Friday, March 07, 2014

General Elections 2014 - The 'New India' With 'Power One'

By M H Ahssan | INNLIVE

Almost exactly a decade ago, the day after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections were announced, INNLIVE launched its special ‘General Elections 2014’ coverage, bringing readers a 360 degrees ringside view of one of the great wonders of the modern world. 

In every election since, whether general or state, ‘General Elections 2014’ has sought to empower, entertain and enlighten you with ground-level reportage, numbers-driven analyses, and agenda-setting thought pieces. We will do all that and more in the weeks to come, capturing the sights, smells and sounds of the mother-of-all political carnivals on earth, even as we help you separate choice from noise. 
Ours is by far the largest democracy in the known universe, equal to the population of the next five democracies, including the US and Brazil. We have been called a flawed democracy, and indeed there are times when we find ourselves drowning in hopelessness and cynicism, when the only change we see is for the worse. 

But it is also the flaws that help us appreciate beauty when it shines through. And there is no greater beauty than to behold the will of the people being given voice without their having to resort to violence. “Ballot over bullet” has become a clichéd newspaper headline, but it’s one of those clichés we should never take for granted. 

Imagine the power of 815 million people exercising their constitutionally-given franchise in a largely disciplined and peaceable manner, voting in and out representatives and governments that they, in their collective wisdom, believe will or won’t serve their interests. There is a magic to it that people in totalitarian states can never grasp, and those in smaller democracies can only wonder at. 

How can a nation where so many cannot read or write, or get a decent meal a day, or have access to basic amenities like water and electricity show such dignity in the face of so much adversity? Much of the credit goes to our founding fathers, who set a path that their often-lessthan-illustrious successors have not been able to deviate from (except one, and she paid the price when she did call an election). 
No one can dispute that the ‘system’ has imperfections. We know only too well how routinely and horribly our elected representatives let us down, through sloth, corruption and worse — forgetting that they are meant to be servants, not masters. But at least there is a check-and-balance in the form of elections. 

They give us a chance to hold our representatives accountable. INNLIVE will try to help you make the best decision you can — not by telling you whom you should vote for, because that’s your call to make and nobody else’s, but by bringing you all the information and insight you need. The stakes are huge — for you, and for the nation. 

These elections could well shape the destiny of India, for better or for worse. (We can only hope it will be for the better.) The best thing about an election is that each of us has a voice — an equal music, if you will. An opportunity such as this comes to us but once in five years. Do you want to let it pass you by? Democracy, in its purest form, is about the power of one. Be the one.

Post poll Scenarios
What will happen if BJP crosses 200 seats? What if it manages just 140? Can the congress stitch together a coalition if it wins 150 seats? Is the third front viable contender? An examination of possible post-poll scenarios and who could ally with whom.

Who will form government, be PM? A SWOT analysis
The 2014 poll race has its favourites and dark horses, but a long and arduous campaign will test them all. AAP’s emergence has made the elections spicier, more unpredictable. A snapshot of major formations on current form

Congress & Allies
Strengths: Rahul Gandhi is undisputed leader, doesn’t have any major in-house currents to deal with. As compared to BJP (especially Modi), Cong has a lower ‘acceptance threshold’ – can make do with fewer seats to head a coalition. A figure of around 150 will keep it in the hunt.

Weaknesses: Losses in four state polls in December last year hurt the party, with inflation and corruption emerging as major vulnerabilities. Cong has to work on its campaign as Rahul’s message does not mesh with the UPA government’s record. 

Opportunities: If rival BJP peaks too early and the socalled third front can’t sort out leadership issues, Congress may have an opportunity to either lead a coalition or support one from outside as it has in the past.

Threats: An upbeat opposition is looking to exploit UPA’s 10-year incumbency, particularly its scandal-ridden, paralytic second term. AAP could also eat into Congress votes. There is a danger that Congress may lose to both BJP and regional rivals and end up with a record low total 

Third / Federal Front 
Strengths: Unlike BJP and Congress, does not need a structured organisation. The looseness of its amoeba-like formulation is its strength. It can add or shed constituents with equal ease. 

Weaknesses: It has a surfeit of leaders and several contradictions. Leaders like Mamata Banerjee and CPM’s Prakash Karat, M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh and Mayawati cannot sit at the same table.

Opportunities: Despite Modi’s campaign outreach, it is not clear if BJP will generate enough momentum to cross the 180-seat barrier. If it falters, a third front and its variants may have an opportunity to stake a claim, particularly as Congress is seen to be lagging.

