation which had come out with distinction in Bofors investigations, became a perpetrator of the Rafale falsehood.

From falsehood to forgery

It is evident from media reports that politicians, amongst others, who stocked and distributed unauthorized cash have also been targeted in the campaign against black money. Media had reported that it was a search on a Congress leader which has found detailed notings in his diary. The diary, amongst others, entails the payments made to members of the preferred family of the Congress Party. 

A search on another Congress leader at multiple places made significant revelations. Media reports indicate that his informal accounts dealing with cash were discovered. During the search, as per CBDT statement, photocopies of loose sheets were provided by the Congress leader claiming this to be BSY’s diary. 

The authorities, as per the statement of the CBDT, go to the root of the matter. BSY played it fair and straight. He offered his handwriting and signatures to the authorities for verification. The Congress leader started distancing himself from the documents. He would not authenticate nor confirm its veracity and not part with the original. The documents appear to be a self-serving forgery of the Congress Party and its leader. 

Faced with odds on a daily basis, the Congress Party needed to distract from the self-goal created by Sam Pitroda. He had questioned the Air Force’s targeted attack at Balakot. The ‘caravan’ of falsehood was ready for a ‘Rahul Bailout’.

The forged and fabricated photocopies manufactured and provided by the Congress Party were passed off as BSY’s diary. A channel which claims to have earned the ‘trust with viewers’ endorsed the falsehood. The newspaper which earned credibility with Bofors and lost it with Rafale, headlined the forgeries. Earlier it had sliced and half printed a Rafale document.

Falsehood and forgeries can never influence a poll.  Just as voters are wiser than politicians, they are also wiser than those who ride on the ‘caravan’ of falsehood and forgeries.

Arun Jaitley questioned, “Is the Congress Party Now Paying the Cost for its Dynastic Character?”  He said that had consistently held the view that dynasties owning political parties is an unfortunate phenomenon which has accelerated in the last three decades. The Congress was the original creator of this concept. Dynasties demolish organisational structures. They are unable to attract leaders of talent or mass following. Since the democratic structure of a dynastic party gets diminished, they become a crowd around a family.

Chaudhary Charan Singh had very appropriately said that world over parties elect leaders. In India, leaders create parties. Wherever the leader goes, the party travels with him.

Dynastic parties have one major drawback. If the current generation of the party is competent, charismatic and enjoys popular confidence, the dynasty can pull-off major victories. There is an incentive in the party to rally behind him. However, if the current generation dynast is lacking in charisma, understanding and popular confidence, the crowd around the family gets increasingly frustrated. Is the Congress Party witnessing that?

The state of the Congress

The Congress Party has been out of power for five years. Its leaders and workers are accustomed to existing with the frills of office. They stare at another possible defeat. They have to live with their leader not relying on political advisors but on some from ‘non-conventional’ ones who are out of sync with the Congress leaders.

Since the last word on any issue belongs to the leader, there is an element of unpredictability. For those familiar with the Congress leaders, some generic statements are frequently heard. A few illustrative ones are mentioned here:

“What can I do? He just doesn’t listen.”

“Wait for the 24th of May, our politics will begin thereafter.”

“I feel like quitting”

“Our campaign planning is lagging behind. I am told Uncle Sam has come to take care of it.”

“Let’s prepare 2024”

The above reflects what one generation of the dynasty can do to a dynastic party.  There are three prominent non-dynastic parties in India.  The BJP has elected, over the last few decades, leaders of the caliber of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, and Narendra Modi as its front rank leaders.  When the new generation of the Left took over, their dominant faces were men like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury.

Despite the limited impact of the Left, they had decades of experience and ideological clarity.  After a series of splits and mergers, the Janata Dal (United), another non-dynastic party, elected Nitish Kumar, who will shortly be completing his third term in his office as Chief Minister.  It goes to his credit that he changed the governance culture of Bihar.

Wrongly assessing capacity

Dynasties impose leaders.  These leaders don’t become great – greatness is thrust on them.  Some suffer from what psychologists now regard as the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect.’  Social psychologists Dr. David Dunning and Justin Kruger have given an apt description.  They believe that those who suffer from this effect have a bias of illusory superiority which comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognise their lack of ability.  Without the self-awareness of their limitations, such low ability people cannot objectively evaluate their own competence or incompetence.  This leads to their miscalculation in their assessment of the caliber of highly incompetent ones.    They suggest that poor performers are not in a position to recognise their shortcomings and consequently are insecure and biased against the more competent ones.  There is little place for men of high caliber in dynastic parties.  An insecure leader is scared of the shadow of more talented people.

Is this the reason for the current mood within the Congress Party?  Or is it also the reason which persuades the Congress President to cross the line of decency and dignity when he refers to the Prime Minister? This should suffice as a lesson for the dynastic parties.  They succeed on the strength of some generations of the dynasty.  They sink with the others.

Candidates’ analysis

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Co-Director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University has analyzed the scenario few weeks ahead of the first phase of polling, as both national parties have declared most or half of their candidates. The BJP has already announced 296 candidates (excluding one independent candidate that it supports), against 218 candidates announced by the Congress.

The BJP’s first list of candidates includes 150 re-running candidates, including 128 sitting MPs.The other 146 candidates are new, including 34 candidates in seats the BJP did not contest in 2014 (mostly in Andhra Pradesh). Contrary to expectations, only 44 MPs are not re-running, , including in five seats given to the JD(U) as part of the alliance agreement in Bihar and including one seat where no by-election took place after the incumbent, Bhola Singh, passed away.

