Nov.15

Jharkhand Election: Yet Another Hung Assembly in Making 

In 2014 for the first time Jharkhand witnessed an alliance getting a majority government with BJP winning 37 seats (in 2015, 6 MLAs of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) taking the party tally to 43) and the alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) winning 5 seats. This was the first majority government since the inception of the state and it had raised the expectation of the voters.  

The 2014 verdict was an opportunity given to its first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand – Raghubar Das to change the fortune of the tribal state. If I must go with the popular sentiment, he failed to meet the expectation of the voters. Post facto, the sentiment in the state is that the Tribal leaders like Hemanth Soren, Arjun Munda, Babulal Marandi ruled the state better than this non-tribal chief minister. Contrary to popular belief the party is of the opinion that, Raghubar Das has been a protagonist of development in the state; and he is the most popular face in Jharkhand politics. This overconfidence may prove to be an expensive affair for BJP. In all fairness, it will only be apt to say that the voters of Jharkhand are not happy with Raghubar Das but they have nothing against Narendra Modi, or the party BJP. 

Rise of Intellectual voters 

In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP defied the collective might of opposition alliance and improved its vote share from 35.5 percent to over 50 percent. It is widely believed that the rise in the voteshare was a function of the popularity of Narendra Modi. Most of the political analyst if not all in the state believe that though the party in parliamentary elections won 12 seats out of 14 in the state, but the discontent from the local leaders was visible in the conduct of the voters. 

In various occasions Indian voters have proved that the performance of the parliamentary election is not a yardstick to determine the performance of the assembly elections. The voting pattern of Indian voters has always been different in parliamentary and assembly elections. This election may not be an exception. 

It is an established fact that Indian voters are intelligent, and they know how to reward and punish the political leaders and political parties. The voters of Jharkhand are evolved and believe in punishing the leader for the nonperformance as they did in 2014 assembly election. In 2014, Babulal Marandi lost from both the seats he had contested, Hemant Soren lost Dumka seat but managed to win Berhat, Arjun Munda faced a humiliating defeat, Sudesh Mahto lost at his home turf. The voters of Jharkhand punished ex-chief ministers in last assembly election, but they rewarded prime minister in the recently concluded parliamentary elections.

Where do we stand? 

At the outset it looks like BJP and alliance partner AJSU has the upper hand and as the second largest national party, INC has no mass leader in the state. In absence of a strong mass leader INC is banking on Hemant Soren of the JMM to do wonders for the alliance. JMM on the other hand is desperately trying to retain the party’s core vote base – STs. The third critical political force in the state election JVM is banking on the combined might of Babulal Marandi and the disgruntled leaders of JMM, INC, and BJP. These three prominent political entities in the state will decide the future of the 2019 election. 

 

In recent times, INC has lost its two former party presidents to the rival parties – AAP and BJP

 

In my views, the 2019 assembly election in Jharkhand will not be fought on the development plank. It is going to be a classic old school election that will be fought on the backdrop of cast equation. This election, furthermore, will be all about the athematic of vote bank rather than the sentiment of development and growth. This election is all about the hyperlocal issues. It is about Jameen, Jal, and Jangal. This election is also about the identity of Jharkhand. In this election the recent verdict on Ram temple will also play a critical role. This election is not about the development of Jharkhand. It is not about the personality war. It is also not about the charisma of the political leaders.  It will not be wrong to say that this is one of the rare elections of recent times where Modi may not play the critical role. 

In absence of a prominent opposition it is going to be a little easy for BJP to retain power but there is a chance for the opposition to win back the state. I believe, only if the opposition can create a groundswell based on popular sentiments like bad governance of Raghubar Das, trial issues around Jal-jameen-jangal, ignored Brahmins and Kayasthas, and all big talk by Raghubar Das and no development they can stitch a tight win. Otherwise, in Jharkhand in absence of a capable alternative the voters of Jharkhand will vote for BJP. 

In the given scenario, if the opposition manages to run an intelligent campaign based on theme – one, Jal-jameen-jangal to ignite the ST sentiment; two, influence disgruntled BJP voters with campaign like “Raghubar Teri Khair Nahi, Modi se Koi Baair Nahi” not to vote for Raghubar Das or avoid going to booth on the polling day; three, dissuade Brahmins and kayasthas by campaign designed around “Brahmins and kayasthas ka Dushman – Raghubar Das”; four engage Muslims and SC votebank by running a silent campaign “We are the only Hope” they can ignite the latent feelings of the voters, overturn their sentiment. But, unfortunately the opposition has no great mass leader to run the campaign. 

The bigger challenge is neither INC nor the alliance partner JMM has any mature or dependable face. The alliance is expected to depend on the face value of Hemant Soren to pull the election campaign in the right direction. But in my views, Hemant is yet to mature as the dependable force of Jharkhand Politics. He is still a mass leader in making. The alliance lacks a dependable face like Sharad Pawar in Jharkhand to spearhead the opposition’s campaign. In absence of the mass leader the opposition campaigns need to be managed by the voters and volunteers and not by the leaders of the party. The leaders should only support them and agree to the voice of voters. It is important to understand that when you don’t have mass leader who can carry the burden of the campaign, make voters your star campaigner. 

