Brace for a battle of alliances

Nitish Kumar is eyeing a fourth term amidst waning popularity, growing anti-incumbency and rise of Tejashwi-led coalition

The tenure of the Bihar Assembly ends on November 29 and in an ordinary situation, a new Assembly should be elected before that date. Going by the character of the State, had it not been corona times, Bihar would have been witnessing huge election rallies, mass political movements, political realignment, cross-party movements, political allegations, counterclaims, etc.

Not that the political drama has not started already, but it is not at the scale Bihar generally witnesses. The game of jumping parties too has started. This season, the game started when five Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLCs joined the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). In response to it, the RJD snatched JD(U) leader and former Industry Minister Shyam Rajak. In the next level, the JD(U) responded by onboarding four RJD MLAs. As of now, this game is in its initial level and will mature as elections get nearer.

Game of Jumping
This political equation will not only be played by jumping parties, we will also witness cases of jumping alliance. On the one hand, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief in the NDA is angry with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and on the other, Jitan Ram Manjhi, upset with the RJD-led Grand Alliance, has switched over to the JD(U)-led ruling alliance.

If I am not wrong, the chief political strategist of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the initial days will play a very silent game in Bihar and ignite the voters without playing any active game of onboarding candidates from other parties or forging a fresh alliance. He will change his strategy only when the Election Commission announces the election dates. I believe he will play all his moves when the game reaches the matured level.

The political equations will change with each level and the last final levels are likely to throw up a complex political equation.

Dynamics of Date
The sentiment of political parties tells that the opposition in Bihar wants the Assembly election deferred but Nitish Kumar wants it on time. If the election is deferred, Bihar would be voting under President’s rule, and that will be advantage opposition. The main opposition parties are not in favour of holding an election till the threat of coronavirus is neutralised.

The principal opposition parties — RJD, Indian National Congress (INC), and the CPI — have written to the Election Commission seeking a deferment. The opposition wants President’s rule in the State for some time before elections. Interestingly, even the LJP has called for deferring the Bihar polls. It is important to understand that the LJP has never accepted JD(U) as its natural partner and the JD(U) also treats the LJP as one of the extended partners of the NDA.
The most critical player of all, the BJP, has not shared its view on the question. The BJP maintains that it will go by what the Election Commission decides.

Political Equation
It is a known fact that Nitish Kumar has more control over the government while the BJP has more loyalist voters. This political combination — of a clean image of Sushasan Babu and the loyalist voter base of the BJP — is the most potent political equation in the political landscape of Bihar. The major partner of the alliance is the JD(U) and the BJP is playing the role of a strong secondary party. Yet, it’s the JD(U) that is the weak part of the strong equation and not the BJP.
The political situation in Bihar is more like Maharashtra rather than Punjab. This is yet another State where the BJP is stronger than the alliance partners but has still opted to play second fiddle. Bihar is also one of the States where the combined might of the opposition can make a difference to the electoral outcome.

It is important to ponder what role the BJP will play in Bihar. Will it follow the Punjab model, or will it experiment with the Maharashtra model. Irrespective of the political stand the BJP takes, it is going to play a key role. The future political play of the BJP in Bihar is a function of the local leader it can project in the State.

The BJP cannot take an independent stand as it does not have a leader, who is acceptable to all. It is known to all that till Nitish Kumar is at the helm of affairs, it will be difficult for the BJP to announce an alternative. A few months of President’s rule may give the BJP a window, and Nitish Kumar knows it.

Fading Charisma
Nitish Kumar is known for his clean image and non-corrupt governance. This has helped him gain the image of ‘Sushasan Babu’. He, in his first two terms as Chief Minister, restored governance and law and order in the State. He extensively worked on infrastructure, women empowerment and education for girls, and other must-to-have things for a progressive State. But he could not deliver the same in the third term. His is now widely seen as an ineffective government.

There is a popular belief that the magic of Sushasan Babu is waning. Nitish Kumar eyes a fourth term as Bihar’s Chief Minister with receding popularity, rising anti-incumbency, changing caste equations, depleting voters’ confidence, rising corruption, new criminal networks, rise of parallel economy, unemployment, reverse migration, and rise of Tejashwi Yadav-led coalition.

On top of these challenges, there is hardly any new reform that has been pushed or proposed by him to improve the current status of education, healthcare, infrastructure, investment, industrialisation, employment, etc. This creates a perfect scenario for Tejashwi Yadav to pitch this election against him.

The political equations are changing rapidly. The voters of Bihar have started to believe that Nitish Kumar managed the governance of State well but failed to bring in development. The charisma of Sushasan Babu is fading and it is being aggressively challenged by Tejashwi Yadav. In this scenario, if the NDA fails to stitch an intelligent alliance, the result may surprise all of us.