Threats: In 2009, the perception that a chaotic third front could come to office was seen to have actually worked in Congress’s favour. Fear of a patchwork coalition that cannot agree on a common agenda for governance (as experience has shown) pushed some of the floating vote towards Congress. This time, such concerns may benefit BJP more than Congress.

BJP & Allies
Strengths: Has an energetic campaigner in Narendra Modi who is drawing large crowds. Party has sorted out leadership issues and has emerged as the perceived front runner. Favourable opinion polls have boosted NDA’s standing. 

Weaknesses: The Gujarat 2002 riots remain Modi’s weak spot. NDA is weak in northeast and south India. It also has a scanty presence in West Bengal. The alliance is yet to dispel the distrust of minority voters. 

Opportunities: Congress is at the weakest that it has been since 1996-98. BJP could be in a position to win electoral fights in states where it directly takes on Congress. Decisive wins in these states could knock Congress out of reckoning at the Centre. 

Threats: Anti-Modi leaders hope BJP does not race to a large Lok Sabha tally. Party organisation at the central level not in the best of health after years of intense factionalism. Decision-making remains cumbersome. Groundlevel activism is weak. AAP could eat into anti-Cong votes. 

Aam Aadmi Party 
Strengths: Enjoys instant name recognition in urban India, thanks to Arvind Kejriwal and his brand of headline-grabbing politics. Has native marketing savvy; wittingly or otherwise, has leveraged social media to its advantage. Its unconventional style of governance, which was on display during its 49 days in office, captured the imagination of the ‘underclass’.

Weaknesses: Does not have the financial resources to fight a full-scale national election. Has not had time to build a wide organisation, lacks boots on the ground. May be hard-pressed to come up with a decent number of clean, electable candidates. Still largely an urban phenomenon.

Opportunities: Has tapped into public anger against corruption and crony capitalsim. Not a business-as-usual political party, as Kejriwal’s relentless attacks on Mukesh Ambani have shown. May attract anti-Congress voters in urban seats, especially those not entirely comfortable with the idea of Modi as PM.

Threats: May have lost some of its support base among the middle class, thanks to Kejriwal’s dharna, Somnath Bharti’s antics and its generally shrill style. May be considered incapable of making a national impact.

All India Pre-Poll Scenario
The gong’s been sounded for one of the most exciting battles in Indian elections. It will be a longdrawn out contest, to be held on nine days, spread over 36 days from April 7 to May 12. The votes will be counted on May 16 and on that day or in the next few days it will become apparent who will form the next government — Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi or a surprise Third Front satrap. 
Along with the Lok Sabha election, three states — Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim — will also go to the polls. Assembly elections in Delhi will have to wait till a new government at the Centre has been formed. The nine days when polling will be held are April 7, 9, 10, 12, 17, 24 and 30 and May 7 and 12. The model code of conduct has kicked in with immediate effect. 
Indian elections have been essays in uncertainty since 1967 when Congress’s hegemony faced its first serious challenge. However, indications are that the coming election may be even more exciting. While Congress and BJP are locked in a gladiatorial contest, the entry of AAP has inserted an X factor in the battle. 
Going by opinion polls, Congress seems to be heading for its worst-ever performance with some estimates indicating that its tally may shrink to double digits. If that were to happen, the transition of the Congress leadership to Rahul Gandhi could become a wrenching process. 
BJP appears poised to make big gains this time. Narendra Modi’s arrivalhasenergizedthe party’sbase and triggered hopes of a comeback after a decade-long power drought at the Centre. Unless BJP falls victim to its historical inability to live up to its promise, this Modi-led resurgence, coupled with a deep disenchantment with Congress, raise the possibility of his rightwing, growth-centric political model spreading to new constituencies. 
The Aam Aadmi Party’s stunning debut in Delhi has been a testimony to its success in tapping into the popular resentment against established parties in a remarkably short time. The coming election will show to what extent this fledgling party led by Arvind Kejriwal can convert its appeal into votes in other states. What’s, however, already apparent is that AAP is fast becoming a thorn in BJP’s flesh — the party it is now targeting after having routed Congress in Delhi. Netas scramble to beat code deadline. 