As on date, the voters of Jharkhand are not happy with Raghubar Das and state-BJP, but they don’t have any strong alternative. The opposition in the state is fragmented and two of the large leaders – Hemant Soren and Babulal Marandi are fighting their last battel of survival. If the grand alliance had all opposition parties – INC, JMM, JVM and others, Jharkhand could have got another stable government in 2019. As JVM is not part of the grand alliance it will play the role of an intelligent spoiler. The current situation may throw up a surprise where JVM will end up emerging as the party that will decide the future chief minister of Jharkhand.

 

Point of View,Politics

Oct.09

Millennials Key to Next Government

Kiran is an IT professional, who works at Google and holds a postgraduate degree from a leading US university. She is an early adopter to technology, doesn’t hesitate to present her views on social media and engages with the other millennial on them. Born in Ranchi, she has also studied in Ranchi and Delhi. In Hyderabad, she lives with her friend. She orders food home, buys fashion online, hires a shared cab for her daily travel, watches movies once in a while with friends, and visits temple every Saturday. She is a young independent woman who is proud of her culture, religious views and tradition. She is also aware of her rights and duties as an Indian citizen.

On the other hand, 25-year-old Reshma doesn’t believe in early marriage, strongly advocates the right to education, is very proud of her religious views and tradition. She is an amateur cook and makes her living by cooking at three different houses in the Gachibowli area of Hyderabad. Reshma goes to PVR for movies with family, orders her fashion on Amazon; has an active presence on all social media sites that she accesses on her Redmi. She is a young independent Indian woman who is brand conscious, proud of her culture, religious views, rights and duties as an Indian citizen, including the power of her voting right.

A few basic traits of Reshma or Kiran, or any other millennial from any part of India make them a dominant force that is reshaping culture, business, and politics. The Indian millennial does not mimic their older generation when it comes to taking important decisions such as voting. This generation is development-oriented and does not blindly believe in an old-political twist of caste and religion. It believes in result-oriented politicians and the politics of growth and development.

Internet Generation
Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, have grown up in an age of rapid change. The incessant change this generation has witnessed has made them demanding.

Millennials spend around 17 hours a week on the internet and widely use digital methods to research a product before taking the final decision. Their decisions are not necessarily based on online reviews or ar einfluence by social media channels but are mostly a function of in-depth research. It is also based on the availability of information and the convenience of reaching the product.

Thy want the best in the world at their fingertips. Their expectations and priorities are completely different from those of the older generations. This generation is also extremely opinionated and desires authentic conversations. Reaching millennials through advertisements and brand marketing is not enough for they do not appreciate a just on-the-surface monologue and wants to engage in a dialogue. In fact, it will not be off the mark to say that marketing and branding agencies have not matured in their communication to win the heart and mind of this generation.

Millennials seek instant gratification from almost everything, right from information to entertainment, shopping needs to political decisions. They have become the juggernaut that enjoys the power to rewrite the culture, influence the way businesses are run and change the direction of the politics. It is extremely important to understand their preferences and be their companion just to be relevant.

Dominant, Restless
In India, millennials constitute roughly 34% of the population. This number translates to around 400 million — more than the total population of the US and more than the total number of millennials China has today. It will not be wrong to say that these people will decide the direction of the economy, politics, and culture.

Millennial and the post-millennial generation makes up a clear majority of voting-eligible adults in India. Their voting share in most of the States in India is over 45%, thereby holding the key to the success of any election. This vote share does not belong to any of established political equation or political parties. They are in search of new dynamic leaders and political parties, which can take them to the next level of growth.

Political parties need to work to capture the changing aspirations of the millennials, their voice of development. Simply relying on anti-incumbency, polarisation, caste equations and hypernationalism is unlikely to help.

Changing Politics
The ambition, anger, attitudes, anxieties, and aspirations of millennials in the recent past have played an active role as citizen, consumer as well as catalyst in shaping the political environment of India.

We saw their power when they took to the streets to protest and support socio-political issues that were spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal, Hardik Patel, and others. We have also witnessed how this generation supported Narendra Modi as a Prime Minister candidate in the 2014 election.

The election season in India is about to start shortly. Five States – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana — would go for Assembly elections in November-December. The story to win the heart and mind of these ever curious, demanding, and volatile voter segment would change with States but their dominance must never be ignored.

In all these five States, the win or loss of any candidate or a political party will be decided by the voting patterns of the millennials and the post-millennial generation. The party that manages to meet the demands of this generation would form the government in these State.

 

Published at: https://telanganatoday.com/millennials-key-to-next-government

Politics

Dec.29

Rahul Gandhi has a tough task in hand

In 1998, Sonia Gandhi inherited a very weak Indian National Congress (INC). The party was in power in a mere four States, though it still had 114 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Under her leadership, the party won 14 States in the very first year. She helped stitch alliances with political parties that shared diverse political ideologies and guided the INC to victory in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

The task wasn’t easy for Sonia since she was not a natural politician. In fact, it will not be wrong to say that she too was a reluctant politician just like Rahul Gandhi but after she took charge of the party, she emerged as one of the finest politicians of our times.

The most commendable characteristic of her political journey was a deliberate attempt to maintain a low profile and avoid any ad hoc remarks, both in public and private conversations with party members. This helped her escape all negative political dialogues.