A few veterans, such as LK Advani, Bandaru Dattatreya, Karya Munda and Shanta Kumar, have been left out. The BJP has re-nominated several sitting MPs in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka, while most candidates who ran in states where the BJP did not perform in 2014 have been changed.

The Congress, on the other hand, is fielding mostly new faces. It has so far nominated 150 new candidates, including 11 in seats it did not contest in 2014. Only 68 Congress candidates who ran in 2014 are contesting, including 22 incumbent MPs. Eight MPs are currently out, including KV Thomas and KC Venugopal in Kerala, and Mausam Noor in West Bengal. The Congress has thoroughly reshuffled its decks in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh.

While we are yet to have complete lists, the trend so far gives a relevant indication as far as women and Muslims representation is concerned.

Space for Women

Both parties have a history of paying lip service to the cause of women representation. In 2014, the BJP fielded only 38 women candidates (8.9 per cent of all candidates), against 60 for Congress (12.9 per cent of all candidates). So far, the BJP has given 36 tickets to women candidates (12.2 per cent), against 26 tickets given by Congress (11.9 per cent). The BJP is doing better than it did in 2014 and the Congress worse, if one considers their report card in 2014, either generally, or within the exact same seats.

Twelve women BJP candidates are re-running incumbents, among whom are Poonam Mahajan, president of the BJP’syouth wing; Heena Gavit, the current Lok Sabha’s youngest member; Pritam Munde; and Hema Malini.

Fourteen BJP women contestants belong to political families.Five of them are contesting in Maharashtra: Poonam Mahajan is the daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan, Pritam Munde is the daughter of former BJP leader Gopinath Munde, Heena Gavit is the daughter of a prominent ex-NCP politician, Raksha Nikhil Khadse is the daughter-in-law of BJP leader Eknath Khadse, and Kanchan Rahul Kul is the wife of Rahul Kul, a turncoat MLA in Daund, a seat previously held by her mother-in-law.

In Andhra Pradesh, DK Aruna, who is to contest from Mahbubnagar, belongs to an expansive political family. Bangaru Shruthi in Nagarkurnool is the daughter of former BJP president Bangaru Laxman.

In Uttarakhand, Mala Rajya Laxmi, the incumbent MP from Tehri Garhwal, is the wife of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal and daughter-in-law of Manabendra Shah, who is an eight-time former MP from the same constituency. In Odisha, Anita Priyadarshni is the daughter of Ramakrushna Patnaik,a former minister in Naveen Patnaik’s cabinet. In Uttar Pradesh, Sanghamitra Maurya is the daughter of Swami Prasad Maurya, current MLA from Padrauna.

In Gujarat, Poonamben Hematbhai is the daughter of a four-time MLA. In Madhya Pradesh, Himadri Singh belongs to an extensive political family that includes two MPs.

Other women contestants come with strong local political experience. In Assam, Queen Ojha is a former mayor and former Asom Gana Parishad candidate of the 2011 state elections. In Sarguja, Chhattisgarh,

Renuka Singh is a former MLA and a well-known tribal leader. She served as woman and child development minister in the Raman Singh government. Also in Chhattisgarh, Gomti Sai is a tribal leader and first-time contestant. Both candidates in Trithala (Kerala) and Raiganj (Bengal) are former contestants. Other women candidates include Locket Chatterjee, a classical dancer and an actress, president of the BJP women’s wing in West Bengal.

The Congress, which has pledged to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill if it comes back to power, does not seem in a hurry to make gender equality a reality. Eight women candidates are re-running contestants, including Sonia Gandhi, Priya Dutt, Sushmita Dev, S Jothimani, Deepa Dasmunsi, Meenakshi Natarajan and Annu Tandon. One re-running candidate, Savitribai Phule, is a BJP turncoat.

Thirteen of them belong to political families. Sushmita Dev, president of the All India Mahila Congress, is the daughter of veteran Congress leader Santosh Mohan Dev, former MP and Cabinet minister. Her mother, Bithika Dev, is the Silchar MLA in Assam. Shruthi Devi is the daughter of former TDP Union minister V Kishore Chandra Deo. Dolly Sharma in Ghaziabad is the daughter of the local Congress chief; ManjariRahi, running in Misrikh (UP) is the daughter-in-law of former Congress MP and Union minister Ram Lal Rahi. Deeepa Dasmunsi, contesting from Raiganj is the wife of former Union minister and Congress stalwart from Bengal Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. Shruthi Devi is the daughter of former Union minister V Kishore Chandra Deo (TDP).

Not all Congress women candidates hail from an affluent backgrounds. Remya Haridas, in Alathur, is the daughter of a daily wage labourer. Several non-dynastic candidates also possess prior political experience. Shamimol Usman is a former secretary of the All India Congress Committee. Kaisar Jahan is a former BSP MP, Omvati Devi is a former SP MP from Nagina.

Muslim candidates

In 2014, the Congress distributed 32 tickets to Muslim candidates (6.9 per cent of all candidates), against seven for the BJP (1.2 per cent of all candidates). So far, the Congress has fielded 18 Muslim candidates, mostly in UP (8), Andhra Pradesh (4) and West Bengal (3). The BJP, on the other hand, has given only six tickets to Muslim candidates, three in Kashmir and one in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Lakshadweep each. An initial glance indicates that the BJP Muslim candidates come with far less experience and political credentials.

