Is Karnataka Assembly Election verdict a foregone conclusion?

Elections for Karnataka Vidhan Sabha are scheduled to be on 5th May 2013. Unlike other recent assembly elections, there is not much speculation about the expected results. Not only the main stream media but even social media political gurus are of the opinion that nothing can stop the BJP whitewash and Congress would form the next government with comfortable majority. The major reason for this consensus is the election result of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in Karnataka held in March 2013.

In these ULB polls, Congress emerged as the number one party by winning 1960 wards out of 4952 declared results. BJP and JD (S) were tied for second position with 905 wards each. After the results were declared, political pundits were quick to predict the impending doom of BJP not only in the upcoming assembly elections but also in the parliamentary elections (expected to be held in May 2014). Their rationale is that results of ULB polls is a good leading indicator of an assembly or a parliamentary election. Intuitively, this assumption sounds logical. After all, the same voters who voted in the local body elections would be voting in the assembly and parliamentary elections. According to one estimate, the ULBs covered approximately 30% voters of the state. So theoretically, this argument is very strong that verdict of assembly and parliamentary elections in the state is a foregone conclusion.

However, when one looks at data, this idea is not supported. Take Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Mumbai for example. In UP, BJP has always been the number one party in Mayoral elections since 1995. The party however could never excel in any assembly or parliamentary election held in the state since 1999. In the assembly elections held in February last year, BJP was at third position and polled its lowest vote share in the state in the last twenty years (both assembly and parliamentary included). However in the Municipal Elections held just after five months of assembly elections, BJP won 10 out of 12 Mayoral elections in the state. In 2006, Municipal elections were held before assembly elections of 2007 and the party had won 9 out of 12 Mayoral seats. This performance was in no way an indicator of its performance in 2007 assembly elections, when the party was at third position in the state. Even if one looks at urban assembly constituencies, the performance of BJP was nowhere close to what it achieved in Mayoral or Municipal elections. This electoral behaviour is not specific to Uttar Pradesh. In Mumbai, BJP and Shivsena are controlling the Municipal body since last seventeen years but failed to win a single parliamentary seat in 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Even in assembly polls, held in the same year as parliamentary elections, NCP and Congress had an upper hand over the saffron alliance. MNS, which ensured that Congress-NCP win all the Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai, could not stop BJP-Shivsena from winning the BMC for fourth consecutive time.

In Delhi too, the story is somewhat similar. BJP won the MCD polls comfortably in 1997 and 2007, but could not win the assembly elections held in 1998 and 2008. In 2009 it lost all the seven parliamentary seats in the state. As opposed to Karnataka, where ULB elections reflect mood of 30% of total electorate of the state, the local body elections in Delhi and Mumbai reflect mood of 100% of electorate. And still these elections proved to be a bad leading indicator of assembly and parliamentary elections.

This does not mean that local bodies can never be indicative of trends in assembly and parliamentary elections. In West Bengal, the loss of Left Front in Municipal and Panchayat elections in 2008 gave a good indication of the future rout in 2009 parliamentary and 2011 assembly elections. In Orissa, before dumping BJP in 2009, BJD fought the local elections in 2008 without allying with BJP. Its good performance in the local polls gave BJD enough confidence to sever its ties with BJP and win the subsequent assembly and parliamentary elections in the state on its own.

So what do we make of Karnataka ULB results? Is Karnataka like Mumbai, Delhi & UP or is it like West Bengal and Orissa? The most logical thing to do here would be to look at Karnataka’s past electoral history. In the 2007 ULB elections too, Congress had emerged as the number one party in the state. It had won 1,606 seats (compared to 1,960 won now), JD (S) was a close second with 1,502 seats (compared to 905 now) and BJP was at third position with 1,180 seats (it is now at second position with 905 seats).

When local body elections were held in 2007, BJP and JD(S) were in coalition government in Karnataka. In 2001 urban local body elections, JD (S) had won only 415 seats and this more than doubling of seats in 2007, gave enough confidence to JD(S) to sever ties with BJP and go for snap polls few months after ULB elections. This was very similar to what BJD in Orissa after an excellent performance in Orissa Local Body polls. The difference was that local body polls in Orissa mirrored the assembly and parliamentary results whereas in Karnataka, the ULB polls had no correlation with assembly and parliamentary election results. BJP which was at third position in ULB polls, not only emerged as a single largest party but was only three seats short of majority (which it achieved in subsequent by elections). In Parliamentary elections held in 2009, the party won 19 out of 28 seats in the state. BJP won more seats from Karnataka in 2009 parliamentary elections than from any other state (including Gujarat and MP) whereas in ULB polls its performance was far worse than even UP, where it is neither the opposition nor ruling party since 2002. As Table 1 below shows, since 2001 BJP has been the largest party in every assembly and parliamentary election despite being at third position in ULB polls twice. In the latest ULB polls, position wise BJP has improved. It is now at second position (along with JDS) unlike last ULB polls when it was at third position.