Little Growth
Her second most important characteristic was not challenging the established political set-up. Instead, she chose to optimally utilise the experience and loyalty of her core team — Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Janardan Dwivedi and others. This team, nurtured by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, virtually ran the party on her behalf.

It won’t be off the mark to state that while Sonia survived on the core team for over two decades, she did not focus on building new leaders. This myopic act created a huge leadership deficit across the party, both at the Centre and State levels. Resultantly, today the party is devoid of expertise and loyalty of young and dynamic leaders, which used to be forte of the INC for ages.

Though the party, in the last two decades, under her leadership increased its vote share and presence, it was not achieved just on the merits of INC. It relied on the political arithmetic of smart alliances with regional political parties. The party has also lost credibility over a period of time.

In Bad Shape
Rahul Gandhi has inherited a party that is far worse in shape than it was when Sonia took over. So, Rahul has a tough task at hand to reverse the electoral fortunes. He needs to build the party and cadre from the scratch and instill optimism and hope in them.

When Sonia Gandhi took charge, there were no major corruption charges against important INC leaders. The Nehru-Gandhi family was also not tainted by corruption. Today, the party is stuck with multiple corruption charges and many of its leaders figure among the accused.

So, while Sonia succeeded in rebuilding the INC as a clean, progressive party, the task for Rahul is tougher. He will have to rebrand the party and its image from scratch. This will not be easy since the key leaders during the term of Sonia Gandhi are now aged and at best be his advisers. Rahul will have to build his new team.

Changing Expectations
The dynamics of politics in India has changed over the years. We are now experiencing the rise of young voters who vote at the intersection of caste-religion and development. The INC is still far away from understanding this new dynamics. The party desperately needs young leaders who can sync with the changing political landscape.

Hopefully, things will change soon as Rahul has made it clear that he wants to change the existing set-up and shepherd greater inner-party democracy. He has also started building his own team and that’s why leaders like Mohan Prakash, Madhusudan Mistry, Raj Babbar, Randeep Surjewala, RPN Singh and Divya Spandana are in the forefront.

Moreover, to bring in the best of the leaders, Rahul is espousing internal democracy in the party. The idea that he tested in the Youth Congress in the past will hold him in good stead.

Rebuild Party
When Sonia took charge, she did not have any political image. But Rahul has an image, and he is mostly seen as a politician who lacks charisma, seriousness, depth and leadership qualities. He is considered a reluctant politician. It is critical for the INC and Rahul to break out from this image built by political rivals.

Rahul Gandhi will have to activate the frontal party organisations and build a strong cadre, which is no mean task. It is a known fact that the INC has over the years lost its connect at the ground level. The party has a frontal organisation — Congress Seva Dal — which needs to be strengthened across all wards and panchayats in India.

Rahul Gandhi cannot bring about an instant transformation but he needs to start the process of building the INC cadre. At present, signs of confusion among the cadre and the loyal INC followers are at its peak. This is natural since the INC strength has dwindled to 44 in the Lok Sabha and it has lost almost all major States except Meghalaya, Mizoram, Puducherry, Karnataka and Punjab.

New Hope
The INC is going through its lowest phase and but isn’t the night darkest before the dawn? Perhaps, this big dip offers the opportunity to ring in change quickly and cohesively. The party needs radical and innovative changes for infusing confidence among its cadre and regaining the trust of the people.

With Rahul Gandhi taking over as the president of the 132-year-old INC, there is a new enthusiasm among its cadre and loyalists. At the same time, there are apprehensions about how the party will shape up under his leadership. The true test of Rahul Gandhi will be to leverage the new enthusiasm and use it as a springboard to revive the INC.

Point of View,Politics

Dec.05

Will Rise of Revanth Reddy change the Politics of Telangana

Telangana politics was dominated by the regional party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) with 87 seats and 34 percent vote share. The nearest political rival Indian National Congress (INC) has 13 seats with 25 percent vote share. The difference in the numbers both in the terms of seats and the vote share shows that the TRS is the most dominant player in the state. In the state where we have presence of five strong political parties the TRS commands a lion share. The other key political parties – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 5 seats and 7 percent vote share, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has 3 seats and 14.5 percent vote share, and All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has 7 seats with 3.7 percent vote share. It will be only right to say that these parties are of significant importance but insignificant vote share in the state politics. The combed vote share of BJP, TDP, and AIMIM barely add up to match vote share of INC, which is distant second in the state.

The 2014 election TRS won only 63 seats but over time MLAs from the INC and TDP deflected to the ruling party increasing its seat share to 87. It is important to mention that the two key parties TDP and INC have been facing the leadership issues and could not keep the flock together. In the last three years 12 TDP MLAs and 8 INC MLAs defected to the ruling TRS. During the same time, the popularity of the TRS has been growing over years and not only the citizens but also the legislators have shown confidence and trust in the TRS leadership.

Till recently Telangana political landscape has been very dry without any mega political action. The state enjoyed the monopolistic dominance of TRS but the dynamics is about to change now as Revanth Reddy has joining INC. Revanth Reddy did not join INC alone he has joined the party with 14 other TDP leaders, including ex-ministers, ex-MLAs and ex-MLCs. This move, no doubt, is set to change the dynamics of the state politics. It is believed that the environment has become very energetic, and we will witness high political drama and aggressive political action soon. It is widely believed that the firebrand politician Revanth Reddy is capable of challenging the political dominance of the TRS.

