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Electrol Jigsaw

 

The main issues for General Elections 2014 are in place but parties are unable to fathom the voters' mind.
KS NARAYANAN | Issue Dated: October 18, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Delhi | Madhya Pradesh | Chhattisgarh | Rajasthan and Mizoram | Lok Sabha | General Election | BJP | NDA | UPA-2 | Congress |
 

India is all set to witness the mother of all political battles when General Elections are held in 2014 for the 16th Lok Sabha. The political atmosphere is already charged up after the BJP announced Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate last month.


Before the General Elections are the semi-finals when five states assemblies- Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram - complete voting by December 4 this year.


As with all elections, the political atmosphere is rife with debate and drama at all possible public places: tea stalls and dhabas, colleges and conferences, restaurants and luxury hotels, airports or in trains, government offices and panchayats – you name it. Of course this motion is accelerated by political rallies, press conferences, debates, all of which is reflected in print and electronic media every hour and every day.


Will the BJP, which miserably failed in capture power in 2004 and 2009, be able to win Lok Sabha elections under Modi or will the Congress-led UPA II despite mega scams, misrule and decision paralysis, be able to hoodwink the voters as it tries to bank on centrally sponsored schemes to woo the rural vote bank?


Many opinion polls conducted so far predict that the Congress strength will dramatically come down. This does not necessarily mean BJP will gain though it might improve its tally in the polls. A Third Front scenario of a non-Congress non-BJP government with regional satraps holding the key to formation of the next government looms large.

 

 


Another critical issue: Could the results of state assembly elections prompt snap polls? Could things improve so dramatically for UPA II that it may opt in for General Elections ahead of schedule?


Experts say for that to happen the global economic situation has to turn around dramatically and boost the Indian economy to create more jobs. Will bountiful monsoon bring down the prices of food commodities? Will there be higher minimum support price (MSP) for rabi crops to woo rural voters? More importantly, will India’s 714 million electorate forgive and forget the UPA for its mis-governance and mis-rule for nine long years? It is hard to predict at this stage.
Irrespective of who wins or loses, about five to six factors hold the key to 2014 General Elections.


Dr Amir Ullah Khan, President, The Glocal University, says 2014 promises to be an intriguing election year. “It is indeed difficult to say what the voters feel about the economy. It is the classical growth versus inclusion argument that is playing out in India today. What is it that the voter votes for? Is it the economy that is central to electoral politics or do voters look at social engineering? Does the voter pitch in on caste lines or the party and its manifesto? Is price rise important for the elections at the national level? Does corruption matter to a voter population that has historically re-elected some of its most corrupt leaders? When asked to choose between a tightly run administration versus one that promises inclusion and poverty reduction, who does the rural voter vote against,’’ are some of the posers that Khan puts up.


Anti-incumbency: With policy paralysis and crippled by mega scams, UPA II is not only stale but by consensus, also the worst central government India has had so far. The brazen and open loot of the exchequer on account of spectrum for 2-Generation services or allocation of coal to power producers, cash for appointment scam in Railways etc are pretty alive in public eye and memory. Most scamsters, including ministers, are free and continue in the office.


Going by opinion polls conducted across the country, the Congress stands little chance of coming back to power given its poor image across sections of society.


But for BJP which is leaving no stone unturned to win the 2014 elections, the main focus will be on anti-incumbency and referendum on the leadership. “I believe that there will be only two characters in the coming elections. First, it will be an anti-incumbency election and second it will be a referendum on the leadership. And we are ahead on both counts,” Arun Jaitley who is the BJP Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said recently while addressing a national workshop on ‘Media, Social Media and Information Technology’ organised by the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha.

 

Asserting that the disillusioned people of the country are looking for a change, Jaitley said “At the Trichy and Rewari rallies, there were huge crowds. This is a signal of change. These are not the ordinary crowds; disillusioned people are looking for a hope. So, the people have high expectations from us.”


On the other end of political spectrum are Left Parties who also acknowledge that both corruption and anti-incumbency will be issues in the coming general elections. Says D Raja CPI leader: “UPA II has failed on many counts. It has proved helpless in containing inflation, price rise and its misrule. Except for the corporate house (bail-outs and budgets concession) no section of society has benefitted from UPA II”.

 

However Raja is quick to point out that: “The BJP cannot claim it is an angel as the party also pursues similar economic and foreign policies.’’


