The counter to BJP’s Narendra Modi will not come in the 2014 general elections from Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, but from the regional parties that are determined to keep both the BJP and the Congress at bay. Despite the industry and the media’s hysterical support for Modi and/or Gandhi, the two represent political parties that seem to have lost the confidence of the nation.
Narendra Modi is trying to compensate by building a cult wave around his persona with a magic wand for development in one hand and the RSS agenda for India in the other. Rahul Gandhi has gone back to the martyrdom of his family, laying his own head on the block in an emotional outburst. The brunt of Modi’s campaign is directed against the Nehru-Gandhi family. The brunt of Gandhi’s campaign has yet to assume a direction.
In the midst of this frenzy, are the regional satraps who are seen by the same sections as fractious, irresponsible and unstable. This remains the media projection of even serious leaders like Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha, who have been administering their respective states with a high degree of capability and competence. Just because they are not from the BJP or the Congress, their merits are clouded under the created umbrella of ‘instability’ while the omissions and grave commissions of the other two are glossed over completely.
Currently the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has emerged as the big industry and the media favourite. He can do no wrong for those who are part of the sustained campaign to project him as the next prime minister of India. This enthusiasm is still not being echoed in the villages of India, where the Biju Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Janata Dal (United), the AIADMK, the Janata Dal (Secular) and others hold their own. Many of them are coming together, along with the Left parties and others, in a major convention against communalism being held in Delhi on October 30.
Given the recent incidents of violence, it is clear that India’s two largest states in the north are facing the threat of growing, or should one say created, communalism. The BJP and the Congress have not been able to get more than a simple majority in Parliament, and currently not even that, because of the resistance from these states where the voter has shunned the so-called ‘mainstream’ options for the regional alternatives. Unlike Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh where the electoral competition is directly between the Congress and the BJP, in UP and Bihar the third alternative has become the first alternative for the voters. UP is currently being governed by the Samajwadi Party with Akhilesh Yadav as the chief minister, while Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) is the chief minister of Bihar and is perceived by many as a potential prime ministerial candidate. Significantly, the regional parties head the opposition in these states, with Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj party in the lead in UP, and Lalu Prasad Yadav (currently in jail) and his Rashtriya Janata Dal still a force to reckon with in Bihar.
The design thus, is to polarise communities through increased communal violence so that those who have been shunned by the UP and Bihar electorate in the normal course, manage to get a crucial chunk of the votes. But Bihar, at least, is under an able and what is equally important, sober administrator and Nitish Kumar has been in the field long enough to counter the manipulations. And UP has the advantage of a strong opposition leader in Mayawati, who is not going to easily allow the anti-Samajwadi party vote to drift towards the BJP, or for that matter, the Congress party. In other words, there will be a tough fight in the two crucial states with the odds still favouring the regional stalwarts.
There will be few alignments before the elections, with all preferring to take a call after the polls. The number of seats is thus crucial for all, and the electoral fight will be sharp and the contest keen. Indians are hoping, of course, that violence will not be used as an election strategy, and the main parties in the fray will allow peace and harmony to prevail. But there is a sense of unease as the build-up has not been particularly tranquil.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2013.
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