Revanth Reddy a Firebrand Leader

For all those who don’t know much about Revanth Reddy, here is a brief note on Revanth Reddy. He represented Kodangal assembly segment. He has been a mass leader and working president of Telangana-TDP. He started his political career as AVBP leader and soon joined TRS to fulfill his political ambitions in 2003. As a young leader, he contested for MLC from Mahbubnagar district as an independent candidate and won it. In 2005 he joined TDP and with the help of his firebrand politics and soon emerged as one of the key leaders in Telangana political landscape. Under the guidance of Chandrababu Naidu, Revanth Reddy dominated the political landscape for 12 years. Over years he became the dominant force in the party.

Damaging the prospect of TDP

It will not be wrong to say that the move has created a vacuum in the TDP leadership in the state. It will hurt Chandrababu Naidu’s dream of winning back Hyderabad from TRS when the state goes to polls in 2019. The party that claims of one million active members in the state will now have to find an aggressive leader who is capable of challenging Revanth Reddy in the state.

Bringing life to INC

Revanth Reddy believes that there is a need to build a broader political front to dislodge the K. Chandrasekhar Rao government. He claims that he left TDP and joined INC as he wants to free the state from the clutches of TRS and KCR family. He also proposes to undertake padayatra across Telangana State to ignite the KCR family free Telangana vision.

The shift of the firebrand leader Revanth Reddy from TDP to the second largest party in the state – INC will not only strengthen the party leadership but also infuse new life in the grassroot workers morale. It is widely discussed that if INC and Revanth Reddy manage the state politics well, the party will soon emerge as the alternative to the TRS in the state. The grand old party, INC is busy putting a plan in place in Telangana to regroup itself in the hope that it will help build the much needed momentum for the party. The party hopes to resurrect itself in Telangana with the help of firebrand leadership of Revanth Reddy.

Impacting the BJP’s Growth Plan

Not only INC but all other political parties believe that Revanth Reddy will change the fortunes of INC in the state. This move on the one hand strengthens INC in the state on the other hand is also a major snub for the BJP. This is also of huge political relevance to BJP as the party has been showing signs of going solo in the 2019 elections and working hard to build up a larger base for itself in the state. In last few months the BJP has been working hard to establish itself as an alternative to the TRS. The BJP was also hoping that all prominent leaders who wants to bring in change and are looking for any alternate party to join the cause would join BJP. Revanth Reddy joining INC will definitely make other leaders rethink their plans now.

The critique of BJP has started to claim that the party has no relevance in Telangana and soon a few prominent leaders from the party may also join INC. There is also discussion in the power corridors that senior leader Nagam Janardhan Reddy too might take the Revanth Reddy route and walk over to the INC.

Challenging TRS Dominance

It is also discussed that a few TRS members may also join INC soon. As propagated by the political enthusiasts, if the mass migration happens in favour of INC this can definitely be seen as a major political development in the state. I don’t believe that Revanth Reddy episode will have huge impact on the TRS or BJP brand of politics. If I have to go by the popular belief, the TRS has been doing good job and it is not facing any anti incumbency in the state. Moreover, the second generation leaders like K. T. Rama Rao, T. Harish Rao, and K. Kavitha have positioned themselves as progressive leaders and have been working hand in hand with K. Chandrashekar Rao to promote the party.

Task Ahead is Not Easy

The job in hands of Revanth Reddy is not easy as he has to match the political experience of K. Chandrashekar Rao, defy the on ground presence of T. Harish Rao, challenge the progressive and global image of K. T. Rama Rao, and the women power of the K. Kavitha. TRS is deep rooted in Telangana winning the trust of the voters over the ruling party is not easy. Revanth Reddy will also face challenge of survival from the leaders of BJP and TDP. Though the roads ahead is rocky and rough to triumph the firebrand leader, Revanth Reddy is ready for the task.

Politics

Nov.15

A hung Assembly on the horizon in Karnataka

During the last Assembly elections in Karnataka, the BJP was a splintered house and this made the task of the INC easy. In fact, the BJP in Karnataka, for long, has been struggling with leadership issues between BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa. This has also damaged the morale of the party workers in the State.

But in recent times, the leadership issues in Karnataka have been managed very well. The BJP in Karnataka is now not just a party of BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa. Other leaders like HN Ananth Kumar, Jagadish Shettar, DV Sadananda Gowda, R Ashoka and S Suresh Kumar have also gained prominence, thereby broadbasing the party’s leadership in the State.
Nurturing Leadership
Moreover, after the last Assembly elections, the BJP central leadership tried to resolve issues by nurturing young leaders and attracting prominent mass leaders from the INC and the JDS. The party has attracted many heavyweights like SM Krishna – one of the tallest leaders of Gowda community, Srinivas Prasad – a prominent Dalit leader, Jaya Prakash – a strong Bunt leader and Kumara Bangarappa – a popular leader of the Idiga community.

The party has also created a second rung leadership that connects it with all prominent castes in Karnataka and now has a fair representation of all prominent castes viz CT Ravi – a Vokkaliga, V Sunil Kumar – an Idiga, Shobha Karandlaje – a Bunt-Vokkaliga, and Prahlad Joshi – a Brahmin.