In J&K, Mohammad Maqbool War is a former candidate. He ran in the 2008 state election in Sopore as an independent and in the 2014 state elections in Langate on a BJP ticket. In these elections, he finished 22nd and 10th, with 93 and 523 votes respectively. Sofi Youssuf is a four-time BJP candidate in state elections from Anantnag. He ended in the fourth position on three occasions.He also ran in the 2004 general elections, again in Anantnag, finishing fourth with less than 5,000 votes.

Khalid Jahangir is a journalist and political strategist, appointed as a local BJP spokesperson in 2014. This is his first election. Jatothu Hussain Naik is a former BJP MLA candidate in Mahbubabad in 2018, where he finished third. In Lakshadweep, the BJP appointed Abduyl Khader Haji as chief of the local party unit in 2017.

In West Bengal however, Mafuja Khatun is a former MLA, and a Communist Party of India (Marxist) turncoat. By comparison, Congress’s Muslim candidates have more experience. Seven of them belong to prominent political families, such as Imran Masood, Zafar Ali Naqvi, Saleem Iqbal Sherwani and Salman Khursheed.

In Bijnor, the Congress has fielded Naseemuddin Siddiqui, former number two in Mayawati’s Cabinet. Kaisar Jahan is also a former BSP UP minister. In West Bengal, Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury, in Maldaha Dakshin,is the only incumbent Muslim MP to re-run . In Maldaha Uttar, the incumbent MP Mausam Noor, who has defected to Trinamool Congress,has been replaced by Isha Khan Chowdhury, the current MLA from Sujapur and member of a prominent political family.

Abu Hena, candidate in Murshidabad, is a five-time MLA from Lalgola and a former West Bengal minister.In the South, the Congress is fielding Sheikh Mastan Vali, current MLA from Guntur East. In Alapuzha, Kerala, the incumbent MP KC Venugopal has been replaced by Shanimol Usman, a former AICC Secretary. Only Mohd Shahjahan Basha, in Rajampet, is a newcomer.

This is still a preliminary picture of the candidature landscape. What can be said so far is that the BJP, contrary to claims made, largely clings onto its sitting MPs, while reshuffling candidates in states where it hopes to expand. The Congress is fielding a larger proportion of fresh faces, which you would expect from a party who was soundly defeated in the previous election. So far, the situation of women representation is disappointing and both parties are mostly going for conventional candidates. The reality remains that most candidates (and many representatives) are expendable to parties, which does not encourage them to invest in their legislative job when they get elected.

BJP campaign stronger

As the election nears, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched a concerted attack on the Opposition at over 200 rallies across the country as part of a mega opening to the party’s 2019 election campaign, focus on national security and the NDA government’s welfare schemes over the past five years.

BJP president Amit Shah, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, home minister Rajnath Singh, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari, and railways minister Piyush Goyal, among other heavyweights, hit the ground running in the first leg of the blitzkrieg comprising over 450 rallies.

Shah said “There used to be two countries, the US and Israel, which were known for avenging its soldiers. Now India has become the third country to do so under Modi…Only Modi can ensure the country’s security.” He went on to target the Opposition over what he said was the absence of a prime ministerial candidate. “No one is willing to fight the elections. BSP leader Mayawati wants Narendra Modi defeated, but she is not willing to fight elections. Neither is NCP leader Sharad Pawar, West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee or DMK leader MK Stalin.” In his parliamentary constituency Lucknow, home minister Rajnath Singh, too, spoke of India’s action against the JeM, which claimed the Pulwama attack. “The irony is that there are some political parties in the country which are more worried about the surgical strikes than Pakistan. They are even asking how many persons were killed in the air strike.”

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath kicked off his campaign by offering prayers at a temple in Behat constituency of Saharanpur.

Congress attack

While BJP is attacking Congress, from the Congress, a scathing attack came from K.C.Venuguipal, General Secretary, AICC alleged that ‘The Yedduyrappa Diary’ which supposedly bears the signature of BCC, who said in a statement that S.Yeddyurappa, senior BJP leader and former CM of Karnataka indicates massive corruption of Rs. 1800 crore involving top BJP leaders needs to be investigated as the details mentioned in the diary reveals the fake claim of Modi government’s fight against corruption, AICC General Secretary in-charge of Organisation and Karnataka, K.C.Venugopal MP said in his statement.

“The Prime Minister who boasts about his fight against corruption should come forward and clarify on the content of this diary. Prime Minister, Modi must reveal whether the top leaders of BJP have received the said amount or not. It is also the responsibility of each leader mentioned in this diary to come forward and clarify whether they have received the amount mentioned by Shri Yedyurappa and undergo any investigation required in this matter. We appeal that this must be made the first case to be investigated by the newly appointed Lokpal,” K.C.Venugopal said in his statement. 

Earlier also Yeddyurappa had been caught red handed while offering money to the MLAs in Karnataka to topple the Government. If the details mentioned in the Diary are correct, then the BJP leadership should also answer on the source of this income.

Former Union Minister, Kapil Sibal alleged that BJP’s five years had been a dismal period as 6351 farmers/cultivatorscommitted suicide in 2016- 17 per day. Similarly, farmer protests have increased from 628 (2014) to 4837 (2016), agriculture workers wages has increased by only 2.6 per cent (UPA-8.5 per cent) while 52 per cent farming families indebted; average outstanding loan -1 lakh. During July and December, 2018 MSP increase merely covers input costs; way below Swaminathan commission recommendations.

