Two different games

Our nation is always excited about some issue or the other. At the moment, the most important event is the cricket World Cup. While we have had two consecutive wins, against Ireland and the Netherlands, we faced a stiff challenge on March 12 against South Africa. As things stand, the top five teams appear to be India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and England. Chris Gayle of West Indies can single-handedly upset other teams by playing good cricket.

As millions watch the game India plays, and pray for the Cup, the tension is palpable. Everyone has an opinion and suggestions for the team, and so do I. While our batting is formidable, there are a lot of issues regarding our bowling and we are yet to show the form required to win the World Cup.
As soon as the World Cup fever gets over on April 2, Indian Premier League fever will grip the nation. And a few weeks thereon will begin the electoral battles in five states — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.

On one hand we are witnessing rising inflation in our country, and on the other there is a great deal of tension in West Asia and Africa. The crisis has affected everyone, including the Indians. There are over five million Indians in the region with jobs, families and homes, and a lot of financial investment. Global oil prices have escalated and, sadly, people’s agitation for freedom, which has spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen and Libya, has ended in violence, resulting in heavy casualties.
We have to keep our eyes open and keenly observe the events unfolding in north Africa. As a civil war rages in Libya, the international community continues to talk about sanctions to be imposed on the Libyan dictator who has deployed fighter aircraft and ordered his own people to be bombed. Col. Muammar Gaddafi is no amateur and knows the power of “oil politics”. The West’s greed for fuel has dictated policy initiatives in the past; only time will tell what the global community chooses — the aspirations of the people for a better future or the “oil” interests of the superpower. Few will support Col. Gaddafi openly, but there may be covert deals and settlements.

WE HAVE a viable and vibrant democracy, with more or less peaceful electoral battles. Even the political “accidents” that sometimes spur dramatic events remain relatively peaceful. The recent unprovoked aggression of the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) is one such incident. The Congress raised its demand to 63 seats instead of the 60 alloted by the DMK for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, which are due next month. Following this, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi threatened to pull out from the United Progressive Alliance government. But the Congress called the DMK’s bluff by saying “no compromise”. The two soon reached a seat-sharing agreement.
It is no secret that the warring factions within Mr Karunanidhi’s family are responsible for this indiscretion. We should praise Congress president Sonia Gandhi for keeping her nerve and not submitting to the DMK’s pressure tactics.
Elections in Tamil Nadu will be a close call as the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) will contest together. For multiple poll alliances of this nature to work, there has to be a great deal of “flexible” voting. Often, local angles prevail over party commitments, and it’s here that the enhanced MP Local Area Development Fund will be of great use.
The mood of the public is changing and it is difficult right now to predict the election results. But the DMK’s conduct may help the Congress in more than one way. In fact, in more ways than one, apart from the DMK and the AIADMK, there is now a strong possibility of a Congress chief minister in the state. We can expect many twists and turns next month as parties pick their candidates.
I am often baffled by the tactics deployed by the DMK chief and I wonder if he is still in control of the party or if the complex politics within his family has taken control of the party’s decision-making process. The firm reply given by Mrs Gandhi to Dayanidhi Maran and M.K. Alagiri indicates that Mr Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi has been side-tracked. My feeling is that internal feuds within the DMK may remain somewhat subdued till the elections as the party already faces a credibility crisis following the 2G spectrum scam and the arrest of former telecom minister A. Raja.

MEANWHILE, THE battle in West Bengal is getting intense. The front-runner in the state elections is the charismatic Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress (TMC). She is sure to win by a mile, though seat distribution may cause a flutter or two as the Congress has demanded 98 seats but the TMC has offered just 58. However, I do not see this as a major issue. The charismatic and gutsy TMC leader, who has devoted her life to the aam aadmi, knows her politics and will leave little to chance as she gets ready to battle the might of the Left Front.
We can expect a great deal of localised violence in West Bengal as the Left Front and its cadres have been controlling the rural economy for over three decades. The Election Commission and security forces will be fully tested in the state during the Assembly elections.
I remember well the events of 1984-85 as we prepared for general elections under the then Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi. As we were finalising the lists of candidates, we still had close to 30 seats to fill all over the country. The Opposition was very strong and we lacked suitable candidates. West Bengal was a weak spot then, and I recall the commotion caused by Ms Banerjee at 1, Akbar Road. Rajiv Gandhi immediately identified her as a “suitable” candidate to take on the formidable Somnath Chatterjee, who had never lost an election, and gave her a chance. She won by a huge margin — 50,000 votes. The Congress swept to a massive 400-seat-plus victory in the 1985 Lok Sabha elections, but won only 16 out of 42 seats in West Bengal. This tally only improved in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 when the TMC and the Congress together won 28 seats.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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