Straws in the wind


Straws in the wind, Chouhan and Scindia, Baraktullah University in Bhopal. Both Chouhan and Scindia are highly educated and cultured. While the CM is an MA in philosophy with a gold medal from Baraktullah University in Bhopal, Scindia went to Doon School.

Both Chouhan and Scindia are highly educated and cultured. While the CM is an MA in philosophy with a gold medal from Baraktullah University in Bhopal, Scindia went to Doon School, Harvard and Stanford universities. Both are known for their integrity, though Chouhan, like his Congress counterpart in Rajasthan, has to bear the burden of his ministers who are allegedly involved in all kinds of scams and scandals.

The Assembly elections that are scheduled in November-December are very important for more reasons than one. It really does not matter to any of the five States locally which party wins and who would become chief minister. But the influence of the outcome of these semi-final encounters on the 2014 general elections would be huge. Mizoram is a tiny northeastern State and Lal Thanhawla looks certain to retain his hold on power.

The election watchdog, the Mizoram People’s Forum (MFF) has made it difficult for other parties even to mount an election campaign. Synod, a church body which has a lot of influence, would ensure Congress win. Three of the four major States have only two traditional rivals vying for the spoils while the fourth, Delhi, has a new and unpredictable challenger in Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

All the three chief ministerial candidates who are trying to impress the citizens of Delhi can be termed as clean and well educated. If Sheila Dikshit wins the Delhi throne for the fourth time, she would equal Jyothi Basu’s record. She nursed Delhi for 15 years overseeing its infrastructural and social development. Daughter-in-law of former Congress veteran Uma Shankar Dikshit, she did her graduation from Miranda House of Delhi University, and has been part of the elite. She proved to be a good administrator and tactful politician maintaining an unblemished profile. She won her major battle in her very first term and her chief detractors were, fortunately for her, involved in legal battles leaving her free to concentrate on governance.

Her proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi also must have helped. She was one of the half a dozen AICC leaders who staged dharna at the Surajkund conclave in early 1990s when PV Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. Others included Shiv Shankar, Mohsina Kidwai and Natwar Singh. Arjun Singh was in the background of the defiance at the behest of Sonia. No wonder that nobody could stop Sheila from taking oath as chief minister thrice since 1998.

Her BJP opponent in the present elections is an ENT doctor-turned-politician Harsh Vardhan who can boast of an equally clean image. He was with the RSS from childhood and claims to be disinterested in “swayam” (self) but focused only on being a “sevak” (servant) of the people. Vardhan will have to win over the enemies from within the BJP before taking on Sheila Dikshit. It is not a straight fight in Delhi as it is in the other three major States. Arvind Kejriwal’s AAM is a force to reckon with. It is a new party with a refreshing political culture.

Kejriwal, who was an IITian from Kharagpur and did a stint with Tata Steel before joining the Indian Revenue Service, was given Magsaysay award for 2006 for emerging leadership. He had proved his leadership qualities in the ‘Parivartan’ movement, the struggle for the Right to Information Act and the movement in collaboration with Anna Hazare for Jana Lokpal Bill. The average AAP candidate’s age is 30-35 years. Half of the candidates are postgraduates.

AAM would be giving a definite turn to Indian political culture, especially in urban areas, if it wins and forms its government. Governance is not a rocket technology, as Kejriwal quipped, and if Sheila could pick up the techniques very fast there is no reason why Arvind cannot do the same. Whoever, among the three, takes oath as chief minister after elections, he or she would be creating history and any one could prove to be a good ruler.

In Rajasthan an interesting scenario is unfolding. Vasundhara Raje Scindia, ex-chief minister, has not been taking any chances. Not only did she launch her campaign very early, she also invited Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, and involved him in election meetings in order to attract the youth. Releasing a ‘black paper’ against Gehlot’s government, she swore that the scams of the ministers were sure to dump the chief minister into the dustbin. Vasundhara or any other BJP leader can criticize the ministers in Gehlot’s Cabinet, but no one can accuse him of corruption or abuse of power. He may be an average administrator but he is certainly a good politician.

The shenanigans of his ministers are sure to visit him and cost him the job. Rajasthan’s growth rate was a little more than 9 percent when Vasundhara was CM and it is now some 5.3 percent. Factors beyond Gehlot’s control were responsible for the slowdown, but he, as the steward, has to pay the price for the inflation. The most absorbing battle has been raging in Madhya Pradesh. Shivraj Singh Chouhan is an undisputed forerunner till the Congress party named Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of Madhavrao Scindia and grandson of Vijaya Raje Scindia, as the chief ministerial candidate.

The energetic campaign the young ‘maharaja of Gwalior’ mounted at a short notice has been giving the BJP leaders jitters. Though Shivraj Singh is confident of scoring a hat trick, political observers do not rule out an upset. The BJP chief minister who turned around a BIMARU State with a fabulous growth rate of around 10 percent for ten consecutive years could have easily banked on Digvijay and Kamal Nath to defeat the Congress. But Rahul Gandhi, VP of the Congress, had taken precautionary measures, this time, to insulate the team from faction feuds forcing the senior satraps to fall in line and support the young Union Minister. Digvijay Singh, who as AICC general secretary in charge of AP and has been calling the shots in case of formation of Telangana State, is not in a position to make any difference in his home State which he ruled for ten years till 2004. Local Congress leaders fear that more Digvijay campaigns more would be the loss votes for the party. Such is his reputation at the moment. Kamal Nath is confined to his district where he can ensure the victory of the Congress candidates. Ajay Singh, leader of the Opposition, and the son of late Congress stalwart Arjun Singh, has been a disappointment as a politician.

