The M&M factor

Political assessment of the ground realities, and the timing and execution of decisions by key players, will be critical for their successes

I am not surprised at the voting pattern on FDI in either House. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party voted along predictable lines, enabling the UPA government to defeat the Opposition’s motion against FDI in multi-brand retail in both the Houses last week.

The government snatched a 21-vote victory in the Rajya Sabha, where it was feared to flounder. It got the votes of 123 of the total 225 MPs present in the Upper House; 19 MPs, including nine from the SP, did not vote. It was wise for the BJP not to have supported the Trinamul Congress on the no-confidence motion, as it could not have ramped up the numbers the Opposition requires to see through such a motion. On the FDI issue the Left parties are still stuck in the Cold War era while the BJP has to protect its trader vote base.
In a way the pointer is to Uttar Pradesh — from where the two parties come — as an electoral decider in the larger context. The SP and the BSP may well become No. 1 and No. 2 in seat tally among the regional parties in the next general election, underlining the relevance of “Mulayam and Mayawati” factor to the next government at the Centre. The chances of a mid-term poll are slim: no one barring the Trinamul Congress really wants an election at this point in time. Political logic points towards general election likely around May 2014 or, if any political accidents occur, the polls may be held in October/November 2013.
It would be a mistake to assume that alliances have been formed for the 2014 general elections. However, the relevance of minority votes in many states is clear, and to take this for granted in West Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or in other states will be suicidal for the two national parties. The aam aadmi is ahead of the political parties in his understanding of the changing scenario, and along with development and growth, the issue of law and order and communal peace is important for him, as his perception has nothing to do with the secular/non-secular divide.
Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is crucial, as always, in the politics of the nation. And it will remain so in the next general election. The question is: Is the minority vote shifting in the state? A shift in the minority vote will have a cascading effect on all political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, getting a chance to regain some of their lost ground. The law and order situation under former chief minister Mayawati was comparatively good.
The present government under Akhilesh Yadav has to control the SP cadres. The insecurity levels due to emergence of criminal mafia in Uttar Pradesh are going to disturb every community.
The situation in the state is fluid, and much can happen over the next year, with both the SP and the BSP needing the UPA at the Centre. But is this not the case in every state?
In Maharashtra, I do not see any change. While a certain amount of dissent exists vis-à-vis the chief minister, as very few decisions are being taken at his level.
But the delay in taking decisions is understandable given the rampant corruption besting the state.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has a clean image, and I cannot foresee that the Congress will be able to come up with a better face than him. The tussle between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party will go on, as each has to get the upper hand. The goings-on in Maharashtra are like little storms in a large teacup. Sharad Pawar, more than anyone else, understands the “big picture” at the Centre. The Shiv Sena is in a mess. I do not see a substantive difference in the tally between the Congress-NCP and the Shiv Sena-BJP in 2014 compared to 2009.
In West Bengal, after the President election and now the FDI issue, chief minister Mamata Banerjee is under pressure and the first signs of dissent are visible in her party, the Trinamul Congress. It is sad, but the fact is that the political honeymoon is over for her, and the Left is going to return with a sizeable presence in the national legislature. Ms Banerjee has overreached beyond her 19 seats and looks isolated. Her party can decline further. The question is, will she go with the NDA and the BJP in the future? This looks logical. In a three-way fight with the CPI(M) and the Congress, her party will lose much of the ground.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has a serious problem. Of a total of 32 seats, in 2009 I had predicted 14 seats, and even this can decline further if changes in organisational structure of the party are delayed, as chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has little credibility, and the situation in all the three regions of the state — Telangana, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra — is politically unstable.
Tamil Nadu and Punjab are the only states showing no signs of erosion for the parties in power. The AIADMK looks very strong with chief minister J. Jayalalithaa coasting along, though with due caution. In Bihar, relations between the JD(U) and the BJP remain unpredictable as before. Recent reports indicate that RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav is getting a better public response than before though it is too early to say if his showing will make any difference.
The situation in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka can change rather suddenly.
Political assessment of the ground realities, and the timing and execution of decisions by key players will be critical for their successes. And time is running out for everyone.

The writer is a former Union minister

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