Monday, January 16, 2012

It is for Congress to win, or lose

The race for votes is well and truly on, and with the Indian cricket team facing decimation in Australia, it is politics that is grabbing all the eye balls. Media pundits have already declared that the assembly elections to 5 states are a kind of semi final before the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2014. The same pundits have also declared that these elections will be a decisive one for Rahul Gandhi. If the Congress does well, Rahul Gandhi would magically acquire the halo and aura of a Prime Minister in waiting. If the Congress performs poorly, the inheritor will have to rethink strategy in the run up to 2014. Of course, most of the attention is focused on Uttar Pradesh where Rahul Gandhi seems to have locked horns with Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. Nobody gives the BJP even a ghost of a chance; at least not sensible people.

In this relentless barrage of news and analysis, we seem to have forgotten a simple fact: these elections are for the Congress to win, or lose. Forget Manipur and Goa for the moment. The real battle is in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab. In all these states, the Congress is challenging incumbents who have a lot to answer for. In all these states, history is against incumbents. If we were doing honest analysis, we should have already declared Congress the winner in Punjab and Uttarakhand. And a decisive force in Uttar Pradesh. The fact that we are not doing it reflects both our soft spot for Rahul Gandhi and the uncertainty within the Congress.

Look at it this way. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had humbled the Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab by winning 8 out of 13 seats. Since then, allegations of corruption against the incumbent chief minister and his family have become louder and stronger. Quite frankly, the state is for the taking as far as Congress is concerned. Just a repeat of the Lok Sabha results will ensure that it wins Punjab with a comfortable majority. Now take a look at Uttarakhand. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it decimated the BJP by winning all 5 seats on offer. Except a belated induction of a clean politician like B. K Khanduri, it has been downhill since then for the BJP with internal fighting among BJP leaders reaching suicidal levels. A simple repeat of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections would ensure that the Congress would sweep Uttarakhand as decisively as Nitish Kumar swept Bihar in the previous assembly election. Now let's come to Uttar Pradesh. There is little doubt that except her core Dalit vote bank, people in Uttar Pradesh are disappointed with the performance and track record of Mayawati. Their biggest disappointment is over law and order, a plank that she so successfully used in 2007 to storm back to power with a majority of her own. Then there is the undisputed appeal and charisma of Rahul Gandhi, apart from his relentless focus on the state. Most importantly, shrewd announcements and promises to provide a quota to Muslims should make a big difference. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it was already apparent that Muslim voters of Uttar Pradesh were ready to forgive the Congress for the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Finally, look at the results of the Lok Sabha elections of 2009. The Congress had astounded even itself by winning 22 seats and coming second in 7 more seats. It was actually the leader in more than 90 assembly constituencies and came second in about 30 more. A simple repeat of that performance should give the Congress about 120 seats in the assembly elections.

You might say that I am ignoring the Anna factor which could play a decisive role. But frankly, the Anna factor is just hype and a lot of bunkum. Corrupt candidates will get elected (I do agree with Anna Hazare's assessment that our electoral system is rotten). In any case, can any of the leading contenders in the fray- Congress, BJP, Akali Dal, BSP and SP- claim to be clean? And will voters assess who is less corrupt and then cast their votes? You know that is bunkum.

There is no rocket science involved in what I have stated; it is mostly common sense. Then why is all the analysis that I see so far still making it such a tough challenge for the Congress? Could it be that the inevitable dictated by common sense will happen and media pundits in March will suddenly start saying how the Congress has decisively won the semi final? Has Rahul Gandhi not won it already?


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