Sincere efforts win hearts, fetch votes

Oct 03 : The Pittsburgh Group of Twenty (G-20) summit saw the emergence of the Bric nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in the global decision-making process and this reflects the reality of the situation. A decade of high growth compared to the recession-hit Western economies has propelled India and other nations for a greater role in the international community. And it is good to see that we are making our presence felt in a mature and responsible manner on critical forums involving nuclear, trade and environmental issues.

The United States, the European Union and Japan may still retain majority of voting rights in the major international financial institutions, but power politics is not confined to statistics alone and clearly both China and India will be part of the decision-making process on all critical issues as was apparent at the recent G-20 meet. I have little doubt in my mind that in the next two decades India will emerge as the third-largest economy in the world. And as we move towards superpower status (political and economic), it would be wise to reflect on our internal political structure and determine if we are equipped to face the challenges of the future.

Dynastic politics is a reality that has now spread from the Congress Party to most regional parties as well, though I am not very clear if this is a positive or a negative given our feudal past. After over two decades of coalition structure, we are now moving to a possible "majority" rule by the Congress and this is, in large part, facilitated by the decline of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a national alternative and a reduction in the influence of the Left parties. The loss of West Bengal and Kerala can accelerate the process of a stable majority in 2014 and this situation would be ideal for a high gross domestic product growth in the next decade. In fact, we may well be back to an eight-nine per cent growth within the next two years.

The global community as well as the voting public is aware of this situation and this in turn will be reflected in the issues pertaining to trade and commerce. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is firmly in power, and the combination of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi as Congress president is a "positive". The efforts of Rahul Gandhi to create an effective team based on merit and ability is showing clear signs of positive activity that will be crucial in the immediate future.

There is always the possibility of "political accidents", like the one we witnessed in Andhra Pradesh. And there will be constant challenges on the economic front and a greater emphasis on economic schemes for the poorer sections, but I don’t see a viable threat on a national level to the Congress in the immediate future, either from a BJP-led front or a third force. Politics and economics go together and as we study the global implications of our relevance as a global power, the overall outlook based on political ground realities is favourable for the Congress Party and their two major allies, the Trinamul Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

No election is easy and a hard battle lies ahead for the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine in Maharashtra against the BJP-Shiv Sena, with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena playing "spoiler" for the Shiv Sena. Sharad Pawar talks of retirement but that is many years away as the NCP, like any other party, needs a succession plan and the choice could well be between his daughter Supriya Sule and nephew Ajit Pawar (both are considered competent). The Assembly elections will be tough but with the ticket distribution and the current political atmosphere, the Congress’ numbers will exceed those of the NCP by a wide margin. Though I expect the Congress-NCP combine to prevail over BJP-Shiv Sena, the margin may not be very wide.

Media’s main interest will be in the contest in Amravati where Rajendra Shekhawat, son of President Pratibha Patil, battles Sunil Deshmukh, a two-term MLA and minister who fights as an Independent candidate. It was a poor decision to give the ticket to the President’s son, and media sympathy may well be with the "rebel" candidate.

The situation in Haryana for the Congress is good and with 40 per cent of the vote Bhupinder Singh Hooda should be a comfortable winner as the balance 60 per cent is divided between the Indian National Lok Dal, the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party and Bhajan Lal and sons, all of whom failed to arrive at any electoral understanding. The Congress holds 67 out of 90 seats and they may well improve on this tally in the current confusion. In Arunachal Pradesh there is literally no contest for the Congress and chief minister Dorjee Khandu has been elected unopposed!

The Jharkhand issue is yet to be resolved and I don’t really know if postponing elections is a solution. The state has suffered successive administrations which have been combinations of poor governance and massive corruption. Sadly, even if we look at all parties it is difficult to identify an effective leader for the future. I wonder what is happening with the Central Bureau of Investigation’s probe where officers attached to the previous governor, Syed Sibtey Razi, were raided?

Political tactics are never easy but in recent times we have seen two instances where the results were almost immediate. Mamata Banerjee and her campaign against forceful land acquisition and the use of state power in Nandigram and Singur got her immediate support. Her party winning 21 out of 42 seats in West Bengal was close to a miracle. Land is an issue close to everyone and the massive misuse and sordid corruption associated with SEZs (special economic zones) is a major issue in every state. Ms Banerjee’s agitation has forever changed the way governments will look at land acquisition in the future. Ms Banerjee is set to become the next chief minister of West Bengal and will win any election which comes across her way till 2011.

Mr Rahul Gandhi’s frequent visits to the "poor" and his efforts to understand their pain are appreciated by the public. And that’s why harsh ridicule by other political parties resulted in the Congress winning 21 Lok Sabha seats out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh (they have 22 Assembly seats). Nothing really works unless you believe in your cause and Ms Banerjee and Mr Gandhi’s concerns were perceived by the public as genuine and sincere.

Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister

By Arun Nehru

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