All aboard for UP elections

The Winter Session of Parliament is approaching and I sincerely hope that apart from politics, the objective of this session will be conciliation, rather than confrontation. I am looking forward to engaging debates on the various facets of the Lokpal Bill.
Outside Parliament, however, the war of words continues between the Congress and Team Anna. This is difficult to understand. Public opinion is in favour of a strong Lokpal Bill. Every political party has to weigh its words and, despite reservations about the effectiveness of the Lokpal Bill, be careful about their response. Team Anna can afford the luxury of speaking in many voices but the Congress and other political parties cannot.
Congress spokesperson Digvijay Singh has described the agitations over the black money issue and the Lokpal Bill by yoga guru Baba Ramdev and social activist Anna Hazare as Plan A and Plan B, respectively, of the RSS/BJP. He added
that roping in spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar is their Plan C.
Baba Ramdev has a blot on his image after being accused of illegally amassing wealth and running a business empire. Still, he enjoys a following. Sri Ravishankar, who has played “peacemaker” in several difficult situations, is being targeted unnecessarily. Also, accusing Mr Hazare of being under the RSS’ influence is unfortunate as the strength he wields comes from the public who, cutting across castes and religions, support him.
Uttarakhand’s BJP government has adopted the Lokayukta Act. This will act as an impetus for Mr Hazare to pressure the Centre to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill.
The Congress may be appealing to the minority votebank in Uttar Pradesh by its constant references to the RSS and the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, the minority vote is split between the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Peace Party may win a few seats and damage the prospects of all three parties. The minority vote is crucial as it is spread over 200 constituencies. But it is too early to read the ground situation.
Caste and religion play an important part in election strategy but here again some small changes are visible as block voting no longer exists and positive economic changes are making a difference to the public’s thinking.

The field in Uttar Pradesh, where Assembly elections are likely in March-April next year, is wide open, and as I dig deeper into individual areas, the trend that emerges is of a very tough fight for all players. While the BSP’s leader is undisputed and has her eyes trained on Delhi, the SP will be led by Akhilesh Yadav (father Mulayam Singh takes the backseat), while the BJP, led by Rajnath Singh, a former chief minister and Union minister, will gather momentum. It may be difficult to single out the Congress, the SP or the BJP for second place, but we may have interesting combinations when the results are out. Let us examine some of these options.
Ms Mayawati and the BSP are under attack on several fronts but the charismatic chief minister is not apologetic about her extravagant parks. Her appearance at the Formula One event indicates that several issues considered negative by her opponents have turned positive for her.
There is little doubt that she has transformed many cities in Uttar Pradesh and provides a measure of good governance. Ms Mayawati is also giving her votebank a distinct
identity. Is this any different from what the Congress and the BJP did during their terms in governance at the Centre and in the states?
Ms Mayawati may repeat her performance and get an absolute majority. Or we can have a situation where the BSP, in a House of 400 seats, bags 150 seats. Even in this situation she will have no difficulty in forming a government though we may see many small parties playing “musical chairs”. Even major parties like the SP, the Congress and the BJP can have fallouts based on the political needs and aspirations of their MLAs.
The real problem will arise if the BSP dips below 150 seats and the SP and the Congress secure 150 seats or more together. In such a situation we could witness utter chaos as the BJP will not remain a mute spectator. We could witness an unprecedented political auction in our electoral system that will show the rotten but real side of coalition politics. Almost every party, big and small, will try to form the government.
For the 2014 general elections, the Congress needs to secure a positive result in Uttar Pradesh; a second or a good third is necessary. Also, it should win in the Punjab and Uttarakhand Assembly elections. The BJP faces a bigger challenge as it needs to hold Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Punjab with the Akali Dal and also needs to do well in Uttar Pradesh.

We witness criminality and see how the mining mafia and criminal activities have made political authority look weak. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the Congress and the BJP will suffer setbacks. Look at the pathetic situation in Jharkhand where former chief minister Madhu Koda is being beaten up in jail. Goa has seen 14 special economic zones cancelled and a huge iron ore mining scam is surfacing. The Congress and the BJP are the nation’s two biggest political parties, but what do they have
to offer to voters
apart from their party labels?

The writer is a former Union minister


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