Between 2010 and January 2019 about 123 cases of cow-related violence. Over 50 per cent of the victims and 78 per cent of those killed were from Minorities. 98 per cent of these crimes took place after 2014 and in 14 states ruled by BJP. In 2018 there were 218 hate crimes. 192 of those were against Dalits and Minorities (Amnesty International Report). He alleged that countless citizens suffered due to Demonetisation, many lost their lives and thousands of small businesses had to close down. Sowing of crops delayed; demand collapsed; impacted farmer’s income and GDP took a hit of close to 2 per cent in the quarter of demonetisation. There were 15 lakh job losses in the first four months after demonetization (CMIE).  Then the multiple GST rates regime one of the most complex in the world. Single Rate-49 countries; Two Rates- 28 countries; Five rates – 4 countries.

About killing of security personnel, Kapil Sibal gave details that in Kathua — March, 2015,(Casualties:3Security Personnel), Gurdaspur — July, 2015, (Casualties: 5 Security Personnel), Pathankot– January 2016, (Casulaties: 9 Security Personnel), Pampore– June and December, 2016 (Casualties: 11 Security Personnel), Uri — September 2016, (Casualties: 18 Security Personnel), Baramulla– October, 2016 (Casualties: 1 Security Personnel), Nagrota–November, 2016 (Casualties: 7 Security Personnel), Sunjuwan — February, 2018 (Casualties: 4 Security Personnel) and Pulawama — February, 2019 (Causalities:49 Security Personnel). More than 60 security personnel have been martyred since Pulwama attack.

Sibal alleged there are certain reports and studies that were not released for public perception including Survey on jobs created under Mudra Scheme, NSSO report on unemployment, Labour Bureau’s 6th employment-unemployment survey and National Crimes Record Bureau’s “Crime in India” report for two consecutive years. (2017 and 2018).

Tough battle ahead

In view of all this, the  2019 battle is expected to be a tough fight for both the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, and regional parties because 2019 is not 2014. It’s not going to be an easy ride for the BJP as the saffron party looks for the second term.

Also, the failure of the Opposition to join hands and form a “mahagathabandhan” has come as a shot in the arm for BJP. Surprisingly, in 2014, the BJP-led NDA was a conglomerate of around 29 parties; this time it has 41 parties, brought together by the Modi-Shah combine. Ironically, the Congress has an alliance with only 17 parties but BJP has been able to believe all that sole idea of “mahagathbandan” is to corner lone man Modi.

The Pulwama terror attack and the following Balakot airstrikes though have changed the narrative from the issues that the opposition was raised to “rashtarwaad” or nationalism. The Congress’ narrative ‘chowkidar chor hai’ jibe has given the BJP a new slogan ‘main bhi chowkidar’ campaign. All eyes would now be on different phases of voting and the dooms day of May 23 when results would be declared!

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Rise in menace of anti-Romeo squads

Anti-Romeo squads, formed soon after the current NDA Government in Uttar Pradesh took over in March 2017, ostensibly to protect the honour of women, has come to be viewed as a big nuisance verging on state terror to police the moral standards of the country’s youth. It comes on the heels of such squads having worked for years in the BJP ruled Gujarat, where it failed miserably following massive resistance and disenchantment of people.

The state government, rather than sort out myriad problems facing the state, is stretching the police force to protect dignity of women to deflect from the basic issues confronting the people.

Anti-Romeo squads, intended to protect women from stalkers and eve-teasers, comprise police, both men and women, in plain clothes and deployed at public places like schools, colleges, shopping malls, markets, parks, cinema halls and bus stands. The squads have been provided with ward-robe mounted cameras to ensure no one slips from police net.

In 2017 alone, anti-Romeo squads in U.P. questioned 21,37,520 people for keeping out with girls, indicating how far moral policing has gone in today’s India. Worse, it turns out that of those questioned, 9,33,099 were warned and , 1, 706 FIRs lodged against 3,003 persons. These happened in less than nine months following NDA Government’s inauguration in the state.

According to official figures from the state government, anti-Romeo squads checked 34,49,646 persons from March 2017 to July end, 2018. Besides, 2481 FIRs were issued and action taken against 4329 persons. Altogether, 15,69,145 persons were let off with warnings to be careful in future. Squads also checked 12,616,18 public places.

On an average, seven FIRs were lodged and 2,410 persons warned daily by the squads. Guidelines for the squads provide that youth provoking others to join activities aimed at troubling women are provided with counseling. Each anti-Romeo squad comprises one sub-inspector and two constables. It includes women as well. All police stations maintain separate records of crimes against women with weekly review to check such crimes and progress achieved.

Anti-Romeo squads are viewed with skepticism by women activists as assaults on their personal liberty and individual honour. In their opinion, there are enough women centric laws, which if implemented properly, can bring down crimes against women. They maintain that effective implementation of women empowerment laws and sensitive policing could be sufficient to assure women of their safety and deter men from harassing them. Besides, anti-Romeo squads’ action has shrunk public spaces for women and couple.

Performances of anti-Romeo squads, so far, have revealed that Uttar Pradesh has not become any safer for women under the current state government. On the contrary, crimes against women have gone up manifold with worsening law and order. A bad idea from the start, the squad has become notorious for striking terror. People complain of a feeling of state terror among youths as they are harassed, tortured, made to shave their heads and do sit-up for eve-teasing. Trigger happy squads also extort the youths.