The party has a strong vote share in coastal Karnataka and after the joining of Bunt leader Jaya Prakash, it has only grown in strength. Similarly, it has a strong base in Bombay Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka and may win most of its seats there. But with the help of new leaders, the BJP must increase its vote share in south Karnataka where it has lagged behind.

If all its leaders work in tandem, the BJP can get close to forming a government. They may still need to join hands with a few independents or JDS to form a stable government.

Fading Fortress of JDS
The biggest challenge for the JDS is its positioning. The JDS is considered as a party of a single community – Vokkaligas, run by a political family. This positioning, one one hand is its biggest strength owing to its vote bank, but on the other hand, hampers its growth and stops it from emerging as a pan-Karnataka party.

While we are witnessing the rise of regional political parties across India, Karnataka is witnessing a decline in the popularity of regional parties. The JDS, the only prominent regional party in Karnataka, has reduced itself to a party of agriculture and Vokkaligas. Its core vote bank — the Vokkaligas — too seems to be shifting their loyalty as they see the rise of DK Shivakumar in the INC. Moreover, urban Karnataka believes that HD Kumaraswamy is not a very progressive leader.

It is also popularly believed that the JDS leadership is losing control over its local leadership. The same is reflected in the conduct of MLAs Zameer Ahmed Khan, Akhand Srinivasa Murthy, Balakrishna, Chaluvarayaswamy, Bheema Naik, Iqbal Ansari and Ramesh Bandisiddegowda, who voted against the party guidelines during the last Rajya Sabha elections. These rebel MLAs have decided to shift to the INC. The rebel leaders have raised issues related to the growing perception of it being a family run party and its leadership. Amid all these controversies, the party has lost a good number of mass leaders and voters’ trust.

But this is not the first time that the JDS is facing such challenges. In the past, the core vote bank of the party had backed former Prime Minister Deve Gowda despite odds. The leadership of Deve Gowda has been the biggest strength of the party. I am sure that in the ensuing election too, with the help of his loyal followers, he will manage to retain most of the current Assembly seats.

The JDS enjoys a strong vote share in Mandya, Mysuru and in the Hyderabad Karnataka region but has little or no presence beyond these regions. Though the party has scope to do well under the guidance of Deve Gowda, it is not innovative and aggressive enough. It is reluctant to explore new equations to win additional vote bank.

The Next Election
The next election is going to be an intense triangular fight among the INC, BJP, and the JDS. A pre-poll alliance is mostly a big no for all political parties but a post-poll alliance may be an option.

If one were to go by the popular sentiments, we are likely to witness a hung Assembly and JDS and INC will join hands to form the government. But politics makes strange bedfellows and I believe that it will be BJP-JDU government and not an INC-JDU if there is a hung Assembly.
An arrangement between the BJP and JDS sounds impossible as we all believe that BS Yediyurappa must not have forgotten the betrayal of HD Kumaraswamy. But we must understand that Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy are seasoned politicians and they would align the political equation to their benefit. The BJP central team will also not let go of the opportunity and find out a win-win for both Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa.

Most importantly, it will be advantage JDS if they join BJP in case of a hung Assembly. The BJP-JDS combination will be a win-win alliance for municipality, State government, as well as for the Centre.

Politics

Nov.14

Triangular contest on cards in Karnataka

The Indian National Congress (INC) is one of the strongest political parties in Karnataka. It has managed to retain 35% vote share in the State during the last three Assembly elections.

Moreover, the spread of this vote share is almost uniform across the State unlike the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS), which have pockets of strong vote banks.

The regional party, JDS, has held on to its 18-20% vote bank for the last three Assembly elections. The BJP has been adding voters to its fold during the last two decades, and in the last two elections, its vote share hovered around 30%.

Karnataka is one of the unique States where all three parties have strong vote banks and mostly these loyal voters don’t shift sides. This is reflected in the vote share of these political parties over the last two decades.

In the ensuing Assembly election, it is likely that we will witness a very interesting fight among the three key political parties of Karnataka – INC, BJP, and JDS. To understand the emerging electoral situation, let us explore the current state of all the three parties.
Stronghold of INC
If I were to go by the popular belief that there is a growing voice of anti-incumbency in Karnataka, I would have to pronounce the fall of INC in Karnataka. But I would not buy the argument blindly that INC has failed to retain its popularity in Karnataka, and people are waiting for elections to teach them a lesson. Yes, there is a murmur of anti-incumbency in a few pockets.

The sentiment of anti-incumbency in a few pockets is very normal for any incumbent government. But the anti-incumbency is not uniform across Karnataka and there are pockets where voters are happy with the work of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. So, it will be wrong to classify the current situation as strong anti-incumbency.

This anti-incumbency can be neutralised with the help of a few positive moves and that is what Siddaramaiah has been doing lately. He has mostly neutralised the mood of anti-incumbency with the help of pro-poor policies, stand on Hindi imposition, positive moves towards the Karnataka Flag issue among others. These moves in recent times have helped the Chief Minister establish himself as one of the tallest mass leaders in the State.

Mass Leaders
In Karnataka, the INC has many other strong leaders like DK Shivakumar, G Parameshwara, KH Muniyappa and SN Patil. The collective might of these mass leaders can help it win the desired vote share.

