Mayawati's statues and her election
symbol of elephants carved out of stone have been covered, the
Congress' pro-Muslim sops have been shot down, the officials
believed to be biased in favour of the ruling party have been
transferred by the Election Commission and bundles of cash meant
for distribution among voters have been seized. The country is
ready for another electoral bout among political parties under the
commission's stern, impartial gaze, which promises that the
contests will be free and the outcome fair.
It is the certainty about the results reflecting the popular mood
which has facilitated the task of forecasts since the earlier ugly
phenomenon of booth-capturing, impersonation and forcibly keeping
at bay large groups of voters, mainly in the Hindi heartland, is
no longer prevalent. As is known, this remarkable cleansing of the
electoral system is the contribution of T.N. Seshan, who was chief
election commissioner from 1990 to 1996. Since his time, the
commission, like the Comptroller and Auditor General's office, has
been a truly autonomous body.
As a result, perhaps the most crucial of the "cow belt" states,
Uttar Pradesh, will see another riveting battle between the two
old regional adversaries, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the
Samajwadi Party (SP), and two "national" parties with limited
local influence, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),
with all of them accepting the results without making too much of
In all likelihood, the anti-incumbency factor, which led to the
SP's ouster in 2007, may be felt by the BSP this time, largely
because of the latter's neglect of significant development
projects that make a difference to the lives of the poor and
marginalised, reminiscent of a similar indifference shown by Lalu
Prasad during his 15 years as Bihar chief minister.
In both their cases, the belief that a neat stitching of caste
combinations - Mayawati's Dalit-Brahmin rainbow coalition and Lalu
Prasad's Muslim-Yadav (MY) alliance - was considered enough to
cross the electoral Rubicon.
But, ever since the Janata Dal-United's Nitish Kumar showed in
Bihar in 2005 that a focus on development, law and order and
social welfare was the only real guarantor of success, parties
like the BSP, which have failed on this account, have become
vulnerable. In Mayawati's case, the inordinate extolling of her
own self via statues has made her a figure of ridicule to the
intelligentsia while how impressed the Dalits have been will only
be known when the results are out.
Interestingly, the Janata Dal-United and the BJP, which are allies
in Bihar, will be on opposite sides of the fence in Uttar Pradesh,
diminishing the latter's chances of getting a sizeable chunk of
the other backward caste (OBC) votes via the Janata Dal-United
and, therefore, pushing it further down in the electoral stakes.
For the Congress, it is a do-or-die battle for the party's heir
apparent, Rahul Gandhi. If he falters yet again, as in Bihar in
2010, he will have to reconsider his tactics. But, if the Congress
can repeat its 2009 performance in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul will be
the frontrunner for the prime minister's chair in 2014.
If anti-incumbency is expected to hit the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, it
is also likely to unsettle the Akali Dal in Punjab, which has
tended to vote for the Akalis and the Congress in alternate
elections. The Congress' hopes of staging a comeback have been
buoyed by its success in the 2009 parliamentary polls, when it won
eight of the 13 seats while the Akalis won four.
Since then the Akalis have been shaken by the departure of their
former finance minister, Manpreet Singh Badal, who accused the
government of leading the state towards financial ruin by
following populist policies, and the resignation of two ministers
of the BJP, an ally of the Akalis, on bribery charges.
Punjab is not the only state where the local BJP leaders have been
under a cloud. In Uttarakhand, the party had to hastily remove
Ramesh Pokhriyal from the chief minister's post in favour of B.C.
Khanduri, who held the office earlier, in view of the corruption
charges faced by Pokhriyal's administration. In fact, there is
little doubt that the BJP would have lost power if Pokhriyal had
remained in office. Even now, memories of his time in power may
damage the party's prospects.
Malfeasance may also affect the Congress' chances in Goa, where a
mining scandal has tainted Digambar Kamat's government. The fact
that the chief minister has been in charge of the mining ministry
for a decade hasn't helped his image. The 2007 elections saw a
close fight between the Congress, which won 16 of the 40 assembly
seats, and the BJP, which won 14. However, the Congress formed the
government with the help of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP),
which won three seats. This time too, the alliance evidently hopes
to pip the BJP to the post despite its rickety nature, which saw
the NCP break ranks in 2007 and 2008.
In Manipur, the Congress may gain from the differences that have
cropped up between two constituents of the People's Democratic
Front (PDF) - the Janata Dal (United) and the RJD - with the
enmity rooted in Bihar between these two parties souring their
relations in the northeastern state.
Amulya Ganguli is a
political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org