Political cauldron on a slow boil

The presidential election continues to claim our complete attention because of the latest controversy over two unlike signatures of UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee — one on his letter of resignation from the chairmanship of the Indian Statistical Institute, the other on his presidential nomination papers — which may well lead to a legal battle.

But vice-president Hamid Ansari has had a somewhat smooth sailing and seems set for his second term in office. As soon as Mr Mukherjee moves into the Rashtrapati Bhavan, we will be seized of Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh due later this year.
As we look at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and try to form a picture, we have to revisit the trends thrown up by the last Assembly elections, especially the three big states — Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh the Congress won 21; the BJP, 10; the Samajwadi Party, 23; the Bahujan Samaj Party, 20; and the Rashtriya Lok Dal took five seats.
The Congress pulled off a miracle of sorts and won 206 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 with positive showing in every state and Uttar Pradesh was no exception. The Assembly elections came three years later and the SP stormed into power at the expense of the BSP, with both the Congress and the BJP suffering reverses, the former more than the latter because of the party’s double talk that offended both the majority and minority communities in the state.
Today, the SP feels in total control. Besides Uttar Pradesh, it also has leverage on crucial decisions at the Centre as the UPA needs its support. But political honeymoons, as we have seen in other states, can be very brief. Sadly, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav gives the impression of slipping a little as the old timers in the party with their old style of functioning seem to have the upper hand.
Money and muscle power cannot ensure electoral success, nor does any form of excess. Mayawati and her BSP lost for this reason, as did Mulayam Singh Yadav and SP earlier, and this can happen again if Mulayam and son Akhilesh stray from the path of good governance. The senior SP leader has to keep his dynasty under control and keep in mind what happened to Lalu Prasad Yadav and his dynasty in Bihar.
Ms Mayawati got relief from the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case, and this can lead to some insecurity in the SP while the BJP’s success in the municipal election (winning nine out of 13) will be a source of concern for all the other parties.
We still have 18 months to go before the Lok Sabha elections, but if the current trend continues I see the BSP gaining ground, and both the Congress and the BJP recovering and doing rather well. I am not hazarding a guess as yet but I don’t see the SP at 40-45 seats in 2014.

In Tamil Nadu, we may well see a dramatic turn of events in favour of the AIADMK. Of a total of 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the Congress holds 8; the DMK, 18; AIADMK, 9; MDMK, 1; and the Left has two.
The AIADMK’s alliance with the DMDK has not worked while the DMK is in chaos. Besides the dozen-plus ministers raided and arrested on graft charges and their involvement in the 2G scam, an internal war in the DMK family rages while the AIADMK looks strong and comfortable. I think that the position will be reversed in 2014 with the AIADMK and its allies winning 30 seats and the DMK and the Congress going down to nine. The alliance pattern might change as AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa, who has kept her cool till now, seems to be playing a bigger game for the future. We still have a year and a half to go before the general elections and much can happen as the political pot boils in Tamil Nadu.
The situation in West Bengal is like Uttar Pradesh in the sense that the political honeymoon is over for the chief minister, who is under pressure now. Even though chief minister Mamata Banerjee with her charisma and impeccable integrity is very much the leader, in the present mood she cannot survive on personal image alone. A combative attitude — be it towards the coalition partners, the Left or the electorate — will have an adverse fallout. Excess in anything is bad, and a class war created for political votebanks will not help. Ms Banerjee is fortunate that the Left parties still lack credible leaders to match her, but both the Left and the Congress have established votebanks. I think the Trinamul Congress will find it difficult to repeat its 2009 performance what with reports of infighting among its cadres. But then a Congress and Left alliance is unlikely as well — a three-way fight will suit the CPI(M).
Of a total of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the Trinamul Congress holds 20; the Left parties, 15; the Congress six seats; and the BJP one. Ms Banerjee has no easy choices for the future. The minority vote is as critical for her as it is for the Left, and this complicates alliance formation for her at the national level. Logic indicates that an alliance with the Congress is mutually beneficial, but logic does not always work in turbulent times.
My estimate for 2014 Lok Sabha places both the Congress and the BJP at 120-130 seats each, which is a marginal increase for the BJP as urban areas tend to show a drift away from the Congress.

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