Money, mafia, politics

The dates for the Bihar elections have been announced. The future of the state will be determined over a period of one month and six polling days. I must confess that I am all at sea with the complex caste arithmetic in the state but my prediction is that in the state Assembly of 243 members, the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya

Janata Party combine will win 115-130 seats, the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Janshakti Party may get 60-75 seats and the Congress may double their seats to 20-plus. I think the triumvirate of Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) and the BJP will win, albeit by a small margin.
This will not be an easy election. There is no doubt that Mr Nitish Kumar has done Bihar proud by controlling the law and order situation, taking good roads to rural areas, overhauling the electricity supply and the state economy. But all this may not be enough in a complicated caste system and anti-incumbency trends, always present in an election, may well upset poll calculations.
The Congress may not have a spectacular rise in Bihar as it is bound to have in Uttar Pradesh, but the Rahul Gandhi effect is already visible. And if the upper castes and classes vote along with the minority communities, the Congress may once again become a viable option in the state.
Political trends are changing slowly but we must keep an eye on 2014 because I strongly believe that while Mr Nitish Kumar and Mayawati may win the Assembly elections with reduced margins, the Congress will increase its tally in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Victory and defeat are often determined by vote swings of one to two per cent. The new demographic pattern and new voters may well throw up a few surprises in the elections. In West Bengal, the victory of the Trinamul Congress (TMC) in the next Assembly elections is a foregone conclusion while in Tamil Nadu the family wars in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) seem to have been resolved for the moment and chief minister M. Karunanidhi is in good health and firmly in control. The DMK, which looks set to consolidate, faces no threat from the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam which has not made any inroads into the DMK vote base.

WE HAVE record gross domestic product (GDP) growth and wealth generation, but along with this we have a host of new issues that need urgent political solutions. The collection of funds by political parties, as I have said several times, lacks transparency and is going to contribute to the formation of “political mafias” based on illegal funds which will challenge political authority in every party, especially where the leaders are also involved in these activities. We see the Congress struggling in Andhra Pradesh against the economic muscle of Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s son Jaganmohan and his associates. Mr Reddy is slowly getting isolated as the Congress puts pressure on businesses and examines the land deals of his supporters. The BJP leadership too, both at the Centre and in the state, is under severe pressure of the Reddy brothers in Karnataka and we see a sudden political awareness springing up on the issue of illegal mining, forcible land acquisition and property development by a few favourite builders.
The Mayawati government acted swiftly and cancelled the proposed township. This should be a warning to all states, but often greed overtakes political logic.
Every political party will try to take credit for the changes in the Land Acquisition Bill which will be raised in the next session of Parliament. But credit must go to Mamata Banerjee and the TMC who stressed on a fair deal for those deprived of their lands and the need to pay market value for the land acquired. It is sad and very unfortunate that many innocent people lost their lives protecting their lands, in many cases their sole asset against the might of the state.
We have a new scam today of hundreds of crores worth of Wakf land meant for poor and needy Muslims and the issue of the Enemy Property Bill. I have few doubts that many VVIP names will figure in these investigations. The reality is that no one is against land acquisition for public works but “circle” rates are not even 10 per cent of the market rates and often land is being stolen from the original owners, purportedly for the interest of the state, industry, or for educational trusts and social institutes controlled and run by political VIPs.

U.S. President Barack Obama visits India in early November. Media reports indicate that he would be travelling to Mumbai where he will pay his respects to the martyrs of 26/11. This is a wonderful gesture and his recent statements of ending the war in Iraq and concentration of military initiatives on the Taliban and the Afghan-Pakistan border are very welcome.
The restrictive measures being initiated by Mr Obama are not going to hurt the Indian IT industry but will certainly hurt sentiments towards trade relations with the US and the faith in free trade. Reactions have already started coming in. While we all understand the compulsions of elective politics and the fact that Mr Obama and his party are under pressure, one cannot throw political punches at Bengaluru without taking some in return. Sadly, “superpowers” sometimes take things for granted and this, in the current situation, would be a serious error. The public mood can grow ugly.
In case this happens, the government can do very little. As the issue is debated over the next few days the picture should become clearer to those who formulate policy in the US. Recent climate control talks have given adequate indication of the power shifts in global politics and I don’t think it is a wise to take public opinion for granted in India.
India is heading for nine per cent gross domestic product growth with a saving rate between 35-40 per cent and a massive increase in agriculture and huge surpluses.
If we plan for the future we will need additional workforce, in millions, in every field of activity. The number of incoming and outgoing professionals is a clear indicator of what the future holds. I sincerely hope that Mr Obama can find time to go to Bengaluru, Hyderabad or Gurgaon. He will find that there is more to these cities than just “outsourcing”.
We are beyond sermons and are focused on the future. We have several options to juggle in the future.
The aim of India and the US should be to maintain good business relations free of restrictive practices. The US has issues at the moment but so do we. But we live and function in a global economy. Can we afford to be restrictive in our approach?

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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