Moreover, in recent times the INC has played the caste equation very well. It has strong representation from all influential castes in the State. For instance, Siddaramaiah is the tallest leader from the Kuruba community, DK Shivakumar has emerged as the strongest leader of Vokkaligas, G Parameshwara and KH Muniyappa are strong Dalit leaders, SN Patil represents the dominant Lingayat community and Jarkiholi brothers have a huge following among tribals. It will only be right to say that no other political party has such well-defined representation.

The JDS is mostly perceived as a party of the Vokkaligas and the BJP as a party of the Lingayats. The INC enjoys the strong backing of Muslims, Kurubas and Dalits, but it is perceived as a party of all castes and religions.

This is why unlike the BJP and JDS, the INC enjoys a uniform vote share across all Assembly constituencies. The INC is a strong player in all the 242 Assembly constituencies. Its candidates have been the winner or a close second in almost all the Assembly seats.

Rise of BJP
In the last Assembly election in Karnataka, the BJP was a divided house. The vote share was split between – BJP, KJP of Yeddyurappa and BSRCP of Bellary Sriramulu. Now that all three parties are back as one united party, the BJP vote share increased to 32% in the Assembly election of 2013. The united BJP also managed to get 43.4% vote share in the 2014 parliamentary election as against 41.2% vote share in the previous elections.

In the ensuing election, which the BJP will contest as a united, cohesive party, it is expected to pose a much stiffer challenge to the INC.

Politics

Nov.07

DNA of INC
The 70s, 80s and the 90s witnessed a decline in the popularity of the Congress. During the same time, INC (Indian National Congress) also saw a rise in the control and command style of functioning. This led to many ambitious regional leaders forming their own parties. The formation of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is the classic case as it was a result of the arrogance of the INC central leadership.

Over the years, the inability of the INC to meet the aspirations of its popular regional leaders coupled with its arrogance led to the creation of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and others. The local leaders who enjoyed mass following demanded that they deserved a prominent place in the political landscape and got it by establishing a successful political party.

Most of these regional political parties over the years have become strong regional political dynasties. The genesis of these political parties and the exit of these popular leaders have significantly contributed to the decline in the popularity of the INC.

DNA of Janata Party
The rise of Indira Gandhi as the undisputed leader of India also resulted in the rise of unstructured opposition in the form of Janata Party. The Janata Party movement, which enjoyed a strong mass following and trust of the voters could not manage its growth and popularity.
The biggest problem for the Janata Party was identifying a leader who could efficiently manage the pack of strong, aggressive, passionate and ambitious leaders, who enjoyed a mass following in their respective pockets. The Janata party started to disintegrate even before it reached its full potential, resulting in the rise of regional parties such as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Janata Dal Secular (JDS), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The emergence of these regional parties was a function of regional pride, regional caste equation and, most importantly, ambition of the regional leaders. Most of these regional parties such as RJD, RLD, SP, JDS build their base around the caste equation of the tallest leader.

Demand for Separate State
The third set of regional parties are the ones born out of movements that promoted regional culture and focused on the ethnic roots. The political leaders in Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Telangana agitated for separate States based on their unique regional, cultural, and ethnic traditions.

Over time, the politicians who were agitating for separate States formed a new regional political party. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in West Bengal were formed as the result of separate statehood movements. The scenario is no different in Maharashtra where the regional party Shiv Sena (SS) followed by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) emerged from a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city.

At times, political parties also fight for autonomy and make it the core of their existence. The National Conference (NC) and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir are demanding greater autonomy and powers to the State of Kashmir.

Regional Pride and Development
Regional parties also fight for the recognition of cultural rights, unique identity and regional pride. Parties like Shiv Sena in Maharashtra focus on regional rights and pride and the BSP fights for the identity and development of the Dalits.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is known for fighting the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. These set of political parties are flag bearers of regional growth and development.

Fall from Grace
Most of the regional chieftains viz, Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Parkash Singh Badal, N Chandrababu Naidu and M Karunanidhi soon after gaining power converted the regional party or the movement into a family affair. This has led to the rise of the regional political family in the last three decades.

We are also witnessing the rise of new political families in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal as the BSP supremo Mayawati is promoting her brother Anand Kumar and nephew Aakash, and Mamata Banerjee is promoting her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the party.

This rise of political families is the biggest hindrance to the growth of the idea of regional parties. We are witnessing its adverse impact in the form of decline in the popularity of the regional political parties including the RJD, JDS and the BSP. The decline in the popularity of regional parties and a sudden rise in popularity of a national party is a function of the trust deficit in regional parties.

Politics

Nov.06

Relying on regional aspirations

The emergence of regional political parties in India’s political spectrum is one of the most important political developments in the post-independence era. Regional parties have had a big impact for almost three decades and are still playing a crucial role in government formation, both in Parliament and in Assemblies. It will not be off the mark to state that this is the era of co-existence of national and regional parties. This is one of the main reasons why Prime Minister Narendra Modi even after getting an absolute majority continued to take regional alliance partners along.

At present, India is governed by national parties – Indian National Congress (INC), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — and many strong regional parties (see graph). A closer look on the co-existence of national and regional parties gives us three set of States.

Charismatic Leadership
First, there are States such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh which are mostly governed by the national parties – INC and BJP, and regional parties have very little or no say in these States. Second, there are States like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Bihar, where regional parties are stronger than the national parties. Third, in States like Jharkhand and Karnataka regional parties are not very strong and need the help of the national parties to form government.