Karnataka Election Results since 2001

 

ULB 2001

Assembly 2004

Parl 2004

ULB 2007

Assembly 2008

Parl 2009

ULB 2013

Cong

2322

65

67

1606

80

62

1960

BJP

562

79

109

1180

110

140

905

JD(S)

415

58

47

1502

28

22

905

JD(U)

457

5

1

NA

0

0

NA

Others

1178

17

0

719

6

0

1182

Total

4934

224

224

5007

224

224

4952

Table 1: Karnataka Election Results since 2001. For ULB polls, wards have been considered. For parliamentary, assembly wise leads and for assembly elections, seats won. Dark Green colored cells show seats won by single largest party.

If BJP could be the number one party in the assembly and parliamentary elections, despite being a distant third in ULB polls, the 2013 ULB results are not that bad for BJP. If KJP and BJP seats of 2013 ULBs are added, it exceeds the BJP tally of 2007. Also on several seats, neither BJP nor KJP won but the vote split benefited other parties. In the assembly election to be held next month, BJP seats would depend on the extent of damage that KJP has inflicted on the party. The most important factor would be candidate selection by all major players in the state.

However the larger point here is that there is no precedent in near past to suggest that ULB polls give any indication of which way wind is blowing in Karnataka.

Last Two Assembly and Parliamentary Elections

 

Vote Share

Seat Share

 

Assembly
2004

   Parl
2004

Assembly
2008

Parl
2009

Assembly
2004

   Parl
2004

Assembly
2008

Parl
2009

BJP

28.3

34.8

33.9

41.6

79

109

110

140

INC

35.3

36.8

34.8

37.6

65

67

80

62

JDS

20.8

20.4

19

13.6

58

47

28

22

Others

15.6

8

12.3

7.2

22

1

6

0

Table 2: Last Two Assembly and Parliamentary Elections. In 2004, assembly and parliamentary elections were held on same day. For parliamentary, assembly segment leads are shown.

In 2004, Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha were held on the same day in Karnataka. BJP was leading on 109 assembly segments in the Lok Sabha elections but could win only 79 seats in Vidhan Sabha. Polling booths were same for both elections. The time difference for pressing the EVM button in the two elections was probably less than a minute. BJP’s vote share was 6.5% less in Vidhan Sabha compared to Lok Sabha election even when elections for both were held on same day. This happened because voters are smart enough to understand the difference between a state and national election even if elections are held on same day. One can safely assume that the same voters would vote differently in a state election held 50 days after ULB polls.

We will have to wait for opinion polls with good representative samples to get a better sense of political situation in the state. Opinion polls too would not give a near accurate picture and have been off the mark in past (mostly in states with three or four cornered contests like Karnataka and UP). In this book review of Indianomix, I have explained problem with polling in India but they are still better than ULB polls in indicating the trends. Or better wait till 8th May.

Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India

Indianomix

Image Courtesy: bookadda.com

The tittle and blurbs of Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India might give an impression that the book is about economics or more specifically about how economics could help us understand modern India. The book indeed has many examples related to India. However not all examples are confined to economics. The authors try and make sense of a range of topics from the surprising verdict of 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Nehru’s (and India’s) surprise when China attacked in 1962 and how MSM (Main Stream Media) in India confuses opinion with facts.

In one of the chapters, the authors describe how in Delhi economic incentives are used by Delhi Police to improve pedestrian safety and in Mumbai an NGO is using behavioral psychology to prevent deaths at unmanned railway crossings. These two examples show different applications of behavioral economics, a branch of economics closer to psychology than economics. The NGO in Mumbai succeeded in reducing the death toll at railway crossing whereas the experiment in Delhi seems still to be a work in progress. Different chapters in the book explore themes like randomization or luck, how traditions gel with modernity (the most interesting example in this chapter is from China) and how MSM (Main Stream Media) in India prefers sensationalism over fact checking.

