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07 January, 2014

A spanner in presidential works

BRP Bhaskar
The signs of a presidential race in the making have dissipated somewhat and the parliamentary elections, due in a few months, may now follow the conventional pattern. The credit for this goes primarily to the new kid on the block, the Aam Admi Party.

With regional parties and small national parties gravitating towards the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance or the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, before or after the elections, India has been going through a phase of coalition governments for some years.

In the elections of 2004 and 2009 the combined vote share of the Congress and the BJP was below 50 per cent. This meant that a majority of the voters were already with regional parties and small national parties. With their vote share expected to go up in this year’s elections, ambitious leaders of some of the parties began eying the prime minister’s chair.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whom the BJP picked as its prime ministerial candidate, altered the political scenario with a bold campaign in the recent assembly elections in four northern states, which the media had dubbed as a semi-final. He succeeded in creating an impression that the final will be a presidential kind of race between him and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party’s presumptive prime ministerial nominee.

The BJP’s success in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and its emergence as the largest single party in Delhi state appeared to confirm pollsters’ forecast that the BJP will emerge as the largest single party in the next Lok Sabha and earn the right to form the government. Modi sought to boost his prospects further by setting the goal of an absolute majority for his party.

As the implications of the Delhi verdict sank in, political observers found it necessary to reassess the situation. The AAP, which blocked the BJP’s return to power, was able to form the government in the state with the Congress extending support from outside. It has now announced plans to contest the Lok Sabha elections, raising an alarm in the coteries of the established parties.

Many imagined the AAP will confine itself to urban constituencies where it can hope to replicate the Delhi story. But the party has said it will field as many candidates as possible, the only restricting factors being its organisational limitations and the availability of suitable candidates.

As in the Delhi state elections, the AAP hopes to cash in on the people’s disgust with the corrupt ways of the mainstream parties. In Yogendra Yadav, its ideologue, the party has a valuable strategic planner. He has been studying Indian electoral behaviour for many years and is possibly more knowledgeable than anyone else in the country on the social dynamics of the polity at both the national and regional levels.

Yadav recently spoke of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal as an alternative prime ministerial candidate. Kejriwal quickly dismissed the suggestion, which had the potential to bolster Modi’s bid to reduce the elections to a one-to-one fight for the top post, glossing over the complex problems for which the people are looking for solutions. 

The Modi juggernaut was already slowing down when Kejriwal threw a spanner in the presidential works. It will be back on the road again after a re-jig but it remains to be seen whether it can regain the lost momentum.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader J Jayalalithaa has set before her party the ambitious target of grabbing all 39 of the state’s Lok Sabha seats as well as Puducherry’s lone seat so as to give her a big role in national politics. Other state party leaders are sure to follow her lead with a view to maximising their bargaining power.

The Congress party, whose image is tarnished by corruption scandals, is yet to put its act together. Its governmental and organisational wings inspire little confidence. The party’s rank and file view Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial face, even though there has been no formal announcement to that effect.

He recently forced the Centre to abandon a proposed law to protect tainted legislators and got the Maharashtra government to re-examine its decision to reject the probe report on the Adarsh scam. Such stray interventions are not enough to convince the people that he can be the agent of change they are looking for. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 7, 2014.

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