Also Published at

Andhra Pradesh to Witness a New Political Equation

Andhra Pradesh to Witness a New Political Equation

Andhra Pradesh is a young state with roughly 42 percent voters who are below 34 years of age and 65 percent of voters below 45 years of age. These young voters have very different requirements, which is beyond the traditional vote bank requirements. They are restless and hungry for growth. I strongly believe this election, the state will vote for the party that will demonstrate commitment to development and growth. This election will not be about Cash, Caste, and Charisma but will only be about commitment of great future, growth and development.

As we know that in the last election all districts were dominated only by two regional parties TDP, and YSRCP and the national parties BJP and INC had no greater relevance in the state. In my views, this election the dynamics of the political campaign will be different. The state will get into exploratory mode and they will experiment beyond the dominant parties TDP and YSRCP. I have very strong feeling that this election we will also witness emergence of a new regional party and the national party, BJP establishing itself as a strong force in the state. The path to victory will not be easy this season. Let’s explore the possibilities.

 Rise of YSRCP

The party in opposition – YSRCP is working hard to win the state and if we have to believe the ground reports they may form the next government in the state. The YSRCP chief Jagan Mohan Reddy is working hard to win the trust and support of the voters. It is widely believed that his Praja Sankalp Padyatra is huge success but if I have to evaluate the campaign performance on the parameters of efforts, spend, visibility, and engagement, I will call it a moderate success.

I visited one of the pockets of Vijayawada to understand the on-ground impact of the padyatra and I was not much impressed by the return of investment or the return of efforts by Jagan. In my views, there was a sizable mismatch in campaign resource mobilization, the optics and theatrical of the padyatra and crowd turnout. Having said this, I still believe that the campaign performance was testimony of the popularity of Jagan and in way announcement that probably he is the tallest leader in current day Andhra Pradesh.

 Fall of TDP

As of now, the dominance of the Jagan can only be challenged by the current Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu (CBN) and his party TDP. We all know that the last election CBN was not winning on his own. He won last election as he managed to stitch a unique alliance with BJP, and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena and this alliance helped him win the 2014 election. Now that TDP is out of the NDA and BJP, and Jana Sena mostly will not support CBN in the 2019 election, the road ahead for CBN is not easy. It is widely believed that this election he may go solo; and if CBN is going solo he is bound to lose this election.

In recent times, CNB has been targeting BJP and accusing them of going back on the promise of granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh. This narrative has no unique identity and all other parties – YSRCP, INC, and others will also bank on the same storyline. It will not be wrong to say that TDP today has no unique storyline to win trust of voters and in the progressive state like Andhra Pradesh one can’t win election without a compelling story. Worst, CNB is hell bent on erasing the footprint of old stories by extending hands towards INC. This move will definitely be seen as CBN’s deviation from the ideology of TDP founder NT Rama Rao, who wanted to unite all non-Congress parties to forge an alliance. I believe these moves will only pull down the vote share of the party.

Ascend of BJP

I believe soon BJP will open up a battlefront in Andhra Pradesh against CBN, and YSR Congress will also support BJP in the fight against TDP. The central leadership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Party president Amit Shah with Andhra Pradesh state BJP president Kanna Lakshminarayna are working hard to finalise political strategy to be adopted by the BJP in Andhra Pradesh ahead of 2019 elections. Kanna Lakshminarayana, in my views, would lead the party in Andhra Pradesh with an aim to win more number of Lok Sabha seats and position party as the largest opposition in the state.

The option of BJP working out a north-east like equation and attempting to form a government in the state can’t be ruled out. The party to achieve the objective mostly will work on their basic campaign framework strengthening the grassroots through panna pramukhs, booth-level committees and door-to-door campaigns and on-boarding senior leaders from other parties. I am quite certain that BJP, and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena will forge a pre-poll alliance. If I have to believe the speculation and the on-ground movements there will be vertical split in TDP and the new group may join the NDA.

Survival of INC

BJP, on the one hand where we are witnessing assertive, agile and aggressive team committed to build party with help of organic and inorganic growth models; INC, on the other hand is surrounded by legacy, loyalty, and lethargy proposing to revive party. The party recently Andhra Pradesh pointed Oommen Chandy as party in-charge of Andhra and hoping to revive the state under his guidance. This veteran INC leader has a tough task ahead as the party failed to win even a single Assembly seat in the state after the bifurcation.

I believe that most of the people in Andhra Pradesh are congress supporters at heart just that they are deeply hurt and disgruntle. I believe INC still has a place in the hearts of the people in the state and, therefore, there is indeed a chance to revive the party but INC in the current avatar may still struggle to reach double digit vote share. The party needs young leaders who can outsmart assertive, agile and aggressive approach of BJP, and a strong storyline to win hearts of the voters. One of the ways for INC to win back hearts of voters of Andhra Pradesh by helping state get Special Category Status. Though this move will not help them get a lion share in the state but definitely will help party revive.