Jyotiraditya is projected as pan-MP Congress leader with a clear mandate from the party high command to lead the charge and win the crown for himself. Both Chouhan and Scindia are highly educated and cultured. While the CM is an MA in philosophy with a gold medal from Baraktullah University in Bhopal, Scindia went to Doon School, Harvard and Stanford universities. Both are known for their integrity, though Chouhan, like his Congress counterpart in Rajasthan, has to bear the burden of his ministers who are allegedly involved in all kinds of scams and scandals.

Chouhan has a record of impressive development to show for and his party is solidly behind him. Jyotiraditya has only promises to make and the services of his family from Vijaya Raje, the tallest leader of the BJP in MP, Madhav Rao, former Union Minister, and Aunt Vasundara Raje of the BJP who is gunning for a second term as chief minister of Rajasthan, besides another Aunt Yasodhara Raje Scindia, sitting BJP MP from Gwalior, to recall. Though Jyotiraditya can be criticized as a leader from the royal family and hence unconnected to common man, the BJP leaders are avoiding that angle for obvious reasons. Even the common people in MP, unlike in UP and other northern State, do not vote on caste lines and they are not against royal families. The fight put up by “Chawal Singh”, as Raman Singh, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, is affectionately called, is based primarily on time-tested Public Distribution System and the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act of 2012. The Act provides subsidized food grains and pulses to 90 percent of the people of the State.

One- third of the population is tribal. The refined Public Distribution System stood him in good stead in 2008 elections in which his party bagged 50 out of the 90 Assembly seats and increased its vote share by more than one percent. It is not a small achievement after ruling for five years. After most of the top Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh, including Mahendra Karma of Salwa Judum ill-fame, and VC Shukla, were killed in ambush by Maoists, Ajit Jogi was given an opportunity to lead the Congress party. A gold medalist in mechanical engineering, Ajit Jogi, the first CM of Chhattisgarh, has been confined to wheel chair ever since he met with a car accident in April 2004. He has been practicing to walk, of late, with the help of electronic legs imported from New Zealand.

There is sympathy for the families of the Congress leaders who died in the ambush. Though the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act has outclassed the UPA government’s Food Security Scheme and it is implemented equally well in Maoist-affected areas, Raman Singh is accused of developing nexus with the corporate sector and giving away land for power plants, steel and coal mines. Ajit Jogi’s main charge is that Raman Singh’s government has been violating the Panchayats (Extensions to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 and forcing the local tribals to move out of their lands without making proper arrangements for rehabilitation. Bastar, the district where the Maoists rule the roost, gave the BJP 11 out of 12 Assembly seats in 2008. It might face reversals in many constituencies due to brewing sentiment against the BJP government.

Raman Singh is slated to win another term, according to opinion polls. Ajit Jogi has to contend with the traditional group rivalries in the Congress though the seniors who could have blocked his way are out of the way due to the Maoist attack. Pollsters do not rule out the possibility of the Congress staging a comeback. The Food Security Act that the Raman Singh government had brought in would be implemented by whichever party that comes to power after the elections. The same would be the case with pro-corporate policies. There would not be much perceptible change in the lives of the people. But the results of the semi-finals would surely influence the outcome in 2014.

The youth have been projected, during the election campaign, as a critical group by every party. It is not only the young leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia who made the campaign appear youth-centric, even Narendra Modi who was pinning his hopes on this large section has been trying to unveil a dream scenario where the youth of the country would be having jobs in plenty and the country would be marching forward with the youth in the lead. The great challenger that Modi is, he would be looking forward to a clean sweep in four major States that are going to polls now. If the BJP retains power in MP and Chhattisgarh and regains it in Rajasthan, there would be no looking back for Modi. If it bags Delhi too, there is no stopping the Gujarat strongman who is posing as the modernday Sardar Patel. Even though there is need for Modi to win the Patels of Gujarat by loving the memory of the Iron Man of India, the campaign in the name of building the tallest statue as a monument for our own Bismarck would go a long way for the BJP.

The number of Indians who believe that Sardar Patel would have made a better prime minister has been growing with the years of the Congress misrule. If, on the other hand, the Congress retains Delhi and wins Chhattisgarh, it can claim that it has got the majority of the five States since Mizoram is as good as in its pocket. Then the scores would be almost equal. If the Congress tally improves considerably as a result of the charm offensive let loose by the youngest of the Scindias, it would be a bonus for the Congress and Modi wave would abate a bit and the Congress would recharge its campaign. The whole nation would be waiting curiously for the votes to be counted on December 8. The trend for the 2014 would be known six or seven months in advance.

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