Priyanka and other teasers: Poll scene hots up (Comment)

January 21st, 2012 - 1:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Priyanka Gandhi Why did Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra jump into the election fray in Uttar Pradesh, breaking her long absence from active politics? Is it to give Rahul Gandhi a helping hand or to let everyone know that she, a one-time favourite of the masses, is also preparing for 2014, the year of the general election?

This is one of the teasers which makes the poll scene so intriguing if only because everything is currently very much up in the air, so to speak, in Uttar Pradesh - the state through which the road runs to Delhi, according to common perception. It is also in the fitness of things that the photogenic brother and sister should be using the state, their home province, to jointly make their presence felt after a long time.

Another teaser is Uma Bharati’s virtual selection as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chief ministerial nominee in the state. Was it a ploy to sideline Rajnath Singh even though his candidature had already been ruled out by Nitin Gadkari, who replaced Singh as the BJP president in 2009? But will the choice of an OBC (other backward castes) leader for the top post displease the Brahmins and induce them to turn to the Congress? The jury, as the saying goes, is out.

The tripping up of Rajnath Singh is not the only example of Gadkari’s fancy footwork. He has also put Goa’s prospective chief ministerial candidate, Manohar Parrikar, on the defensive by propping up a possible challenger, Shripad Yesso Naik, an MP. Apparently, Gadkari hasn’t forgotten that Parrikar was briefly considered by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a replacement for Rajnath Singh before it chose the apparatchik from Maharashtra, who was then little known outside his home province, as the BJP chief.

There are other teasers as well. How worried is the Congress about the Salman Rushdie affair? There is little doubt that if the elections were not so near, especially the contest in Uttar Pradesh with its large Muslim population, the author of “The Satanic Verses” would have come and gone, as he had done earlier, with few outside the chattering classes taking much note.

But asking Rushdie to stay away will hurt the party’s liberal credentials - especially when the travails of Facebook and Google suggest that freedom of expression is not on the Congress’ priority list.

The reason for such uncertainties is all the greater because the Congress does not have a secure base in Uttar Pradesh unlike Mayawati, who has with her the Dalits, especially the Jatavs or Chamars, with the latter comprising 13-14 percent of the population. Or Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has the OBCs and particularly the Yadavs with him, who make up eight to nine percent of the population while the OBCs and the MBCs (most backward castes) account for more than 50 percent. Moreover, since the Congress is engaged in weaning away the Muslims from Mayawati as well as Mulayam Singh, and the upper castes from Mayawati and the BJP, it has to play its hand with a great deal of care.

Unlike Uttar Pradesh where the fog of the electoral war is quite thick, the Punjab scene is relatively clear since there are only two major parties, the Congress and the Akali Dal, which have held power alternately. Since the latter has been in power for the last five years, it is supposed to be the Congress’ turn now, not least because even in 2007, the Congress’ vote share of 40.9 percent was substantially higher than the Akali Dal’s 37 percent.

In terms of seats too, the Congress with 44 was only four seats fewer than the Akali Dal’s tally. It was only the BJP’s good showing - it won 19 seats with 8.2 percent votes - which enabled the Akalis to form the government. But the BJP’s prospects are less rosy this time because of corruption charges which made it drop four of its sitting legislators.

If there is a teaser in Punjab, it is the presence of the People’s Party which is making its electoral debut in alliance with the communists and the Akali Dal (Longowal) although these are essentially nonentities. But the People’s Party leader, Manpreet Singh Badal, cannot be classified as such because the former finance minister of the state created quite a stir when he resigned from the Akali Dal on account of its “wasteful” populism. He has now fielded Prakash Singh Badal’s younger brother, Gurdas Badal, against the veteran leader. Considering the chief minister won by only about 9,000 votes last time, the contest in Lambi will arouse considerable interest.

It isn’t only in Punjab where there are fraternal fights - Prakash Singh vs Gurdas, Amrinder Singh of the Congress vs his brother, Malvinder. In Manipur, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s nephew, Okram Henry, is fighting the chief minister’s rival Erabot Singh in Wangkhei, showing that the Congress is a house divided in the state.

(21.01.2012 - Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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