Regional stirring, Central heating

With the Cabinet reshuffle just carried out, the Congress has embarked on mid-term course correction — both in the government and in the party — in preparation for the 2014 polls. There are 10 crucial Assembly elections due in the coming months, and a volatile situation exists both in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The “new team” will face instant challenges, which will start with Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Clearly, the Congress and those at the helm at the Centre are aware of the situation and are bracing up for the task ahead. However, I would like to see the full package of changes, including changes in the party structure, before I form my final opinion. The package will indicate the priority areas the Congress will concentrate on till 2014.
According to my estimates, the Congress and the BJP are still placed at 150 seats each and the regional parties between 240-250 seats. However, if the situation in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is not contained soon, both the Congress and the BJP will struggle to reach the figure of 150 seats. There is infighting in the regional parties too, as we saw the Bahujan Samaj Party daring the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. We saw the Left challenging the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal; in Tamil Nadu there are changes within the AIADMK coalition. These can result in a realignment of forces and new regional forces erupting in every state. However, it is too early to say if these developments will cast their shadows over the coming elections.
As I have said in the past the Congress will soon be led by Rahul Gandhi and the BJP by Narendra Modi, which is the majority view within these parties. To no one’s surprise, the recent Cabinet changes were influenced to a great extent by Mr Gandhi. He seems ready for a bigger role in the party.
However, one has to consider every opinion in politics as no one can have a monopoly in decision-making. When we would discuss party matters with Indira Gandhi during her tenure as the Prime Minister, both Rajiv Gandhi and I would be happy if we had a 30 per cent success on matters that we had proposed. Many times I saw Indira Gandhi give in to the majority view in the party on crucial appointments.

The issues the BJP is grappling with need to be addressed soon as a “vacancy” at the top can lead to a civil war within the party. Sadly, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has been wounded by corruption charges levelled against him by activist Arvind Kejriwal at a juncture like this. Every newspaper is full of clinical details on his business empire. The party has to sort out a few issues by end-December when Mr Gadkari’s term as the BJP’s president is over.
For one, there are too many contenders in the BJP’s top leadership for helming the party for the 2014 polls. If the chain of command is not clear at the national level, the unhealthy dynamic travels down to the states too. We saw what happened in Rajasthan on the last occasion — the disarray cost the party its hold on power with the Congress eventually wresting the state from the BJP — and we can see the sorry state of affairs that Karnataka has become. Clearly, the BJP has a bulky bag of issues to sort out for 2014.
As state Assembly elections gather steam, in Himachal Pradesh, local issues will dominate the electoral agenda and a very close fight is expected. It would be interesting to note if any issue has influenced the voter besides the local ones. The good thing is that all the 68 seats are hotly contested. Besides the Congress and the BJP, the Left too has fielded candidates for every seat in the state. Even the Trinamul Congress has fielded its candidates there as evident from posters of Mamata Banerjee and K.D. Singh, who is fast emerging as her No. 2, all over the state. It remains to be seen if any of the charges leveled against Virbhadra Singh on his agricultural income have any impact on the polls on November 4. The BJP government in Himachal Pradesh has anti-incumbency trend to negotiate but chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is well spoken of and the results could go in either direction.
In Gujarat, all estimates reflect victory for Narendra Modi with 110-130 seats. If the positive trend becomes emphatic early on, then the margins can go higher. We have seen this phenomenon in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and even in Goa.
I think it is time to look in depth at the regional parties all over the country. But I find it difficult to keep pace with the changes taking place in each state much though I am trying to compile a list of the new political parties sprouting all around. Of the current 40-45 effective political parties that will control 240-250 Lok Sabha seats (it can be higher) we may well see a larger haul made by them. In the Assembly elections each of them can win a seat or two and this is how every regional party makes a beginning. I wish the media could find time to do an analysis of this regional mushrooming.

Tv channels should not play politics, and it is important for all channels to declare the share holding or loans given by corporate houses to media outlets. I am a little surprised at the issues concerning the petroleum ministry. If a corporate house is being accused of influencing a decision by media outlets, then are we to assume that they are acting at the behest of corporate rivals? The media is not free of influence and political bias; however, asset declaration will make it clear if there are any special angles to a media report.

The writer is a former Union minister

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