The Battle of Destinies
By Express News Service
Published: 08th Dec 2013 07:23:55 AM
Today is not a day for astrologers, but for political and corporate pundits. Awaiting the results of the four state elections, the heartbeats of leaders across parties, corporate chieftains who open the lids of their war chests to political parties to push through interests and policies, and well paid television talking heads gearing up to analyse the results threadbare, would be fluctuating wildly as to how they will affect fortunes and reputations. The state polls are seen as an unofficial referendum for 2014. At the centre of the maelstrom is the oldest dynasty that has ruled India, the new pretender Narendra Modi who is on electoral trial here and regional satraps who are speculating on whether they can demand larger pounds of flesh or form a loose alliance of interests. There is also the aggressive outsider Arvind Kejriwal and his fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) whose fortunes and dreams of a clean up rest on the crucial results. If AAP wins, it would be encouragement enough to open branches in other parts of the country as well, and become a significant player in 2014.
If the Congress party loses, it will lead to further policy paralysis because an electorally discredited government and a flailing political leadership will not be able to push through any major economic and administrative reforms. The bureaucracy will dig in its heels, in anticipation of a change. The Congress needs the support of allies to push through pet projects but a 4-0 rout would mean that they would not be obliging. They will refuse to yield to pressure from a party that they feel has lost its mandate and message. Some 122 bills including important ones like the Insurance bill, many education bills, the Lok Pal Bill, Women Reservations Bill and Reservations in Promotion for Dalits are pending in Parliament.
Not just allies, but Corporate India, too, which has been watching the state elections would not be financially as generous to the Congress as before. Though it was on the largesse of Manmohanomics that they fattened their coffers, a new dispensation hostile to the Congress would need to be cultivated in advance. Parleys would be held in exclusive rendezvous, and new alliances would be sealed with promises of corporate support. The impact of the four state elections, however exaggerated, could cause international ripples, since the foreign media is watching the results keenly as a litmus test of the UPA. A rout would mean the global shrinking of Manmohan as a world leader. Like Gorbachev, he is unlikely to be taken seriously by leaders of other nations who would perceive him as an outgoing prime minister. The greatest impact of a Congress debacle would be on current and pre-poll alliances. The party would be unable to woo new allies and its authority would be further eroded, since it is already a minority government supported from the outside by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. To win the general elections, the party would need electoral alliances with all prominent anti-BJP parties in the East and the West. A decisive loss would change the arithmetic of seat sharing, with the allies refusing to part with the number of seats the Congress would demand, further reducing its clout in a post poll scenario. Estranged allies and friendly hopefuls like the DMK and Jagan Mohan Reddy would stay away. Meanwhile, all eyes are on the dynasty’s pulling power and Manmohan Singh’s Mr Clean and Mr Reform reputation. The troika will be on trial within and outside the party on whether they can deliver seats for the Congress in 2014. Anticipating public interrogation, tactically they have been deliberately kept out of public focus by the party, which has anticipated a poor show in the state polls. A loss would mean a purge as well—many senior leaders would be put to pasture and Rahul Gandhi will take full control of the organisation and policy making as well. A comprehensive cabinet reshuffle in which controversial ministers may be dropped and be replaced by new faces cannot be ruled out.
However, some pundits are ruling out Prime Minister Manmohan Singh riding off into the sunset. There is a view that a Congress debacle can push the beleaguered PM to act and cover lost ground in time for the Lok Sabha polls; but the downside is that the UPA has only three months of active mandate—until mid-March. After that, the code of conduct kicks in and the government cannot announce promises, new projects, schemes and sops. During these three months, the team of the PM and the party will have to bust the speedometer to create a favourable political climate, which seems next to impossible. On the other hand, a 4-0 victory for BJP will make Modi even stronger with the voters as well as within the party, which would then ram through his agenda in Parliament and in states. It would also mean that all fence sitters would move towards the BJP. To burnish his image as a tolerant conqueror, Modi could soften on issues such as Article 372 and Uniform Civil Code to widen base. Ever since he has been declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate he has refrained from raising the Ayodhya issue. Always a favourite of India Inc, Modi would be hugged closer to the corporate bosom, causing much dismay in Congress, which is facing shrinking contributions. On the other hand, the downside of a Modi mandate could lead to consolidation of anti-BJP and anti-Cong forces. Sources say in order to stop BJP, the idea of a loose Third Front-like confederation could get a boost. It could even lead to a confederation of heavy hitters like Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, UP CM Akhilesh Singh Yadav, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and the resurgent Jagan Mohan Reddy to form a loose alliance and deprive both national parties of the chance to form government.
However, if the BJP does not capture all the four states, the situation in the party will be the reverse of what would happen in the Congress where the dynasty will be protected and senior leaders sacrificed. The traditional saffron leadership that has been silent over Modi’s rise would get a chance to hit back. It will also boost the Congress attempts to go for the jugular, giving greater treble to Snoopgate and other controversies that are dogging the Gujarat CM. Stay tuned. The suspense is almost at end.