BJP and the Nitish tangle

Nitish Kumar is a shrewd politician and is well aware that leadership skills have to be matched with acceptability. The BJP can come under pressure if the JD(U) goes it alone in Bihar.

There’s still a year to go for the general elections, yet we have started witnessing a great deal of thunder and lightning. But that’s only on the surface. Deep down, every party is at work. Let’s quickly survey the scene. The Congress Party has no issues at the “top” and both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi are working with the eye on 2014.

The party has done well in the urban local bodies’ polls in Karnataka along with the Janata Dal(Secular). More important than the results are the trends, which show that the party has been able to arrest the decline in urban areas.
In contrast, the battle in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues for the “top” slot. Though Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has taken a few measured steps to become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, it is still far from clear if he will lead the party in the 2014 polls. There is trouble brewing in Bihar with the ally Janata Dal(United) not supporting the candidature of Mr Modi.
Even within the BJP there can be resistance, as 15-18 seats in Gujarat are not enough to stake a claim at the Centre. Uttar Pradesh, with its 80 seats, will always be the key to the future, and BJP president Rajnath Singh, a former chief minister and Union minister, will be a contender as will be Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP) has lost its edge on account of law and order problems. Former state minister Raja Bhaiyya’s arrest only confirms the grim reality in Uttar Pradesh. I see the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gaining in Uttar Pradesh as will the Congress and the BJP. The BSP could move into the 22-27 range, while the Congress can recover at 12-15 and the BJP at 18-20 seats.
Things are changing rapidly in Bihar. Earlier this week, the JD(U) chief fired a salvo and addressed a big rally in Delhi. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar knows that he will have to go beyond the border of Bihar to protect his numbers. He is a shrewd politician and is well aware that leadership skills have to be matched with acceptability. The BJP can come under pressure if the JD(U) goes it alone and both the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party start attracting crowds. But it is still early days to predict if the Congress can gain by these developments. Bihar and Jharkhand have a total of 54 seats.
Maharashtra with 48 seats may well vote for a status quo as there are issues on all fronts, but we could see changes in Andhra Pradesh (42 seats), West Bengal (42 seats), Tamil Nadu (39 seats), Karnataka (26 seats) and Rajasthan (25 seats).
The Left has no trouble in Tripura, as was visible in recent polls, and will gain both in West Bengal and Kerala on the anti-incumbency trend.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is in trouble and I think this will be reflected in the battle of local elections in May 2013. The problem is dissension within the Trinamul Congress as powerful groups in various districts of West Bengal will flex their muscles.
Ms Banerjee declares mid-term polls every quarter to keep her pack intact, but the elections are still a year away. The question is, can the Trinamul Congress stay intact? The Bengal firebrand broke a natural alliance with the Congress and may find it difficult to go with the BJP as West Bengal, like Bihar, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, have sizeable minority votes, which can and will swing results in many seats. The West Bengal results will be the most intriguing.

The UPA Cabinet has passed the bill on crimes against women. Hopefully it will soon become a law. Recently a Swiss couple was robbed and the woman gangraped in Datia, Madhya Pradesh, in a forest. According to reports, 13 suspects have been detained.
The Chief Justice of India in a seminar on juveniles indicated that we should not be “baying for blood”, but is anyone listening. In the last two months I have spoken to many of my senior political friends and also to many in the judicial services. Few dispute the need for new laws on crimes against women. However, the opinion on several aspects of the law is sharply divided and there is concern that we are rushing into legislation without debating contentious issues. There are grave concerns that, despite the best intentions, we don’t have the system to implement the new law which goes beyond fast-track courts. The reality is that many of our laws are misused and we do not have a perfect system of governance.
Everyone is obsessed with persecution today and we have many a “Little Caesar” within the system who will indulge in excesses because the corrective mechanism is very slow. Negative trends are all around but let us remember that we are a society in the throes of transition. True, there is much that is not right, but given the integrity and reputation of our higher judiciary, and our earnest media — both electronic and print — we have a very good shot at preserving our rights as citizens.

The writer is a former Union minister

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