The new political landscape in Andhra Pradesh is going to be fresh and progressive but will the old artist script the story or new one will replace the old guards is yet another story in making.

Also published at

Rise of regional muslim parties

Rise of regional muslim parties

Muslims have been a trusted vote bank for many parties but new players are changing the old dynamics

In India, the world of politics remains the same, only the reference point changes. On one hand, there is a political party that has aligned its ideology with the RSS. This political party has been classified as non-secular or communal as it has differentiated itself from all others by aligning itself to Hindu ideologies. This is a classic case of differentiation as not only the party in question but also all other political parties who claim to be secular have labelled it as non-secular or communal.

In the process, they helped it come to power by joining their share of voice against it and thereby polarised the voter’s mind. Moreover, there are two other not-so-non-secular parties – the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, both of which have aligned with the BJP.

Defining Secularism
On the other hand, the list of secular parties is very long — the largest being the Indian National Congress (INC), followed by the Left, Samajwadi Party, BSP and the DMK. Political parties who have positioned themselves as champions of secularism are facing a big challenge in appropriately defining secularism.

Those who have classified the BJP as the only non-secular or communal party have not classified the other political parties viz, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) as non-secular or communal in nature. Major political parties, including the INC, Left, TMC, BSP and the DMK, believe that anything pro-Muslim is secular in nature.

Changing Game
The Muslims have been the most trusted vote bank in our election system and hence all secular parties play the game of winning their trust. At the national level, the INC banks on the Muslims and at the regional level the Left, TMC, SP, BSP, DMK and others have been focusing on the Muslim vote share.

For long, the secular parties have been playing the same game of ‘minority vote bank politics’. They have been successful in uniting Muslim votes for ages but only made promises without fulfilling them. Muslim voters also experimented with various secular regional and national parties but without any tangible benefits. The community seems to have realised that they don’t get any results from any party. The game of vote bank politics remains the same but the yardsticks change with changing political parties.

Now, the format of vote bank politics, which was well defined and consistent, is witnessing a change. New players are emerging and changing the dynamics in their favour. This also could be a function of the rise in Muslim vote share in different parts of India.

PR Ramesh wrote in the Open magazine earlier this year that “the rise in Muslim numbers is most noticeable in Assam, where they were found to make up 34.2 percent of the population in 2011, up by more than 3 percent since 2001. In West Bengal, this religious group’s share rose by almost 2 percent to 27 percent. In Kerala, it rose by 2 percent to 26.6 percent. Uttarakhand has seen a similar rise to 13.9 percent. In UP and Bihar, the increase is about 1 percent, with the Muslim headcount at 19.3 percent and 16.9 percent respectively. Jharkhand, Delhi and Maharashtra report similar increases, with the 2011 figures rising to 14.5, 12.9 and 11.5 percent respectively, while Karnataka has seen a rise of just below 1 percent to 12.9 percent.”

Key Deviation
The change in the vote share is one key deviation in the format of the game – a confident and decisive Muslim vote bank. We are now witnessing the rise of regional Muslim political parties – IUML, AIUDF and the MIM. This will force Muslims to rethink their normal voting patterns. The rise of the new Muslim vote bank will bring many changes including:

• The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) is the classic case of this changing pattern. It has moved out of Hyderabad and opened its account in Maharashtra, and is committed to other Muslim-dominated States such as Karnataka, Bihar, UP and West Bengal. The rise of regional Muslim parties will impact all.

• Branded secular parties – INC, SP, BSP and TMC — will see the end of traditional Muslim vote bank. If Muslim parties make a mark, it will force secular parties to accept one simple truth that they are essentially Hindu parties offering a protection ring for the minorities

• The definition of communal political parties will get a new meaning, which will include both ‘Hindu communal’ and ‘Muslim communal’

• Regional and national secular parties will progressively align among themselves with ‘Hindu communal’ and ‘Muslim communal’ parties. In Uttar Pradesh, the BSP or the SP will have to align with the likes of MIM if they want to make an impact

• The BJP will have to figure out whether polarisation of votes will lead to a reverse consolidation of the non-minority vote or can there be an alignment between ‘Hindu communal’ and ‘Muslim communal’ parties

• There are high chances that the new Muslim parties — IUML AIUDF and MIM — may end up building a strong mass base exactly the way the BSP did with the Dalits
No wonder, we are living in exciting times of vote bank politics, which is witnessing significant changes. But will this bring a positive change to the lives of the citizens?

Also published at

Congress must learn from Gujarat

Congress must learn from Gujarat

The party’s new strategy did yield dividend, but it also showed up the critical gaps that prevented a victory

It will not be wrong to read the loss of Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat as his moral victory and the victory of the BJP as a mere face-saving act. In fact, Team BJP could not manage the rise of politician Rahul and they had to rely on their tallest leader, Narendra Modi, to save the ship.