Anti-Romeo squads, perceived to legitimize moral policing, amounts to giving state the right to stop man from talking to woman or go for a movie. Women activists have called for disbanding the ant-Romeo squads immediately as it is encouraged by a state which reneges on its Constitutional duty to maintain law and order. It attacks personal liberty and privacy of citizens and the government of the day must be held accountable for assaulting the dignity of the people targeted by the squads and compensate the harassed persons adequately acknowledging that their fundamental rights, guaranteed by the Constitution of India, have been violated.

Allahabad High Court judgment legitimising civilian action if it were to protect women, has further encouraged vigilantism and moral policing. If only the High Court could have directed the state government to present a grievance redressal mechanism both for instances of sexual harassment of women and excesses committed by the preventive mechanism, known as anti-Romeo squads, the commitment of the state towards ending violence against women and not encroaching upon people’s privacy and personal liberty would have been established. It also dilutes the primary role of police to maintain law and order, peace and social harmony and intervene when there is a breach.

The Constitution is the only bedrock of true Indianness engraved therein. We must cherish the freedoms postulated by the Constitution. It is time the country men and women resisted the pernicious menace of the anti-Romeo squads!

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Regional satraps rule the political roost in South

In the ongoing process of elections being held for Lok Sabha in seven phases, with first phase being over on April 11, southern states of India, represented by Tamil region comprising Tamil Nadu and Puducherry accounting for 40 parliamentary seats, Telugu region comprising Andhra Pradesh (25 seats) and Telangana (17 seats); Kannada region represented by Karnataka with 28 seats and Malayalam region represented by Kerala accounting for 20 seats, entail some distinct features that are seldom seen in other parts of India. With the exception of Karnataka where the two national parties — BJP and Congress — are directly pitched against each other with JD (S) as an ally of the Congress, in rest of the southern states, regional satraps rule the political roost.  

Regional parties are more in reckoning in southern states and they have been thriving on strong linguistic and cultural identities and have often served as a potent barrier to the BJP’s Hindutva nationalist discourse. State-specific issues often acquire salience over national issues. Unlike north India where the BJP has seemingly succeeded in evoking emotions in its favour in the wake of martyrdom of over 40 Jawans in Pulwamaand subsequent air strikes, the response of southern states to this jingoism has mostly been lukewarm. Region-wise appraisal can help us in having cognizance of the electoral prospects of different political players on the horizon.

Telugu region

Telugu region comprises Andhra Pradesh having 25 Lok Sabha seats and Telangana having 17 seats and both these states are dominated by regional parties. Many experts opine that the BJP and Congress are not even marginal players here. In Andhra Pradesh the real contest is between Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chandrababu Naidu and Yuvjana Sramika Ryuthu Congress (YSRC) party led by Jagan Reddy. Observations garnered by this author during his recent visit to these states tally with most of the pre-poll surveys predicting 17 to 20 seats for YSRC party and rest for the TDP. Both the BJP and Congress are expected to draw a blank here.  

In Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which recently recorded a landslide victory in the state assembly elections, is having a tie-up with the All-India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). And this combination is predicted to sweep all 17 Lok Sabha seats thereby leaving the TDP, Congress and the BJP toiling hard for making their presence felt. while the BJP hopes to continue its flag flying.The projected win for Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and K. Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana will provide both the potentially decisive role in the formation of any coalitiongovernment at the Centre after May 23.

Absence of a charismatic leader like Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, better known as NTR, who was an influential figure in the Telugu region and earned the status of a national leader, is widely felt. However, post-poll developments in this region arebound to impact national politics. Under the given situation, governance model in both states is excessively dependent on personality cult.

Tamil region

Tamil region comprising Tamil Nadu with 39 seats and the Union Territory of Puducherry accounting for one seat, together form 40 seats of Lok Sabha. Undoubtedly, the AIADMK is in power in Tamil Nadu; nevertheless, in the aftermath of the demise of Jayalalitha, the AIADMK is bereft of a powerful leader who basked in the glory of charismatic MGR. Currently, the AIADMK, riven with inner dissensions, is a coalition of eight parties, including the BJP. With the recent demise of M. Karunanidhi, the DMK is also bereft of a powerful leader.

The DMK is a coalition of nine parties, including Congress. Both critics and predictions made by many pre-poll surveys project a divided picture about the outcome of the Lok Sabha election in Tamil region. In the wake of AIADMK being riven with internal dissensions and absence of a strong party leader, the DMK-led alliance is expected to call the shots owing to its leader Stalin enjoying salience over his rivals and legacy of Karunanidhi. Some critics have opined that the alliance led by the DMK may secure over 25 seats and play a decisive role in the formation of a next coalition at the Centre. 

Electoral prospects of the BJP in Tamil Nadu, which is the only southern state where it is a part of an alliance, hinge on the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK). In 2014, the BJP could win only one seat and that also by virtue of its alliance with smaller regional parties. Currently, it is contesting for just five seats; nonetheless, in the wake of anti- incumbency against the AIADMK and the latter being ridden with acute factionalism, some experts opine that it might be very cumbersome for the BJP to retain even a single seat that it won in 2014. The DMK-Congress alliance may have a field day on May 23.

Kannada region

Kannada region, represented by Karnataka and comprising 28 seats, presents an interesting example of rivalry between the BJP and Congress. The BJP has the distinction of having won 18, 19 and 17 of the 28 seats in 2004, 2009 and 2014 respectively. However, in the present scenario, the BJP may find it difficult to replicate its previous performance in view of the ruling Congress-JD (S) alliance which is to witness direct contest between the alliance and the BJP in stead of a triangular contest. 