The scramble by state governments to improve election prospects reached fever pitch just before the model code of conduct kicked in on Wednesday. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was first off the block, rushing to lay the foundation stone for a dairy project just 45 minutes before the CEC, V S Sampath, announced the election dates. 
Akhilesh has been on an overdrive, declaring sops by the dozens for the past few days, well aware the code was imminent. On Sunday, he was seen cutting the ribbon of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor; on Tuesday, he laid the foundation for the multi-crore Lucknow Metro rail project. Haryana CM B S Hooda pulled off a record of sorts by laying foundation stones of nearly 35 projects on Wednesday. 
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has been heli-hopping across the state for the past four days to beat the EC deadline. Like Akhilesh, he too cut the last ribbon just half an hour before the EC announcement, laying the foundation stone for a Rs 1,450-crore rail coach factory in Srinivasapur, Kolar. Next on his list was the launch of 315 road works in Belgaum by which time the poll dates were announced. He had to scrap the programme. 
Even the ministry of defence joined in, issuing a 26-page statement highlighting the “achievements” of defence minister A K Antony: From hike in the quota of fruit and eggs for jawans to completion of the nuclear weapons triad. This, just two hours before the EC presser. 
In Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government transferred eight IPS officers on Tuesday. 
Polls ahead, end of road for govt’s Snoopgate probe? 

The much-hobbled bid to set up a judicial panel to probe the alleged snoopgate case against Narendra Modi will suffer a further setback with poll dates in place. Over two months now, the government has failed to convince any retired SC judge or chief justice to head the inquiry panel, said sources. With the poll dates in place, such an appoint-ment would be seen seen even more through the prism of politics. 

The Rajasthan government also transferred two forest service and six state cadre officials. IPS officer Navdeep Singh was promoted to the DG rank while one IFS officer was made principal chief forest conservator. 
In Odisha, Naveen sanctioned a Rs 230-crore waiver of interest on loans to women self-help groups on Monday. Around six lakh women SHGs would benefit from this. The same day, the government sanctioned Rs 24.49 crore for Mission Yuva Shakti, a youth welfare scheme. 
Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a slew of sops, including a Rs 2,000-crore compensation package for hailstorm-hit farmers, besides a hike in dearness allowance for state government employees on Tuesday. 

In Mumbai, Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam was late in breasting the tape and had to forgo the scheduled inauguration of his pet project: Supplying piped gas to cluster houses. But minister for medical education Vijay Kumar Gavit inaugurated the Haffkine Museum just in time.

What will be on top of voters' minds when they press the button?
ALLIANCES | Every government formed since 1996 has been a coalition. But this time, both Congress and BJP seem to be running short of partners, though the saffron camp has gained a couple lately. Post-poll alignments are likely but will be determined by how Congress and BJP score. Only if they can muster convincing numbers will the two parties get regional allies who might otherwise be tempted to take a shot at forming a govt on their own.

PRICE RISE | UPA escaped the adverse fallout of inflation in 2009 on the back of a strong stimulus package to beat the economic slowdown together with sops for farmers. This time, Congress seems to be paying the price for inflation along with corruption scandals that have soured the public mood. With bills soaring, the poor as well as the middle class voted against UPA in the assembly elections in December and the resentment is seen as a key driver also for what is being called the ‘mood for change’ at the Centre.

JOBS | The slowdown in India’s economy has taken a toll on employment. Pink slips became common in the 2009-14 period. As growth dipped below 5%, even the services sector felt the pinch. Manufacturing has remained sluggish. Mining was badly hit in the wake of irregularities in allotment of coal leases and a tug-of-war over environmental clearances. Policy logjams held up projects and further undercut investment. Combined with price rise, it has stoked a sense of despair and resentment.

MODI FACTOR | The Gujarat chief minister’s emergence as a prime ministerial candidate revved up the poll scene. He first beat a determined in-house bid to scuttle his candidacy and has since posed a challenge to Congress and regional rivals. Though seen as a polarising figure, well attended rallies have put his opponents on alert. He is creating waves, but the crucial test lies in BJP’s capacity to convert sentiment into votes. This is a big challenge for BJP’s creaky organisation.

CORRUPTION | Just as it seemed that corruption had ceased to hurt political parties, cynics had to beat a retreat. Commonwealth Games, 2G and coal mining scams hit UPA like a succession of tidal waves, leaving the Manmohan Singh government floundering in its second term in office. This provided the setting for Anna Hazare’s Lokpal protests that left Congress gasping. The party’s slow response to public anger made matters worse. In fact, the stunning debut of AAP showed that the anti-corruption sentiment covers the political class as a whole.