Modi managed to derail Rahul’s campaign by diverting the focus of voters from development and Patidar agitation to the statements of Kapil Sibal on ‘Ram Mandir’ and Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘Neech’. But the biggest reason for BJP’s success was the new socio-cultural model of United Spectrum of the Hindu Votes (USHV), Saffron Dalits and Reluctant Muslim Voters.

Though there was an undercurrent in favour of the INC and a strong anti-incumbency, the Modi-Shah duo managed to divert voters’ attention to issues like Gujarati Pride and National Security. So, it turned out to be a classic election where the BJP did not win but the INC lost. But why did the INC lose it from a winning position?

Mere Symbolism
The INC mostly believes in politics of symbolism whereas the BJP focuses on on-ground execution and booth level management. Mere symbolism doesn’t work anymore in Indian politics.

The voters now demand honest effort and action. They want dedicated, 24×7 politicians. The INC has to project strong and dedicated national and State level leaders.

Shaky Organisation
10The grand old party lacks the support of on-ground organisation unlike the BJP, which enjoys ideological and on-ground support from the RSS. In the 70s, under the leadership of Sanjay Gandhi, the INC had managed to build a strong organisation with a presence in each district. Such an organisation needs to be built again.

The absence of a dedicated INC cadre in Gujarat was one of the biggest reasons why they failed to mobilise voters and bring them to the booth. An analysis of the voting pattern in Gujarat will find that Reluctant Muslim and Dalit Voters needed the motivation to go to the booth.

Urban Connect
The BJP is popular in urban areas and the INC has a strong rural presence. The INC lost the elections because it failed to connect with the urban voters.

Of the total 42 urban seats in Gujarat, the BJP won 36, while 6 went to the INC. Clearly, the INC failed to convince the urban voters to switch sides.

Candidate Selection
Both the INC and BJP made efforts to woo Dalits, Patidars, and OBCs and the same also reflected in ticket distribution. While the BJP fielded 50 Patidars, 58 OBC, and 13 Dalit candidates, the INC fielded 41 Patidars, 62 OBC and 14 Dalit candidates.

The BJP won because it intelligently selected candidates who could win seats.

Caste Politics Falters
Caste and religion-based politics play a critical role but it is not the only element that influences the voters. In the last few Assembly elections – Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – the INC played caste-based politics and lost all elections.

The classic example is that just after the Babri Masjid demolition, the BJP lost power in three out of four States. The popular belief that India votes at the intersection of caste and cash is not true.

The Indian voter has always shown a preference for non-corrupt alternatives over issues like caste, religion and cash. India also votes at the intersection of development and resilient governance.

The INC is struggling hard to understand the change but the BJP has already incorporated the new equation in their political planning.

Plus Hindutva
While the BJP incorporated the new-age requirement of development and resilient governance, it also did not leave out the old equation of caste and religious politics. This new combination of USHV along with development is working fine with voters.

The honest effort of Rahul Gandhi to project a soft Hindutva image in Gujarat election was probably the first move in aligning the INC towards the new equation of development with USHV.

Confused Alliance
The INC has been outsourcing part of its political campaign to outsiders. In UP, it was outsourced to Akhilesh Yadav and in Gujarat, part of the campaign was outsourced to Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. The message emanating from the alliance with all three caste leaders from different domains was a bit confusing.

But the INC alliance with Hardik worked well as out of 52 seats where Patidar vote share is 20% and more, BJP won 28 seats which is 8 less than the last election, whereas the INC bagged 23, which is 9 more than the last election.

It will only be right to say that Rahul and Hardik Patel have bridged the gap between the Patidar community and the INC but have upset a few other prominent OBCs and Dalits.

Changing Campaign
The INC could have swung the election if they had not changed the storyline. It changed the storyline even before it peaked. Moreover, Team INC lost focus during the last leg of the campaign and kept changing the script.

It is evident from the results that the INC was almost there. It lost 16 seats with a margin of less than 3,000 votes and fell short of 12 seats to majority. If the INC and Team Rahul had not diverted from the script of development, social and cultural growth, and the new image of liberal Hindutva, they would have won the election by a good margin.

But it is still an impressive outcome as Rahul Gandhi was taking Narendra Modi head-on in his home State. The fight was not only about the image and might of two national leaders but also between the mighty campaign machinery of the BJP and yet-to-evolve campaign team of the INC.

Rahul Gandhi and Team INC fought their most challenging election battle without a well-prepared on-ground activation team and disciplined cadre.

The lessons from this battle will hold them in good stead.

Also published at

Rahul has a tough task

Rahul has a tough task

Turning around the party that is moribund and out of sync with the changing social dynamics will be herculean

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.

Also published at