The regional parties, irrespective of the State they come from, were formed by charismatic leaders who enjoyed unprecedented regional following and cult status. Here again, these leaders can be defined in two categories – caste-based leaders and region-based leaders. A set of these mass leaders like Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati enjoy a loyal base of specific caste, religion or belief system and the other set of leaders like K Chandrashekhar Rao, Naveen Patnaik, Parkash Singh Badal, N Chandrababu Naidu and M Karunanidhi enjoy the status of flag bearer of regional pride and identity.

Most of these leaders could not grow beyond their vote bank and over the years have not reinvented themselves to gain additional votes. Leaders who enjoyed a loyal base of specific caste, religion or belief system have 20-25% of the vote share and those who are the flag bearer of regional pride mostly enjoy 30-40% of the vote share. That makes the positioning of regional pride and identity stronger than the positioning based on a specific caste, or belief system.

Rise of Regional Parties
If we evaluate the emergence of the regional parties, we observe that the big reasons for the formation of regional parties had been the resentment of the locals over the treatment received from the Central government, rise in the ambition of the regional leaders, rise in the regional pride and local issues, and resentment against the central party leadership. The rise of the regional parties is not a recent phenomenon; this trend started in the early 60s.

The first 60 years of independence saw the Congress being in power at the Centre. And during the first four decades, the central leadership was held mostly by the Gandhi-Nehru family and the States were managed by the Congress stalwarts who enjoyed mass following at the regional and State level.

The situation in the South Indian States started to change in the 60s. The politics of Tamil Nadu began witnessing a rise in discomfort with the central leadership, increase in the sentiments of regional pride and rise in the ambition of regional leaders. These factors triggered various regional movements that led to the rise of Dravidian parties.

This was the beginning of a trend, which caught on in many States and in the years that followed saw the emergence of caste and religion-based political parties, led by ambitious regional leaders with a mass following in their areas. It will not be wrong to say that most of the regional parties that emerged in the 80s and 90s actually trace their origins to national parties, either the INC or Janata Dal. The other set of regional parties were formed in search of statehood or identity.

We will explore each category of the regional parties in the second part of the piece appearing tomorrow.

Politics

Oct.30

Himachal Elections: Deciders in Devbhoomi

Himachal Pradesh is known to be a peace loving and lively State. This same reflects in its politics, which is markedly different from the other States in the plains of north and central India. The rivalry between incumbent and opposition parties is not that pronounced. The political parties in the State never dwell on extreme negativity. The fight is mostly healthy and straightforward. In the not-so-politically complicated State, winning elections is primarily a function of overcoming anti-incumbency.

The next Assembly election in Himachal Pradesh is scheduled on November 9. The incumbent government of the Indian National Congress (INC) has 36 seats with 42.8% vote share and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 27 seats with 38.5% vote share. The rest of the seats are divided among Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) and independent candidates.

Though it is difficult to zero in on the winners now, the party that manages to win hearts of Kangra, Mandi and Shimla can form a government in the State. Among the 12 districts in the State, Kangra has the largest number of 15 Assembly constituencies while Mandi and Shimla have 10 and 8 seats respectively. Both the parties are campaigning extensively in these districts to ensure their victory.

A Straight Contest
The voters’ sentiments and vote share of the last three Assembly elections suggest that the dynamics of the Assembly election in Himachal Pradesh is very straightforward as it is one of the few States where there is a straight fight between the two largest national parties – the BJP and the INC. Since 1985, voters have been voting against the incumbent government and have never given their mandate to the same party for two consecutive terms.

If one were to go by this popular trend, the BJP is slated to come to power as the INC is ruling the State. This is also reflected in the India Today-Axis survey, which predicts a comfortable victory for the BJP in the State. According to the survey, the BJP could win back Himachal Pradesh from the Congress by winning 43-47 seats, while the Congress may trail with 21-25 seats in the 68-seat Assembly.

But if we closely analyse the data of the last three Assembly elections (see graph), there is roughly a four to five percentage points difference in the vote share of incumbent and opposition. Hence, reversing the trend is not a huge task for an incumbent government but that needs proper campaign planning and implementation.

It looks like that the current Chief Minister and face of the INC, Virbhadra Singh has plans to reverse the trend. He has planned his campaign well and is confident of leading the INC to a comfortable victory. Claiming that it is going to be a historic win for the INC, he says, “Congress will win 45 seats or even more. We will be forming the government. Our slogan is Mission Repeat 2017.” On the other hand, the BJP is also confident of its win.

Impact Issues
The key factors that will impact the elections are the face of the Chief Ministerial candidate, the role of anti-incumbency, rift within the party, and development.

Chief Ministerial Face: We are fast moving towards the era of leader-led election from party-led election. The face of the election is critical to generate momentum, give direction to the campaign, and connect to the electorate. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has already declared Virbhadra Singh as the party’s chief ministerial face.

On the contrary, the opposition BJP has yet to announce any chief ministerial face. The party once again will contest this election on the credibility of Narendra Modi. It continues to trust the arrangement that gave them landslide wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Anti-Incumbency: If we believe the history of Assembly elections in the State since 1985, the BJP will win this election because the voters of Himachal have voted against the incumbent government.

