Too close to call in Meghalaya

Too close to call in Meghalaya

Opposition parties believe they are in with a chance but division of votes and Mukul Sangma may change it

Meghalaya will elect its new Assembly on February 27. The 60 Assembly seats of the State, on an average, have 30,000 voters, which makes the election dynamics interesting and quite different from big Assembly seats that have about three lakh voters. The dynamics of Assembly election in Meghalaya can be compared with any big municipality election, viz Mumbai or Delhi municipality election. It is mostly won by the charisma of local leaders and micro-management of the campaign. A closer look at the voting pattern in the last five Assembly elections reveals that most of the Assembly seats are influenced by local leaders and national parties have very little influence. Even star campaigners of national parties have little impact.

Political Scenario
The State is dominated by many parties, including the Indian National Congress (INC), North East Social Democratic Party (NESDP), United Democratic Party (UDP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP). The regional parties have a sizeable presence and owing to the strong presence of multiple national and regional parties, the State always gets a fractured mandate. No single party has got a majority in the last four decades. The government is mostly formed by INC or UDP in alliance with independents and other like-minded parties. The political chaos is set to rise to the next level in this election for it will see the rise more political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), National People Party (NPP), People Democratic Front (PDF) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Exodus Impact
The confusing political landscape can be seen in the mass exodus of political heavyweights. While prominent leaders from the INC have joined the NPP, BJP, PDF and other political parties, a good number of independent MLAs and leaders from other political parties have joined the INC. It is widely believed that this exodus will benefit NPP, PDF and BJP and may tilt the results their way. But I do not quite agree with this theory. The impact of the high-profile exodus can be minimised by the INC by intelligent selection of the young, assertive and local candidates.

NPP as Challenger
The NPP now has a strong presence in Khasi and Jaintia Hills as several leaders from other parties have joined it. This has helped the NPP gain reasonably in the Garo Hills, which till the last Assembly election was an INC bastion. But the success of the NPP will largely depend on the performance of all of the defected leaders. If all these leaders perform well and influence the voters, we might see it forming the next government in Meghalaya.

Development Mantra
In this election, the voice of change is strong. The promise of change is based on the most potent tool for winning elections — development and voice against corruption. Moreover, parties like the NPP, BJP, AAP and the PDF are working hard on the ground to make maximum gains. Recently, NPP supremo Conrad K Sangma exuded confidence that the “NPP would not be the single largest party but will win majority.” All regional parties believe that people are done with the INC and so, they are in a position of strength.

After winning Assam and Manipur, the BJP is trying hard to win Meghalaya. The party is banking on the popularity of Narendra Modi, development mantra and wiping out corruption. But it is struggling with the politics of beef ban, cow slaughter and after-effects of demonetisation and GST.

All Is Not Lost
It is evident from the past performance of the INC that the voters of the State prefer the INC over all other parties. The INC has always been the single largest party here and it enjoys a dominant vote share of 30%. There is a strong belief among political enthusiasts that the dominance of INC may be challenged in this election and the rise of new players like AAP, BJP and NPP would change the political landscape.

Given its ground strength, it will not be right to pronounce the fall of INC in Meghalaya. The political acumen and the shrewdness of Dr Mukul Sangma also should not be underestimated. He knows how to play his cards to reap maximum advantage. He is the only Chief Minister after SC Marak to have completed a full term in office and that speaks volumes about his political acumen. The unorganised opposition is banking on development and corruption charges but no one has shared details of the corruption. That makes the opposition argument hollow and voters may not buy that Dr Sangma is corrupt, though they may question the government on development issues. So, Dr Sangma will have to come up with a strong narrative on development to counter the opposition.

Fresh Start
An astute politician like Dr Sangma is a huge asset for the INC in Meghalaya. He needs to see the mass exodus of the leaders and declaration by senior politicians about retirement from the active politics as an opportunity. He can project this election as a fresh start for the INC in the State. In fact, winning elections with a set of new face is not a tough task provided the candidate selection is intelligent. This move will also help INC overcome anti-incumbency. The huge split in votes among multiple parties will also work to the advantage of the INC. The fight will be intense in Garo hills, which will provide ample opportunity for the INC to win maximum numbers of the 24 seats in the region. If Dr Sangma wins Garo hills, the INC will once again be the major player in Meghalaya.

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Why Congress came close in Gujarat

Why Congress came close in Gujarat

A deep reading of the party’s campaign shows that it may have hit upon a template that could restore its primacy

In the recent Gujarat Assembly election, the BJP won 99 seats, seven more than the magic figure of 92 in a House of 182. The INC secured 77 seats while its allies got another three. The NCP, which fought alone, got a seat and Independents won two.

This election represents a key moment in Indian politics. On the one hand, it once again proved the robustness of the Gujarat model of governance. The incumbent government, which faced the economic challenges of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, social challenge of caste revolt and agrarian distress, political challenge of a weak local BJP leadership, and 22 years of anti-incumbency, retained the State for the sixth time.