The road to Delhi passes through these big swing states
SEATS 80 UTTAR PRADESH Modi’s fate likely to be decided here. If BJP doesn’t 
win 40-45 seats here, his chances of getting the Delhi gaddi are slim. SP seems in decline and BJP threatens to check BSP’s gains. Cong seems a bit player. SP-BSP competition could split Muslim vote. BJP is banking on its upper caste core with Jats/Gujjars and slices of OBCs SEATS 48 

MAHARASHTRA Ruling Cong-NCP alliance faces incumbency. Plus they’ve have been at odds with each other. Pawar has distanced himself from Modi, but Cong remains wary. BJP-Shiv Sena should profit from this. What Raj Thackeray’s MNS does will impact Sena-BJP combine’s fortunes. Raj is being wooed by BJP and Cong SEATS 42 

ANDHRA PRADESH This poll could be make or break for Chandrababu Naidu. It could also see the rise of Jagan Reddy. Add TRS’s charismatic K Chandrasekhar Rao. In short, its a multi-starrer in AP. Cong faces a washout in Seemandhra, and is banking on TRS for a Telangana dividend. Jagan Reddy looks the favourite in Seemandhra, though no longer as dominant as earlier SEATS 40 

BIHAR This is Kurukshetra between Nitish Kumar and his pet-hate Modi. Reports say the upper castes are solidly behind Modi whose OBC tag gives the party entry to middle caste votes too. Nitish faces the pincer of BJP-Paswan alliance and a possible Cong-RJD combine. A three-way division of votes could help BJP which must do well here to keep Modi’s PM dream alive SEATS 28 

KARNATAKA Cong has lost steam since its win in 2013 assembly polls. BJP has reinducted Lingayat strongman Yeddyurappa. In 2009, BJP won 19 seats. This time it’s hoping Lingayat vote and Modi’s appeal will take its tally to double digits. In that event, Deve Gowda will be squeezed and it will be a straight fight between the Congress and BJP SEATS 39 

TAMIL NADU Jayalalithaa senses a chance to become the first Tamil to be PM. Hence, she shoved aside BJP’s bid for an alliance. DMK, hobbled by corruption cases and a feud in the Karunanidhi clan, appears weak. But it’s still unclear whether Jaya will sweep the state. DMDK leader Vijaykanth is the X factor, being wooed by both Congress and BJP.

There are many forces at play that could have a decisive impact, depending on which party leverages them best.

YOUNG VOTERS | They haven’t quite been a vote bank, though their numbers are growing. There is a possibility that a perceived hunger for development and better prospects may see some of the more entrenched aspects of old politics like caste identities lose some relevance though they are bound to remain critical in influencing political outcomes. Are shared desires and needs creating a new constituency that cuts across older divides? The 2014 elections may tell us which way we are headed.

URBAN CONSTITUENCY| Not only are urban centres growing, so are semi-urban areas. Urbanisation is spreading into the countryside even as cities become mega cities and mega cities transform into mini states. Livelihood, safety and civic facilities combine to define the quality of life in a city. Voters judge parties on these parameters too. The number of urban seats has risen after delimitation. Urban aspirations and life styles have seeped into rural areas too. That’s why the appeal of transparency movements or anger over corruption or poor governance is not just an urban phenomenon. 

WOMEN | Growing social and economic empowerment has led to women asserting political choices, sometimes in defiance of patriarchal diktats. Though women are not a homogenous vote bank, they are likely to be more demanding when it comes to asking the “what’s in it for me” question. They have been more prepared to vote for AAP and were decisive in delivering a handsome victory to BJP in Madhya Pradesh. Certainly, no party can afford to ignore, much less put off, this section. 

AAP | The meteoric rise of the new political party on an anticorruption platform has has had an impact beyond Delhi. AAP’s brief spell in office has left mixed feelings, but it has become a talking point everywhere. How many seats it will win is unclear, but the larger challenge for established parties is to regain credibility in the face of criticism that they are all part of collusive politics that spares big business and nurtures nepotism. 

STATE GOVTS | Performances of state governments will make or mar prospects of national parties. Double incumbency was at play in Delhi and Rajasthan last year but better perceptions about BJP governments helped regimes in MP and Chhattisgarh return to office. Such a yardstick should assist Modi’s prime ministerial bid as corruption and price rise weigh down the Centre.

MEDIA | There remain doubts about how far sentiments playing out on social media will translate into votes, but it is clear that the internet has become influential in shaping perceptions and opinions. And while this was seen as BJP’s and Narendra Modi’s strength, a new player like Aam Admi Party has exploited the medium adroitly too. Television is seen as part of 24x7 politics where offering bites or influencing ticker tapes is part of the game.

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