My name was Shiv Sena

Feb 14 : With just one state Assembly election scheduled in Bihar later this year, 2010 is by and large going to be a quiet year. But the battle for the minority vote, crucial for a majority verdict for the Congress in 2014, will keep simmering. We already see its

beginnings in Maharashtra where the Shiv Sena-Shah Rukh Khan issue has sparked off a political war and presented the Congress an opportunity to regain lost ground in the north. Both factions of the Shiv Sena will take a drubbing in this fight as the nation’s mood is against any kind of "excess".

The battle for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which together hold 120 Lok Sabha seats, has started in Maharashtra which, with 48 seats, is the second-largest state. The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine is ahead of the coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena and yet the question is whether both these alliances will continue as we approach 2014?

Change is in the air as the Congress moves forward and Sharad Pawar and the NCP are on the defensive with limited options. The situation is no different in the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. Fact is, events in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 2010 may well have an impact on alliance structures in Maharashtra. The successful visit of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to Mumbai has pushed the issue further.

At the national level, the Shiv Sena will find little support from any political party, including the BJP. And the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), along with the Janata Dal (United), will have no option but to support the Congress because of the large number of people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar living in Mumbai.

Sharad Pawar’s visit to Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray on the Indian Premier League issue was ill-timed and I hope that better sense will prevail in the Shiv Sena faction and we will see a peaceful resolution to the issue involving SRK and screening of My Name is Khan (MNIK).

Many will claim victory over the events in Mumbai where Shiv Sena’s political isolation now seems complete. Sena’s steady decline was apparent again and again — after the Assembly results, after the tragic events of 26/11, in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 and the multiple splits in the party — and yet its leaders failed to read the change in the attitude of the electorate. SRK has shown a great deal of courage as have many others and I think the film MNIK is going to achieve a little more that just box office records!

The states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra have 168 out of 542 seats in Parliament and from these states the Congress has close to 40 seats, a figure that can double in the next election. After a serious setback in Andhra Pradesh on the Telangana issue, these three states are crucial for the Congress. And as I have written earlier, the Assembly results in Bihar in 2010 and Uttar Pradesh in 2011 will define the trend for the future.

The surprise victory of the Congress in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls was due to a dramatic swing in the minority vote despite the charismatic Atal Behari Vajpayee leading the National Democratic Alliance after a successful term in 1999. In the state elections that followed, from 2004 to 2008, the BJP did well in several states but lost the advantage again in the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. The Congress grew to 200-plus seats and Uttar Pradesh provided a stunning upset with 21 seats.

The rise of the Congress was a big blow to the forward movement of the BSP and the ambition of Mayawati to play a major role at the national level. But her victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections indicated a decline of the SP which is now split and struggling. The recent by-elections revived the BSP votebank, registered a sharp decline in the SP’s and the Congress too was humbled in several seats. The trend was not decisive but clearly the loss in the SP vote swung more towards the BSP than the Congress.

In Bihar, the alliance of the BJP and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) citadel was showing cracks due to internal dissent but the odds are largely in favour of chief minister Nitesh Kumar and the JD(U).

The first two months of 2010 are very "volatile" as global power equations along with economic resources shift to some extent from the Group of Eight to the G-20 (BRIC countries). On a long-term basis this is a positive sign and will give "balance" to crucial global decisions. The global system will no longer be dependant on a "sole" superpower and the global institutions associated with it, especially the United Nations. Several international organisations, along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, will go through a structural change.

A peaceful transition is essential for cross investments and greater integration of the global economy over the next five years. But the security situation and a war on two fronts puts pressure on the US — President Barack Obama is already losing ground in the opinion polls as unemployment is close to 10 per cent. The situation in Europe too is grim because of fears of a sovereign default in Greece and Spain and Portugal creating uncertainty in the global markets.

We in India aim at seven to eight per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2010 but face serious issues on the security front and can ill afford the frequent "political accidents" which continue to shake public confidence. Food inflation has continued for well over six months which is nothing but a result of poor governance. It seems that the interest of the aam aadmi has been forgotten both by the Centre and the states.

We cannot segregate votebanks from politics and though we often talk of majority and minority votes, the fact remains that despite our record GDP performance the "have" and "have not" syndrome still has a vital impact on our electoral politics.

By Arun Nehru

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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