Congress stalwarts, including prince in waiting, Rahul Gandhi have not made any serious foray in Gujarat. Though carries, by accident, the Gandhi surname after him, the Gujaratis are aware that this one Gandhi is fake and has nothing to do with the Father of the Nation. Party supremo Sonia and the PM Manmohan Singh have not yet started maneuverings in the State.
l by Maloy Krishna Dhar
(December 26, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) The following States will go to the polls in 2012: Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Elections in Manipur are not fought on national issues. The Naga Integration dispute, Kuki territorial ambition and valley Meitei insurgency/terrorism situation are few of the major factors which determine the course of assembly elections. This State will be taken up later for detailed political appraisal.
Goa, though not a major State, has been a vexing scene of Ayarams and Gayarams of Indian electoral abuses. In 2007 election Congress had won 16 seats and the BJP 14. Two independents were induced to join Congress, thus, offering the party another opportunity to form the government. Since last elections Goa’s political scenario has been dominated by sex scandals, murder charges and rampant corruption. Since criminality is not a disqualifying factor in Indian politics, it is anticipated that when Goa goes to the hustings again same pack of political wolves would dominate the stage.
Political pundits speculate that in Gujarat Narendra Modi is likely to make a repeat performance. Congress camps hope that besmearing Modi with several coats of scandals of alleged police excesses, victimization of apparently honest and upright police and administrative officers and continued media and legal focus on 2002 communal riots, they would succeed in making serious erosion of Modi’s popularity.
In the 2007 elections BJP won 117 seats out of a total of 182. Modi’s several political and public actions of extending healing touches, broadening grassroots contacts and noticeable economic progress despite national slowdown have attracted voter’s attention. Several industries have already started operations in the State and despite BJP’s stand against direct FDI entry into India; Gujarat continues to attract foreign investment mainly because of comparatively peaceful labor situation and tax incentives. Agriculturally also Gujarat has made significant progress, in spite of flood and drought ravages in certain regions. Gujarat is considered an entrepreneur and capital investment friendly State.
Congress stalwarts, including prince in waiting, Rahul Gandhi have not made any serious foray in Gujarat. Though carries, by accident, the Gandhi surname after him, the Gujaratis are aware that this one Gandhi is fake and has nothing to do with the Father of the Nation. Party supremo Sonia and the PM Manmohan Singh have not yet started maneuverings in the State. Some party insiders hope against hopes that the tools of the central government would succeed in putting Modi behind the bars under some charges or other. Such machination is not new for the Congress High Command and some of lackey departments like the CBI and NIA. Their main concern is with the higher judiciary that has declined to toe the wished of Congress High Command and its tools of governance.
Election forecasting is not an astrological pseudo-science. It depends on the mood of the people, prevailing political textures, evaluation of past performances, appreciation or depreciation of actual benefits reaching the people and campaign fodder. From distance views, sampled evaluations and attitudinal approaches of the Congress it appears that Gujarat voters are likely to opt again for Narendra Modi; may be by an increased margin. Very frequently hurled communal stigma has not hit the bull’s eye in Gujarat, vast number of populace, including sizeable Muslims do not personally blame him for communal riots. Some Gujaratis aver: if Modi was guilty for non-action, so was Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 mass Sikh pogrom.
Himachal Pradesh continues to be in the eye of political storm. The BJP had won 41 seats out of 68 seats in 2007 elections. Some vapor of hope has been generated in Congress chest after its candidate Lakhwinder Singh defeated BJP candidate Gurnam Kaur by a small margin at Nalagarh assembly bye-election. However, Congress lost the holding seat at Renuka ® constituency during the same bye-election process.
A recent Supreme Court judgment reversing the High Court judgment on HP Congress secretary Asha Kumari in a land grab case in Chamba has created fresh political embarrassment for the party. However, Congress tried to balance the situation by accusing that HP BJP government had consented to direct FDI in retail trade. This has been refuted by the party.
In last two years Himachal have gone through vagaries of drought, excess rainfall, flooding that hampered cash-crop production and marketing. Economic hardship aside, the BJP has suffered image-erosion because of several scandals involving important political figures. Generation of jobs for the youth has come under sharp criticism. Investment has come from outside the State, but not in bulk job generating sectors. The much touted live labor and employment portal has not been updated since March 2005 and records 8.80 lakh unemployed people in the state. On the other hand government employment has reached a saturation point as Himachal already has the highest percentage of government employees in the country.
A recent World Bank study on Himachal Pradesh categorically stated that “‘difficult choices in public policies will be needed that mark some break from past development strategies. The role of the state, in particular, must change increasingly from a direct provider of services and jobs to being an enabler of human and natural resource development potential.”