In the wake of BJP facing a direct contest with Congress-JD (S) alliance, some experts suggest that the grassroots arithmetic could be shaky for the BJP. The Congress-JD (S) alliance may help it galvanize caste base to improve parliamentary poll vote share and the combine vote share of the alliance could well be daunting for the BJP. If the alliance arithmetic that recently worked at the grassroots in enabling Congress to wrest Bellari seat from the BJP, is any indication then it can be presumed that if this arithmetic goes well, it could make it difficult for the BJP to touch double digit number. 

Malayalam region

Malayalam region is represented by Kerala and it accounts for 20 Lok Sabha seats.  This region has traditionally witnessed bi-polar political contest between the CPI (M)-led Left Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front. However, in recent years, the BJP has also been making efforts to make inroads into Kerala and for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP has tied up with the local Bharat Dharam Jana Sena and Kerala Congress (Thomas), with the hope to wrest the Thiruvananthapuram seat.

In 2014, the BJP ceded the Thiruvananthapuram parliamentary seat to Congress by a narrow margin of 15, 000 votes and this time the BJP is striving hard to win it. In the wake of firmly polarized nature of state politics, until recently it was given to understand that there would be some tactical understanding between the Congress and the Left Parties to defeat the BJP at the national level which could be worked at local level to keep the BJP at bay; Nevertheless, Congress decision to field its president Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad has been criticized by the Left leadership. Despite this development, coupled with the fact of the recent polarization of the Sabarimala issue, some experts rule out the possibility of the BJP of gaining any foothold in Kerala and the Congress is said to be the net gainer followed by the Left. 

Way forward

The BJP’s strategy of replicating its 2014 performance when it won 21 seats out of 130 in 2019 is seemingly a herculean task. Of the 21 seats it won in 2014, 17 were from Karnataka, 3 from undivided Andhra Pradesh and one from Tamil Nadu.

Apart from the BJP’s limited appeal, ground-level arithmetic in Karnataka and split with the TDP in Andhra Pradesh may limit BJP to less than the double-digit number. The Congress is making efforts to deepen its roots in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The BJP’s hopes of roping in Jagan Reddy and K. Chandrasekhar Rao in NDA also seem to be a far-fetched idea in view of anti-BJP pronouncements of these regional leaders. However, politic like cricket is an unpredictable game where anything can happen even at the last moment.

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May 23: Suspense continues for the saffron party

With the final outcome of the hustings for the Lok Sabha to be announced on May 23, all available indicators at this juncture point out that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is very unlikely to repeat its 2014 performance owing to its failure to deliver on its promises, especially on eradicating black money, creating 20 million jobs annually, addressing farmers’ distress, building Ram Temple etc.

On the other hand, drastic measures like demonetization and improper implementation of the GST proved instrumental in adding to the people’s socio-economic woes paving way for the growing disenchantment of the masses with the Modi government and the people reflected their angst by voting against the BJP in the three major states of the Hindi Heartland – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in December 2018.

Towards decline

Ouster of the BJP-led government in three major states in the Hindi Heartland culminated in the emergence of an array of pre-poll surveys in January this year predicting inability of the BJP to garner enough numbers of its own to retain power at the Centre. Adding to the bilked BJP’s woefulness has been the flurry of hectic activity by the non-BJP political parties to foster alliances with regional satraps.

Undoubtedly, efforts for Opposition unity had started gathering momentum in the aftermath of the installation of the government in Karnataka led by an alliance of JD (S) and Congress in May 2018; nevertheless, the BJP seldom seemed to be worried about this development.

Coming together of the SP and BSP in UP and efforts undertaken by West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee in bringing non-BJP political parties together and her hosting of well-attended Opposition rally in Kolkata in January this year did unnerve the BJP, though it didn’t show any sign of embarrassment. Until the closing part of the second week of February this year, most of the pre-poll surveys predicted declining curves of the BJP prospects in the ensuing general elections.

National security

However, the terrorist violence in Pulwama where over 40 CRPF jawans were martyred on February 14 and subsequent airstrike by Indian Air Force inside Pakistan at Balakot on 26 February followed by the release by Pakistan of the captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman proved instrumental in changing the national narrative from basic issues like unemployment, agrarian crisis and the alleged Rafale scam.to terrorism and national security as key issues, thereby providing the BJP an edge over its rivals in the popularity graph.

At this juncture, many critics opined that it was too simplistic to say that Pulwama and Balakot had guaranteed PM Modi a second term in office. However, in the wake of Pulwama and Balakot fading from the public memory and the persistent standoff between India and Pakistan ending in an embarrassment for India, some analysts opined that this could harm PM Modi in the upcoming elections. With the announcement of polling dates and coming into effect of the model election code, electoral campaigning has got a fillip and not-so-large public attendance in PM Modi’s rallies has been worrisome for the BJP. 

The BJP’s hopes of reaping electoral dividends in the wake of nationalistic fervidness stemming from Pulwama and Balakot that had started becoming diluent received further jolt when the Congress president Rahul Gandhi promised to implement NYAY scheme. According to one critic, PM Modi perhaps understood that the Congress was beginning to seize the initiative by forcing ‘Aay Pe Charcha’ as against the Modi-Shah bouquet of pre-election jumlas.

In order to prop up people’s sagging interest in the nationalistic narrative, Modi in a tweet on March 27 announced that he would be addressing the nation with an important message which was telecast and aired after one hour of the tweet and the intervening one hour kept the people guessing the nature of announcement because Modi is known for springing surprises like demonetization.