The chapter on randomization or luck had two election results (2004 Lok Sabha and 2012 UP Vidhan Sabha) as examples among others. Based on the electoral data and opinion polls/exit polls the authors make two interesting points. First being that close elections are like a coin toss and second (a corollary of the first point), it is a matter of luck to correctly predict the election results. So the authors suggest that saying that NDA lost because of India Shinning campaign and BSP lost because UP voters voted in favor of development politics makes little sense.

I am a student of Indian Politics and hence this chapter was of special interest to me.  The authors conclude that in a close election even data (opinion and exit polls in this case) would not be of great help in predicting the outcome. They arrive at this conclusion by comparing the relation between vote share and seat share at macro level i.e. for the whole of India while analyzing 2004 Lok Sabha elections and for entire state of UP while analyzing 2012 UP elections. Lets us look at the case against polls. Yogendra Yadav, India’s most famous pollster and a fox has been conducting exit polls since 1996 Lok Sabha elections and announced his retirement from polling after 2o12 UP polls. A fox is someone who is pragmatic, not ideological and open to discard a cherished theory according to Philip Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? where as a hedgehog is a single minded devotee to a particular big idea or concept, which they stick to through thick or thin. According to Indianomix such people exude confidence, boldly tell you without mincing words whats going to often and are more often wrong. Yogendra tried explaining 2004 debacle (of exit polls) by suggesting that there were three main reasons why polls can go wrong: sampling error, response bias and difficulty in translating vote share to seats.

The explanation given for sampling error in 2004 is that urban voters were oversampled and since BJP has most of its supporters in urban areas, most exit polls were off the mark. However a closer look at election results of 2004 would reveal that BJP under performed in urban areas. It did not win a single seat in Delhi and Mumbai. In 1999 NDA had won every seat in these two cities. In Maharashtra, the second biggest state in the country, NDA won 25 out of 48 seats and UPA won the remaining 23. The 23 seats won by UPA include 9 urban seats of Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur. NDA could win only 1 urban seat in the state. In fact in the Vidarbha region, the agrarian suicide capital of the country in 2004, out of 11 seats, NDA won 10 and the one seat that NDA could not win was the lone urban seat in the region i.e. Nagpur. In Maharashtra, NDA won more rural seats then UPA and UPA won more urban seats than NDA. Outside the state too, NDA lost most of its seats in urban areas. So this argument of sampling error does not hold much water. Response Bias as explained by Yogendra Yadav, where voters purposely do not divulge correct information, is very similar to the Bradley Effect in US. A closer study of polls in India would reveal that hardly has any poll correctly predicted seat share and vote share correct at the same time. Now if pollsters want to explain this by citing response bias then it would be better if they stopped conducting polls altogether.

The third reason i.e. difficulty in converting vote share to seats has some merit. In a multi-cornered fight, it is almost impossible to predict seat share. Even when the contest is mainly between two parties, it is not easy and we would soon see why.

But again this reason would sound valid if at least pollsters could get vote shares for parties right. Predicting the vote share correctly is a rarity for Indian pollsters and mostly happens when fight is between two main parties. Ironically, Yogendra Yadav who correctly predicted seats for Samajwadi Party in 2012 UP elections, could do so because his vote share predictions were spectacularly wrong. He overestimated SP’s vote share by a massive 5%. In UP, where vote share difference between top two parties was just 3.4%, this error is huge. However, Yogendra Yadav was widely praised for correctly predicting the UP polls as most people including astute political observers (foxes and hedgehogs included) seldom look at the details of elections or polls.

So are outcomes of close elections really like a coin toss as the authors of Indianomix seem to suggest? If we only look at polls conducted in India, we would have to agree with the author. However, if we look at the second biggest democracy, a math geek has cracked the code of predicting elections. Nate Silver not only correctly predicted the final outcome of US Presidential Elections (that Obama would win) but his prediction was correct in all fifty states. And this was a close election with less than 4% vote share difference between Obama and Romney. Its equivalent feat in India would be to not only predict the winning party or alliance in a Lok Sabha election nationally but to also correctly predict the winning party/alliance in each state of the country (if not the actual seats in each state). Needless to say, no pollster has been able to achieve this in India since the first national opinion poll conducted in 1980 by Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala for India Today.