Besides economic issues intra and inter party bickering have weakened the party structures of both the BJP and the Congress. The NCP and other smaller parties are trying to secure spaces for themselves. However, from present trends it appears that the BJP may be able to maintain its grip on power after the 2012 elections.
Punjab is likely to be in for surprise. The BJP-SAD coalition presents an apparent conjunction of Hindu and Sikh political forces in the State. Punjab politics and administration are being severely haunted by charges of rampant corruption by the politicians and all layers of bureaucrats and police. The Congress governments under Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Capt. Amrinder Singh had come under severe criticism for heavy corruption, siphoning of development funds to political pockets and neglect of infrastructural developments. Personal and group scandals had pervaded the political scene.
Situation did not improve with BJP-SAD coalition. Prakash Singh Badal, chief minister from Malwa region had taken over the reins after claiming that if allowed a five year tenure he would change the face of Punjab and saturate it with growth. Nearly after 5 years the coalition government has been able to do little in the core agricultural sectors of the State. High cost of input, fragmentation of land, increased salinity, non-remunerative price, tyranny of commission agents and whims of the FCCI have added to the woes of the grain-bowl of India. Besides the land degradation, a number of secondary issues have resulted due to the Green Revolution, which has the potential to impact the growth of Punjab in future. Land consolidation is one such issue. Small or marginal farmers have found it difficult to benefit from HYVs, machinery and fertilizers in their fields due to which the wealth disparities have widened further than before. Also, installing pumps and using higher amount of fertilizers have increased the cost of production, thereby increasing the average debt taken by the farmers. Every year, a lot of subsidies have to be provided to the farmers in form of cheap electricity, loan waivers and lower interest rates. These costs are seldom counted as the costs of production in awarding the success crown to Punjab. The real GDP growth of Punjab from 2007-08 to 2008-09 has been about 14% as compared to its neighbor Haryana that grew at about 18% during the same period. This is an indicator of the growth stagnation for Punjab’s economy that’s highly dependent upon agriculture to an extent of 65%.
Agricultural indebtedness is very high and in recent years nearly one thousand farmers have committed suicide due to pressure of poverty, indebtedness and unsustainable growth of products. Big mechanized farms have increased in numbers. But the middle rung and small farmers are dependent on migrant labor coming from UP, Bihar and illegal Bangladeshis. The Congress, SAD+BJP governments have failed to address the deteriorating condition of the marginal and small farmers.
In the industrial belts of Ludhiana, Jullandhar etc areas large employment providing infrastructure industries have not come up since 1980. Migrant labors and growing communal conflicts have added to the woes in the industrial belts. Two incidents taking place within a span of two days in the state’s commercial capital Ludhiana have created communal and migrants-locals tensions. In the first incident which created migrants-locals tensions the police was mainly responsible for allowing the situation to deteriorate. It first refused to register a complaint by two migrants who were robbed by the bikers’ gang alleging that the police had failed to do anything about the snatching incidents taking place for the past few days. The enraged migrants, mostly from Bihar and UP, blocked highways and set ablaze vehicles. Having failed to check rioting, the police encouraged youth of nearby villages to combat the migrant protesters with lathis and swords. As a result, what began a clash between migrant laborers and police, quickly turned into a clash between locals and the migrant laborers. Several social reasons are responsible for dependence on migrant labor force. This has caused severe restraint on job opportunity of the original Punjabis.
Religious communalism has taken different dimensions in Punjab. The SGPC and the Sikhs in general do not recognize the Nirankari sect as a part of true Sikh Panth. There had severe clashes between the two groups in the past. Skirmishes between the Sikh groups and the Dera Sachha Sauda sect of Sikhism are common. Communal heat generated by alleged anti-Sikh activities of Divya Jyoti Sanstan (Nurmahal) had created serious communal situation in the recent past. Punjab is full of several Deras and Akharas, which represent amalgamated forms of Sikhism and Hinduism. Besides the Arya Samaj movement these splinter groups have also emerged as communal irritants.
The recent Muktsar incidents of assault of a woman teacher by a SAD sarpanch and fracas during visit of PS Badal to his home town area have kicked up new controversies. Unless astutely handled the may snowball into a popular agitation against SAD government.
On the other hand, Congress is also in disarray. Leadership tussle, weak organizational structure and failure to offer viable alternative have left little choice before the voters. Legendary corruption charges against Amrinder Singh government is still vivid in memory, though corruption per say, has little impact on the people. Most of them lament but breathe in corrupt political vapor.
From present studies it appears that the BJP+SAD combine has minor edges over the Congress. Much would depend on the viability of BJP-SAD alliance, seat adjustments and last minute image repair works undertaken by senior and junior Badals.