Modi’s announcement of India’s prowess in space technology via ASAT, which would have been left to the DRDO, has been dubbed as a move by the BJP to get political mileage from this event. Some critics have pointed out that such an attempt by the BJP makes it seem as if the BJP is itself grasping at straw in the hope of finding something that could connect to the people. Another critic has opined that it can be evidenced from the tone and tenor of Modi presenting the accomplishment that he is worried about the feedback he is receiving from the mood of the electorate.

Dim prospects

Overall prospects for the BJP repeating its performance of 2014 seem dim. Salience of perennial issues of jobs for the youth, agrarian distress and party’s failure in delivering on its promises over the ephemeral nationalistic fervidness and growing surge of the Congress and emerging alliances of regional satraps are likely to dent BJP’s electoral grip. This is also attested to by the recently conducted pre-poll surveys.

The BJP’s prospects in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls are critically linked to repeating its sweep in the Hindi Heartland. In the aftermath of having lost Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP will find it cumbersome to repeat its 2014 performance of winning 62 out of 65 seats. In Madhya Pradesh where the BJP won 27 out of 29 seats in 2014, is likely to incur heavy losses as predicted by Poll Eyes.

In Jharkhand, where the NDA won 12 out of 14 seats in 2014, the NDA is ahead in 5 seats whereas the UPA is ahead in nine seats, as per Poll Eyes survey. In Chhattisgarh, where the Congress registered a landslide victory in the assembly polls in December last year, the BJP is likely to suffer a big jolt. In Gujarat where the BJP won all 26 seats in 2014, is likely to win 16 seats as per Poll Eyes survey.

UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are significant states for any party to wrest power at the Centre. In 2014, the BJP had swept polls in UP and garnered good number of seats in Bihar and in Maharashtra it contested in alliance with Shiv Sena and secured good number of seats. However, scenario in UP and Bihar has undergone a sea change presently.

Alliance between SP, BSP and RLD has unnerved the BJP and Congress is also fielding its candidates and the cumulative impact can damage the prospects of the BJP. Most of the pre-poll surveys have predicted advantage SP-BSP alliance and rule out replication of 2014 for the BJP. In Bihar, as well, the NDA is projected to yield place to UPA with the BJP cornering less than 10 seats of its own. In Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine is predicted to underperform as compared to 2014.

In West Bengal, the TMC is likely to call the shots with the BJP struggling to save its grace, albeit it may improve its percentage share of votes. In Odisha, the BJD is likely to hold the fort with the BJP making a gain of couple of seats. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the parties already in power are likely to retain their supremacy giving no space for the BJP.

An identical picture is likely to emerge in Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. The BJP may gain a couple of seats in Tamil Nadu on account of its alliance with AIADMK and in Kerala it may secure one seat, as per average of different pre-poll surveys.  In Assam and other North-Eastern states where the BJP had performed excellently in 2014 is very unlikely to replicate the same performance, especially in the wake of public angst against BJP’s move to impose Citizenship bill. Thus, the overall scenario presents a dismal prospect for the BJP in securing even a bare majority of its own in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls.

Way ahead

Undoubtedly, the final outcome will be declared on May 23; nevertheless, the emerging trends are unfavourable for the BJP to retain its hold on power at the Centre of its own. In case, the BJP is able to secure around 200 seats, then other constituents of the NDA will be in a strong position to dictate their terms to form a coalition government sans Narendra Modi. Admittedly, the BJP is likely to emerge as the single largest party and it will have to elicit the support of other regional parties to be enthroned. In case, other constituents disapprove of Modi’s leadership, the possibility of a split in the BJP is not ruled out. Therefore, such an eventuality is inclined to approve: May 23 may brings an end to the BJP rule.

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Northeast stays cautious as first phase gets over

Northeast India, once known as the region of separatists, has joined the general elections starting from 11 April 2019. Defying the old diktat of armed militants in the far-eastern region, millions of electorate are out to to elect their 25 representatives in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament.

The region, surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (now under China), Myanmar and Bangladesh, gives shelter to over 60 million people in eight provinces (popularly termed as State). Besides the mainstream political parties like the Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) etc, the region witnesses activities by a number of regional political parties.

BJP led National Democratic Alliance, which is in power at the Centre, has been increasing political influence in the region that was once a stronghold of the Congress. By now the region has no Congress government in any State and the oldest party of India is slowly facing shrinkages in northeastern political space.

Moreover gradual loss of the Congress has turned as the gain of BJP in northeast India. While the party remained in uncertainty over accepting political alliances, the ruling saffron leadership has already sealed electoral ties with a number of regional political parties expecting to succeed in over 20 Parliamentary constituencies of the region.

Assam, centre State of the region, goes to  polls in three phases (11, 18 and 23 April) for 14 Lok Sabha seats, where Manipur and Tripura have two-phase schedule (11 and 18 April) for two seats each. Arunachal Pradesh (two seats), Meghalaya (two), Nagaland  (one), Mizoram (one) and Sikkim (one) have single phase  poling schedule (11 April), outcome of all will be available on 23 May.

BJP has already realigned electoral ties with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and put forward candidates in ten Lok Sabha seats in Assam.  Three seats have been offered to AGP and one to BPF, where too BJP general secretary Ram Madhav is expecting success because he argued, Modi (Prime Minister) wave still continued to influence the electorate as like in 2014 national polls.

