Ahead of the November polls, the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP remain mired in infighting.
The tussle between former chief minister Vasundhara Raje and BJP MLA Gulab Chand Kataria, said to be a part of the RSS lobby, has not only deprived the party of a definite leadership but also of a poll plan. Raje, whose stature in the state is beyond doubt and who has a majority of the BJP MLAs behind her, is still clamouring for full charge of the party, which is yet to embark on its poll campaign.
In the Congress, Union cabinet berths given to C P Joshi and Sachin Pilot sent out signals of Joshi’s influence. Said to be close to Rahul Gandhi, Joshi has been the counter-force in the state Congress. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, however, has kept demonstrating the high command’s faith in him, managing to get Sonia Gandhi to inaugurate key projects.
His stumbling block at home will be the Jats and the Gurjjars. His quota for special backward classes includes one for Gurjjars, which could hit legal roadblocks. The Jats are upset about the implication of Mahipal Maderna in the Bhanwari Devi murder and his subsequent sacking from the government. Following the Bharatpur firing case, the party has also lost the trust of Muslims, too.
Chouhan again in MP
By the time Madhya Pradsh goes to polls, the BJP will have completed ten uninterrupted years in a state that usually voted Congress until 2003. As of today, the BJP’s strength is 152 compared to the Congress’s 66 in an essentially bipolar state.
The Congress count today is lower than the 71 it won in 2008. Its task is cut out: it will have to get its divided house in order to challenge Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Not used to being in opposition, the party took a long time to reconcile with reality after a humiliating defeat in 2003.
Chouhan, who will lead the party in the elections, replaced Babulal Gaur in 2005 after the latter had replaced Uma Bharti a year earlier. Chouhan has now completed seven years, the longest by any non-Congress chief minister. Uma Bharti challenged him in 2008 but was soundly defeated, and is now no longer a threat to him, for her return to the BJP was on the condition that she would keep away from MP politics. Chouhan, therefore, has no one to challenge him from within. And so far he has had voters, too, behind him. The BJP under him has won most of the by-elections since 2008.
What could have been his Achilles’ heel, the “dumper case” in which he was accused of corruption, has lost steam with a high court ruling in his favour.
Sangma And left in N-E
Samudra Gupta Kashyap
February’s three elections in the Northeast throw up a contrast in perspectives. Tripura will see the Left fight to retain its last remaining bastion, Nagaland’s elections come at a crucial stage of the Naga talks, and Meghalaya’s could be make or break for former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma.
In Tripura, the Left is optimistic about a fifth victory in a row; it believes Manik Sarkar has been able to provide a clean, development-oriented government. The other reason is the state Congress is divided, and has no high-profile, Bengali-speaking vote-catcher from outside to bank on, with Pranab Mukherjee elevated as President and Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi ailing.
Politics in Meghalaya remains cloudy as ever, marked by defections. No party has ever had a majority in its 40-year history, except the All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference in 1972; the past five years have seen three governments. Sangma’s return to state politics will challenge the ruling Congress; his home district of Garo Hills has 24 of the 60 seats.
In Nagaland, peace talks between Delhi and the NSCN(IM) continue to dominate politics. Recently, all state legislators offered to quit en masse to install an “alternative” government to exert pressure on the Centre to sign a peace accord before the elections.
BSY in Karnataka
Y P Rajesh
When the BJP came to power on its own in Karnataka in 2008, it was seen not only as opening the party’s gateway to the south but also as an opportunity to consolidate its position by pushing development and erasing the memories of the political turmoil of previous years.
Those dreams and promises have clearly ended up as a nightmare. The BJP’s rule has been marked by mining and land scandals and frequent revolts within, culminating in former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa quitting the BJP and forming the Karnataka Janata Party.
The strength of the BJP in 2008 was the state’s largest community, Lingayats, voting for it en masse, wooed by Yeddyurappa. In the 2013 elections, that strength could prove the BJP’s weakness as Yeddyurappa will likely take away more than a few per cent of those votes.
With the JD(S) of H D Deve Gowda not growing in strength in the last five years and being seen more as a one-family party, the scenario is set to favour the Congress, observers say. The party, however, needs to get its act together and ensure that its many claimants to leadership work in unison. With Yeddyurappa not averse to playing footsie with the Congress like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav at the Centre, it is advantage Congress in Karnataka.
Sheila Dikshit is expected to contest for a fourth term. Many detractors in the fractious state Congress are unhappy with Sheila’s style of functioning, and they have conveyed this to the top leadership, but she remains the most likely contender for the chief minister’s post. The BJP is grappling with a leadership crisis, with the party yet to groom a likely contender for the polls. It would be worth watching how mass protests against graft in Delhi, which have caught the public mood in the last two years, will impact the elections.
The BJP moves into the election year with confidence as the Congress is a badly divided house where top leaders are seen openly plotting against each other. Chief Minister Raman Singh is eyeing a hat-trick and has already begun introducing a series of populist welfare measures, including the Food Act. His aides confirm more schemes are expected soon, in almost a replay of 2008 when he swung the public mood by announcing Rs 1 per kg of rice before the elections.