On the other hand, this election saw the revival of opposition and rise of a strong opposition leader – Rahul Gandhi. Rahul had four major wins — one, exposing the Gujarat model of governance, two, establishing an image of liberal Hindutva, three, stitching an alliance with three upcoming leaders – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, and four, resurgence of the Nehruvian model of election campaign management.

Exposing Gujarat Model
Rahul Gandhi put all his might in this elections. It was his aggression that helped the INC build a euphoria against the BJP. The Congress president started the campaign with the slogan ‘Vikas gando thayo che’. The success of the campaign exposed the chinks in the BJP’s claims of development and forced it to rethink its campaign strategy.

Rahul also managed to penetrate his message to the influential trader community by attacking demonetisation, failed economic policies and bad implementation of GST. He gave a new name to the GST – Gabbar Singh Tax — and an impactful campaign around it forced the Modi government to amend the tax slabs. This was the first big win of Rahul in challenging the established image of the Gujarat model of governance.

Liberal Hindutva
The BJP has been projecting the image of the INC as pro-Muslim and effectively using it to polarise the electorate. In the Gujarat election, Rahul did not provide any opportunity for the BJP to polarise the election.

He kept Muslims out of the political discourse and instead experimented with the image of liberal Hindutva. He visited multiple temples during the campaign. This new avatar influenced voters and helped the INC win sizable votes.

New Political Alliance
In the game of caste politics, the INC had an edge over the BJP. Rahul successfully managed to win support of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. The trio enjoyed good support of the Patidars, OBC and Dalit votes and the same influenced voters’ turnout as well.

Rahul with the support of Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh managed to consolidate the Patidars, OBC and Dalit vote bank. This was Rahul’s second big alliance after the alliance with Akhilesh Yadav.

Resurgence of Nehruvian Model
The INC historically has been the party of the urban elite, upper castes – Brahmins and Thakurs, who maintained their alliance with the local communities. This election witnessed the INC going back to its roots and core strength.

We witnessed the resurgence of the Nehruvian model backed by the support of THAMs — Thakurs, Dalits (Harijans), Tribals (Adivasis) and Muslims.

While there is no problem with the new emerging equation, it needs to be implemented well. In Gujarat, the INC leadership failed to implement it. If the party implements the new equation on ground with efficiency, they will win most of the States that go to polls this year.

The Gujarat election also saw a tectonic shift in the way the INC has been managing campaigns in the last two decades. This shift forced the BJP to change its campaign. Only time will tell if the change in INC’s campaign management is a long-term strategy or just a tactical move to win Gujarat.

New Social, Cultural Vote Bank
The Gujarat results have challenged the established Gujarat model, which was developed and nurtured by Narendra Modi over the years. The model is not only about economic development and good governance but also about the emergence of a new social and cultural vote bank – United Spectrum of the Hindu Votes (USHV).

If we analyse the last few Gujarat elections, we will see the rise of USHV and fall of caste-based politics. The emergence of USHV resulted in the rise of two new prominent groups – Saffron Dalits and Reluctant Muslim Voters. In the past, the USHV had liberated Gujarat from opportunistic caste dynamics.

Through an intelligent and aggressive campaign, Rahul managed to disturb this USHV equation but the damage was managed by the rise in the number of Saffron Dalits and Reluctant Muslim Voters.

The INC tried its best to cultivate socially and economically dominant castes like Jats in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, Marathas in Maharashtra, Lingayats in Karnataka and Patels in Gujarat. The experiment of exploring new caste equations has not worked well for the INC. The party lost almost all the States where it experimented with socially and economically dominant castes.

Nurturing a new socio-cultural equation is not easy. It requires astute political acumen, huge operational skills and on-ground presence. The BJP stitched USHV as it had the dynamic leadership of Modi as well as political shrewdness and booth management skills of Amit Shah. The INC will have to work on building its cadre, leadership and presence before experimenting with new caste equations.

In many ways, the Gujarat result is a huge loss for the BJP though it got the mandate to rule the State for another five years. Rahul Gandhi made a big dent on the established vote bank of the BJP. It will not be wrong to read the loss of Rahul Gandhi as his moral victory and the victory of the BJP as a
mere face-saving act.

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Karnataka: A hung Assembly on the horizon

Karnataka: A hung Assembly on the horizon

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.

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Himachal Elections: Deciders in Devbhoomi

Himachal Elections: Deciders in Devbhoomi

No incumbent has returned to power in Himachal Pradesh since 1985 but Virbhadra Singh will fight hard to change it

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.

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A keen contest in Karnataka Assembly Polls

A keen contest in Karnataka Assembly Polls

The narrow vote share gap between Congress and BJP means the tide can turn even at the very last moment.

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.

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