Nate Silver is not a pollster. His methodology is very simple. A poll of polls where each poll is weighted by its past performance, sample size and other attributes. A blogger who goes by the pseudonym Albatrossinflight, performed a similar exercise before Gujarat election results and predicted 130 seats for BJP. The actual tally for BJP was 115. So does that mean the Nate Silver approach would not work in India? It most probably would not if surveys are conducted in the same way as they are conducted now in India. Most surveys only cover a handful of constituencies and extrapolate the results to the remaining constituencies. Even Lok Sabha elections in India, are an aggregate of 543 constituencies. An urban voter in Mumbai voted differently in 2004 (where BJP lost all seats) from an urban voter in Bangalore (where BJP won both seats of the city). Nate Silver could predict the results correctly in US, because his sample size i.e. the opinion polls were better in quality than the polls in India. His algorithm had multiple state specific opinion polls at its disposal. Indian pollsters assume that an urban voter in Nashik would vote in the same way as an urban voter in Nagpur. It hardly matters to them that MNS is a strong factor in Nashik and may not win the seat but still impact the result whereas in Nagpur MNS has no major impact.

In short, because of quality and quantity of the polls, Nate Silver was better placed to predict elections than an Indian Nate Silver would ever be. Indian pollsters would not only have to conduct polls in every constituency but also get the sampling right in each constituency. This may seem difficult to execute but this is exactly what C-Voter, a survey company tried in Gujarat this time. For their exit poll, they collected samples from each constituency in the state. They may not have got the seat share correct but were very close (within 1% ) in predicting vote share for BJP and Congress. A more detailed study of the poll results of C Voter would give a better idea of its performance. So by 2014, if we have more C-Voter type survey companies, who poll in every constituency, predicting the election result would not be an outcome of coin toss. Since any election is an aggregate of results of its constituencies, the authors are most probably right in asserting that making sweeping generalizations about election outcomes at a macro level makes little sense (like NDA lost in 2004 because of India Shinning or SP won in UP because people voted for good governance).

My favorite chapter in the book is News from India. As the title suggests, this chapter is on Indian Mainstream Media. The authors cite several examples ranging from HIV, child malnutrition, violence against women etc and show how our media in general either does not understand data and logic or choose to take the easy way of rhetoric and sensationalism. Not only this chapter but the entire book should be made for compulsory reading in all journalist schools in the country.

The book may not focus exclusively on any one field and has a range of topics but the theme that binds all the topics is that data and reasoning should be given prominence over popular belief. In one of the chapters, Nehru is quoted after the defeat in 1962, “We were living in an artificial atmosphere of our own creation”.  Whether it is a Prime Minister, an NGO working towards saving lives of people who cross railway tracks, someone trying to predict outcome of an election or someone who wants to understand factors affecting women safety after the horrific Delhi gang rape, we all need to be open to reasoning & logic and not swayed by rhetoric. This is the first India centric book which makes this point and hence is a must read for all.

Raajneeti – Movie Review

Raajneeti was one of the most awaited movies of the year for many reasons. Very few Indian movies have an ensemble cast; Prakash Jha has made some very good social-political movies like Mrityudand and Gangaajal and as the title suggests, this movie was expected to be an out and out political drama unlike his earlier movies where Politics was not the main theme but just one of many backdrops.  Prakash Jha had been active in politics and even contested two Lok Sabha elections from his home state Bihar; once as an independent (2004) and once from Lok Janashakti Party (2009). All this had raised my expectations from the movie.

The story is inspired from Mahabharat. All main characters are from one single joint family and fight each other for the political legacy after the family patriarch is paralyzed. Surprisingly for a political movie, not much attention is paid to other parties but the story revolves around different members of one family trying to take over the party. We have seen this happening in many political parties (in Congress after the death of Sanjay Gandhi when a feeble attempt was made by Menaka Gandhi to inherit the poilitical legacy of Sanjay only to be rebuked by Indira Gandhi and more recently in DMK). Of course the real life clashes were not as bloody as it is in the movie. Most Indian political parties are controlled by families where head of the party treats the party as his/her fiefdom to be passed on to some family member. Jha has successfully portrayed this aspect of Indian politics.

Mostly the movie is good. Surprisingly even Arjun Rampal has pulled off his character of a politician from the Hindi heartland really well and as expected Katrina Kaif is unconvincing because of her accented Hindi. They should definitely have used voice over dubbing for her. Or maybe Prakash Jha subtly wanted us to think of Sonia Gandhi when we see Katrina. In fact the scene where Katrina tries to evoke sympathy in her voters by reminding them of sacrifices made by her family, reminds us of Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Congress forced Prakash Jha to change the dialogue Vidhwa vote le jaayegi (The widow will take away the votes) to Bitiya Vote le jaayegi (The daughter will take away the votes). All characters are well etched and believable. Full marks to Prakash Jha for this. Many Hindi movies have tried to show state of Indian Politics in recent times. As far as closeness to reality is concerned Raajneeti is the best so far though it is not perfect. The story though inspired from Mahabharat is indeed hatke.