Aspirations: As India broke its Hindu rate of growth of clocking below 3.5 per cent GDP in the last one decade and has averaged 9 per cent overall, it has fuelled aspirations of a billion-plus population. No wonder several Western observers are flocking to record a nation in transition. Oliver Balch in a recently published book ‘India Rising’ observed:  “India is on the up. Long derided as the lumbering elephant of Asia, the world's largest democracy has quickened its pace...”

Rising incomes and reduction in poverty levels, though denied by some, has raised expectations and aspirations of the common Indian for basic necessities like education, health, employment and housing for all. However many aspirations have taken a severe beating thanks to UPA's misrule. Says former Union Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian: “Even after 70 years, the fundamentals have not changed. In a democracy we need a clean administration and policy decisions in favour of the people. We do not see all that now. Instead what we see now is a political class more focused on power. I cannot name any politician genuinely interested in development for the last 50 years. It is time we realise we are the poorest of the poor countries in the World.”


Polarisation: With the 2014 poll approaching, there is a rise in communal polarization in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; together they can impact the electoral outcome in the two states which make up for 120 Lok Sabha seats.


However the recent communal riots in Muzzafarnagar or clashes in Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh are examples of how political parties are hell bent on polarising communities on religious lines. “So-called secularism and communalism are used as political weapons for building vote banks and seeking support. Can anybody really believe that parties built on caste basis or support of some minorities are really secular? It seems that in the Muzaffarnagar riots, leaders of several parties were involved in inciting communal and caste passions,” explains Subhash C Kashyap, former Secretary General Lok Sabha. (See interview)


Indian Economy: The Indian economy is about US $ 1.8 trillion compared to $ 400 million at the beginning of last decade.  As a result both  income and consumption expenditure have risen and poverty, as the latest Planning Commission figures show, has fallen. The picture on real wages is at best mixed, but with substantial declines in several sectors.


High inflation, especially of food, is eroding the purchasing power of many, particularly the poor. The urban poor, whose real wages have not had the bolstering effect of an employment guarantee scheme and do not produce any food for self-consumption, are most vocal about rising prices.


Says Raja: “After two decades of new liberal economic policy we are confronting growing unemployment, decline in GDP, rising inflation and price rise. People are affected badly as it has impacted their livelihood.  There is a crisis in every sector- service, manufacturing, agriculture and rural economy. No doubt it will be a focal point in General Elections.”


Urban centres or rural hinterland: According to the 2011 Census, one in every three Indians now lives in an urban habitat. The number of urban and semi-urban seats, too, has increased from 70 to over 200 because of urbanisation and delimitation.


The UPA stormed back to power as it won almost all Lok Sabha seats in major metros, except Bangalore. It won a total of 115 seats in metros and towns across the country, a 50 per cent increase.


But cities are favourably disposed towards the UPA II.  Many anti-government protests against corruption and rallies against the centre have been held in urban centres. The key to unlocking the 2014 elections is how political parties find solutions to disenchantment in urban voters.


Realising this well, Rahul Gandhi, vice president Congress is channelizing his energy towards rural India through a slew of welfare schemes, direct benefit transfers and other development schemes. He has so far addressed rallies in the remote tribal hamlet of Salumbar in Rajasthan, Maoist-affected Jagadalpur in the heart of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Muslim-concentrated Aligarh and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh and the farmer-belt of Sangrur in Punjab.


Meanwhile to appeal to the larger rural electorate Congress President Sonia Gandhi has given her consent to christen the food security programme ‘Indiramma’ — as an articulation of the Congress party’s commitment to the unfinished ‘Garibi Hatao’ agenda — a clarion call given by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ahead of the 1971 elections.


His arch political rival Narendra Modi in contrast has held rallies in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Delhi and Bhopal and is going to address meetings in Patna and Kanpur. Besides, Modi's campaign machinery is active 24x7 to reach out to the growing netizen vote bank, concentrated mainly in the urban centres.


Here too, the political class has to convince voters both at the lower and higher end of the society as their aspirations are varied and different.


A survey conducted by IBN-Hindu pointed out how the urban poor saw prices of essential commodities rising during the tenure of UPA-II. Perceptions about inflation are in general far stronger in 2013 than in 2011. “Youngsters are going to play a crucial role in deciding the swing of the tide in election 2014. Careers and opportunities will play a major role in shaping their opinion in making their choices,” says Prateek Shah a social media expert.


With the economy dwindling and no clear answers emerging, any party that can set a clear agenda of how to go about solving the issue at hand is set to gain a very crucial section of the voter's confidence. Little wonder that people will vote based on their experience.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017