A BBC story recently carried a political analysis in the context of UP, titled Waiting for Rahul Gandhi. Since 2008 Rahul had set to the mission of Discovery of India, visiting towns, places, sleeping and eating in poor and tribal homes and trying to enervate the youth workers of the party. Uttar Pradesh, the political cradle of the Nehru family, has shut doors on the Congress party. Kaleidoscope governments of Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Bartiya Janata Party have ruled the state for nearly two decades. Rahul’s foray in the last election in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 did not yield spectacular results. The Bahujan Samaj Party won an absolute majority in the 2007 election. The incumbent chief minister is Mayawati. BSP won 206 seats out of a total of 403 seats.
Mayawati appears to be well entrenched in power. Despite several corruption charges against her and family members, allegations of spending unnecessarily on construction of her own statues and those of innumerable elephants (party symbol), Mayawati continue to maintain stranglehold on her dalit vote banks and by modifying her caste mixology chemistry she has succeeded in drawing the upper caste vote banks nearer her. Once a bitter enemy of savarna (upper caste) Hindus, Mayawati has changed track to adopt the slogans of Bahujan Hitaya and Bahujan sukhaya policy. In highly caste ridden society of Uttar Pradesh this slogan may succeed to some extent. Her allegation that Congress is dependent on Thakur, Rajput votes, she is trying to draw the Brahmins and other intermediate castes (OBC) etc support.
Corruption is a major issue in UP. Sexual misdemeanor, murder and plundering of the exchequer are few of the charges on which six ministers were sacked. Allegedly huge budget and non-budget funds were diverted to pet projects of CM Mayawati. Bhatta Parasaul land deal with the construction companies at hefty commission and alleged personal gain, Yamuna Expressway and several other scandals have besmeared the image of the CM. The CBI had also taken cases about her disproportionate assets. However, with sizeable strength in the Parliament Mayawati has played her card well to blackmail Congress which heads the fragile UPA II government in Delhi.
As far as general economic health of UP is concerned that despite allegations huge corruption the State has made steady growth in certain sectors and aggregate growth is appreciable. Between 1999 and 2008, the economy grew only 4.4% per year, one of the lowest rates in India. But between 2007 and 2011 under the Mayawati govt, the economy grew at over 7% GDP growth rate in the time when Indian economy faced the melt down due to global recession. Furthermore, UP has been one of the five state including Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Maharashtra, have registered growth rates higher than their respective targets set for the 11th Plan period (2007-12) so far, Parliament was informed today. UP registered growth rate of 7.28% against the target of 6.10%. Uttar Pradesh attains an 8.08% GDP growth rate in year of 2010-2011.
Congress icon Rahul Gandhi has jumped into the UP election fray with full vigor and sincerity. Besides other party stalwarts Digvijay Singh, in charge of UP, is also working with teams of workers. Rahul made several frontal attacks against Mayawati. The Samajwadi Party Mulayam and son Akhil Yadav have also been campaigning viciously. The BJP column is spearheaded by Uma Bharti, herself a dalit leader. The election war has warmed up.
However, Mayawati played a master stroke. She managed to get a motion passed in the legislative assembly through voice vote splitting the State into four States- Purvanchal, Bundelkhand, Avadh Pradesh and Pashchim Pradesh. Eastern UP and Bundelkhand areas have been complaining about developmental neglect since 1970. A special grant from the central government for Buldelkhand and personal attention by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi has not improved the situation. Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh (aligned to Congress) has been demanding creation of Harit Pradesh in western UP. This will now be known as Paschim Pradesh. Naming the central part of UP as Awad Pradesh has ignited hopes of Avdis (especially Muslim nobility) that the heart of the core of UP would regain its pristine glory. The division has put the ruling Gandhi family is disarray. Both Amethi and Rae Bareilly constituencies have been clubbed with Purvanchal.
The demand for vivisection of UP, a huge Hindi heartland State is old. Earlier Uttarakahnd was curved out of UP to give the hill areas a distinct political character. However, by making this announcement Mayawati has stolen march on her political opponents. The UP government is likely to send the proposal of quadric-section of the State to the central government.
As the situation stands the BSP of Mayawati enjoys edge over her closest rival SP. The BJP and Congress are running at distant third and fourth position. There are indications that the BJP is making significant gains at the cost of SP and Congress. Uma Bharti’s campaign may succeed in garnering more dalit votes. However, dalits plus Brahmins and edges of OBCs and Muslims are inclined to again favor Mayawati. She is likely to emerge as the leader of the largest party in the assembly. Speculation about another BSP and BJP coalition in the state is still in nebulous stage. Rahul Gandhi in UP and national election scene may still remain as an unarrived Godot, for which Congress party awaits so eagerly.