Moreover, the incumbent INC government led by Virbhadra Singh is on a weak wicket, especially owing to the disproportionate assets case and deteriorating law and order. The State INC is also witnessing considerable infighting between Virbhadra Singh and Himachal Congress president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. This has affected the party’s electoral preparedness.

There is also a belief that since the INC won the Punjab election, it will have a positive impact for the INC in the neighbouring Himachal. This could be a factor and in fact, I believe that the presence of Captain Amarinder Singh will help the INC attract additional votes and arrest the impact of anti-incumbency. But this positive impact will at best neutralise the strong anti-incumbency.

Rift within Parties: The rift in the BJP is primarily between its two prominent leaders – Prem Kumar Dhumal and JP Nadda. The fight was to be the chief ministerial candidate but it has been managed by the decision of ‘fight the elections under the name of Narendra Modi’. The differences in the BJP have been resolved or suppressed quite well.

But in the case of the INC, the rift among its top leaders – Virbhadra Singh, GS Bali, and Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu — is out in open. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi has tried to minimise the differences by declaring Virbhadra Singh as the next chief ministerial candidate.

Development: The important question that needs to be answered is if the incumbent government has done enough to impress the voters to vote it back to power. If the voters are not impressed, the opposition’s ‘no development’ card wins.

The election season in Himachal is warming up but both the key players are yet to open all their cards. The miniscule vote difference between the winner and the loser opens possibilities for both sides, which will make it a keenly contested election.

Politics

Oct.11

A keen contest in Karnataka Assembly Polls

The Karnataka Assembly elections, scheduled in April-May 2018, are critical for the Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the State’s largest regional party – Janata Dal – Secular (JDS).

The ruling party, the INC, would like to retain its largest ruling State. A win for the INC is also important as it has recently lost four States – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa, and now rules only a few States. The JDS would fight with all its might just to remain relevant in Karnataka politics. The party would make every attempt to increase its vote share, even though it may not emerge as the largest party.

The BJP will like to win the Assembly election for many reasons – the win will be seen as their re-entry into south India; this will be seen as one of the largest milestones in their ‘Çongress-Mukt’ campaign; and it will be a big morale booster for the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Vote Share
Let us analyse the last two Assembly and parliamentary election results in Karnataka. Though the voting pattern in the Assembly and parliamentary elections are different, the trends suggest the mood of the voters.

All the parties, both national and regional, will experiment with all possible tricks to win most votes. The JDS has been hovering around 20% vote share for the last three Assembly elections. In the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections, the JDS got 19% and 20.2% votes respectively. The party enjoys a very strong loyal voter base in certain parts of the State, which has helped it remain relevant in Karnataka politics.

But the numbers of last two Assembly and parliamentary elections suggest that the real battle has been between the two national parties – INC and BJP. The gap in the vote share of the INC and BJP in recent elections has been very close. The INC in the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections got 34.8% and 36.6% votes. The BJP during the same period got 33.9% and 32.4% votes. The number suggests that the difference in the vote share is not very high.

It is also important to analyse the vote share dynamics of the parliamentary election, which is very different from that of the Assembly elections. In the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the JDS managed to get 11.1% and 13.6% votes. This shows a deviation of roughly eight percentage points in the parliamentary and Assembly elections. This was mostly added to the vote share of the INC and the BJP.

In the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the INC got 37.6% and 41.2% votes, which is roughly a 4 percentage points gain in the vote share from the Assembly elections. In the same elections, the BJP got 41.6% and 43.4% votes — roughly an 8 percentage points gain in the vote share from the Assembly elections. So, the BJP has been more effective in the parliamentary elections.

Floating Voters Key
It is very clear from the numbers of the last two Assembly and parliamentary elections that the real fight in Karnataka has been between the national parties – INC and BJP. The JDS has been playing an effective role of kingmaker or a spoiler.

The numbers also suggest that the BJP and the INC have been winning the fence or last-minute voters. These last-minute voters have been deciding the fate of the elections in Karnataka. The same last-minute voters would decide the fate of the Assembly elections in 2018.

Recent Opinion Polls
It is also important to explore the numbers of the recent opinion poll results. In recent times, the two separate agencies – Creative Center for Political and Social Studies (COPS) and C-Fore have conducted surveys, which have thrown two different set of results.

The COPS has given the INC 86 seats, BJP 113 seats and the JDS 25 seats. It predicts that the INC would win a majority of the seats in Old Mysuru and Bangalore region and the BJP will make a clean sweep in Coastal Karnataka, Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions. However, in Central Karnataka, both the INC and the BJP could win an equal number of seats.

The C-Fore survey has predicted 120-132 seats for the INC and 60-72 seats for the BJP in the 2018 elections. The survey has also predicted that the INC may win 43% vote share, the BJP 32% and the JDS may win 17%.

Indicative Trends
Obviously, these survey results are not final and are indicative trends. It just helps us understand the current state of affairs and the overall mood of the people in the State.
It is a good idea to take the average of both the surveys to understand the trend and if we take the average of both the surveys, all we will get is a hung Assembly. Moreover, both the surveys also suggest that the JDS is losing ground.

It is too premature to start predicting the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections. The political parties have another seven-eight months to change the mind of the voters and influence them to vote for their candidates and party. As of now, one thing is clear that the ensuing Karnataka election will be won or lost by winning or losing the last-minute voters. This election will be won by the party, which influences them best.

Politics