Anti-BJP forces in the region are trying to capitalize the public uprising against the saffron party because of its mush debated citizenship amendment bill (CAB)  to pave ways for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to get Indian citizenship. The anti-CAB movement almost swept the region and a series of public demonstrations were observed until it was lapsed in Rajya Sabha on 13 February.

BJP leadership maintained that it would bring the bill again if voted to power in New Delhi where the Congress president Rahul Gandhi opted for continue opposing the initiative. BJP president Amit Shah, during one of his recent public meetings in Assam, reiterated that his party was committed to grant citizenship to those marginalized asylum seekers.

Once the issue is temporarily over, the saffron party got hugs from the AGP leaders, who in January broke the alliance and three of its ministers in  Sarbananda Sonowal’s cabinet also resigned. But soon after the CAB-lapse Atul Bora (also AGP president), Keshab Mahanta and Phanibhusan Choudhury had rejoined the BJP led government in Dispur and started functioning happily.

Though pretending to be comfortable externally, the BJP leadership has rejected nominations to five sitting MPs including a central minister. The resurgent party, which won seven Parliamentary seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Assam, decided to field young candidates this time including two State ministers.

Even though support bases were reportedly intact, Rajen Gohain, who served as the Railway’s junior minister in Narendra Modi’s Union cabinet, was denied party tickets from (Nagaon or Nowgong) Parliamentary constituency. Similarly Bijoya Chakraborty (Guwahati), RP Sarma (Tezpur), Ramen Deka (Mangaldoi) and Kamakhya Prasad Tassa (Jorhat) were also deprived from party tickets to fight the elections.

BJP’s trusted ally BPF puts forward Pramila Rani Brahma as the party nominee for Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat in western Assam. The State minister is expected to showcase a good fight to the sitting MP Naba Sarania, who used to be a top leader of Ulfa and fought the last general elections as an independent candidate. The list of candidates for the ST reserved seat also includes Sabda Rabha (Congress) and UG Brahma (UPPL).

Prestigious Guwahati Lok Sabha seat is anticipated to witness a spectacular fight between two prominent ladies namely Queen Ojha (BJP nominee and a former Mayor of Guwahati) and Bobita Sarma (Congress). A senior advocate of the Supreme Court Upamanyu Hazarika is also on the fray as an independent candidate, who is expecting supports from conscious electorate of the fairly urbanized Lok Sabha constituency.

Congress heavyweight and a Rajya Sabha member Bhubaneswar Kalita is fighting for Mangaldoi  seat who faces challenges from young BJP nominee Dilip Saikia. Similarly, a former Union minister and Congress veteran Pawan Singh Ghatowar will be challenged by sitting BJP Parliamentarian Rameswar Teli for the Dibrugarh seat in eastern Assam.

Another sitting BJP MP Pradan Baruah is fighting for Lakhimpur seat, where he may face challenges from Anil Borgohain (Congress), Arup Pratim Borboruah Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Bhupan Narah (Voter’s Party International) etc. Sonowal won the seat in 2014 general elections as a BJP candidate and later relinquished after taking responsibilities as the State chief minister.

Two young Congress sitting MPs namely Gaurav Gogoi and Sushmita Dev have retained their party nominations. Gogoi, son of former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, is understood to face stiff challenges from AGP nominee and a student leader till few weeks back Mani Madhab Mahnata in Koliabar Lok Sabha seat. Similarly, Dev will be challenged by  Rajdeep Roy of BJP in Silchar seat.

Another former leader of All Assam Students Union (AASU) and presently a minister in Sonowal’s cabinet Tapan Gogoi is fighting for Jorhat Lok Sabha seat with the BJP ticket.

He is scheduled to  face visible challenges from popular Congress leader Sushanta Borgohain in the central Assam constituency.

Sitting Congress MP from Diphu constituency Biren Singh Ingti has also received party ticket where the elderly politician will face BJP nominee Harensingh Bey, ASDC leader Holiram Terang, National People’s Party candidate Lien Khochon etc. In Karimganj Lok Sabha seat, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) representative Radheshyam Biswas will be challenged by BJP nominee and State Assembly deputy speaker Kripanath Malla and Congress leader Swarup Das with others.

Interesting fights are waiting in Tezpur Parliamentary constituency, where the Congress has nominated a former bureaucrat MGVK Bhanu against BJP’s young State minister Pallab Lochan Das. More candidates namely Ram Bahadur Sonar (NPP), Mahendra Bhuyan (NCP), Mahendra Orang (VPI) etc also remain on the ground to divide votes in the central Assam Parliamentary seat.

Former State Congress minister  Pradyut Bordoloi has been fielded from Nagaon seat who would be challenged by BJP legislator Rupak Sarma with few other candidates. In Barpeta Lok Sabha seat, the Congress nominee, also a legislator, Abdul Khaleque will face Dipak Das of AGP, whereas the AIUDF president and sitting MP Badruddin Ajmal will face another Congress legislator Abu Taher Bepari in Dhubri Parliamentary constituency.

Elections in Assam and also many parts of the region remain synonymous with violence perpetrated by separatist militant outfits who are fighting New Delhi for decades demanding self-rule to sovereignty. This time, both the factions of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), have shown reluctance in intervening the polls. The pro-talk ULFA faction led by Arabinda Rajkhowa recently made it clear that they would never be a part of the electoral process. Similarly the other faction led by Paresh Barua also maintained silence over their influence in the electoral battles sweeping the region.

The author is a political analyst based in northeast India

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