Of course the movie has some flaws. And the biggest being the failure to use Mahabharat as a backdrop convincingly. Some sequences inspired by Karan’s birth & Arjun’s hesitation to kill Karan in the climax just did not click. Thankfully, Jha restrained himself in showing Katrina as modern day Draupadi. He had clarified in his many publicity interviews that the movie is not inspired from Mahabharat but the characters are. By this he implied that there is no hero or villain, as we generally have in Hindi movies, but the characters have Grey shades. This sounded good as it is indeed difficult to adapt the epic in a 3 hour movie (the movie is a little less than 3 hours) but Jha has tried to do so and this is the movie’s biggest undoing. In fact one may wonder whether the movie is on Indian Pilitics and Mahabharat is used as backdrop or Jha intended to make a modern day Mahabharat and Indian Politics is used as a backdrop.

Despite its flaws it is one of the better movies in recent times and the best in its genre so far. It definitely deserves a watch.

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Why I Voted Congress?

By Dhawal Shah

Congress Administration Rocks:

o Fiscal Deficit at 10.3% of GDP (highest in the world)

o Deaths from terrorist Attacks:  3674 lives (next only to Iraq and higher than North, central, south america, europe, asia put together)

o Real GDP Growth Rate (GDP Growth Rate less Inflation) is negative for last quarter. Will we finally witness the stone age with the current deceleration in our economy?  My camera is Ready, should the Congress win because of the following :

–          For not supporting the War on terror:  The War on terror is after all for countries like UK and USA that have been affected by terrorism as India’s victims proportionately are quite minuscule, just 3674 out of 1 Billion !!

–          Stalling Infrastructure Projects:  Several Infrastructure Projects have been temporarily stalled. Not a single highway was completed in last five years.  Our very own Bandra Worli Sea Link took over 10 years to complete. Compare it to the Empire State Building built in record 13 months and that too in 1929 (Great Depression).

–          Making Aviation Expensive:  Allowing the Private Airport Developers to charge User Development Fee, thereby making air travel more expensive. Lets rejoice once again and enjoy the good old fashioned rail travel. After all its always been the notion that only the elite can fly.

–          Decline in healthcare:  It was quite annoying to visit a government run hospitals that are disgustingly, rat and cockroach infested. What good is USD 320 Billion Forex Reserves, where a nation cannot guarantee its citizens quality, affordable healthcare.

–          Making India a safe haven for terrorists: Mr. Qasab is in jail.  Well as the thinking goes if Mohammed Afzal, the terrorist that attacked the Indian Parliament is safe and sound, why should Qasab be any different. After all an Indian Jail is better than being trained at a Jihadi Camp in Pakistan. Terrorism has endangered public lifes.

–          Indian Army: Feel extremely proud of the Indian Army presentation during last year’s Republic Day, the short and medium range missiles. However, I feel we can reduce our fiscal deficit by creating a museum as we never intend to use these weapons.  Our military rocks, we are # 4 in the world, but we still continue to be bullied by our hostile neighbours, Bangaldesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China.

–          Banning Smoking in Public but being least bothered to enforce it, making a sheer mockery of the government enforcement

–          Congress Inheriting a booming economy and it comfortable crashing it miserably, finally we can go on a vacation to Italy, what else does one have to do anyway.

I fondly remember, Aam Admi Ko Kya Mila Campaign by Congress, its good that they left it as a question, as it is still a question, after all what can the, ‘aam admi’ get when for terrorists welfare (Mr. Qasab) the tax payer simply pays closer to about 10 crores a day, what can the aam admi expect

Aam Admi should not get anything as Congress is all about ‘Khaas Admi’, its just been one Nehru family that has been controlling the destiny of this country since 1947, maybe we haven’t suffered enough from Mr. Nehru’s Socialist approach. It does appear if everyone that has a Gandhi Surname has a political future. What good is meritocracy, when most talented Indians are already abroad, why not get away with ridiculous reservations?

Mr. Shivraj Patil finally resigns after over 4 years of slumber, thank God he at least woke up. Why should he get fired any which ways, after all what good are reservations if they don’t protect the incompetent?

Our local candidate, Mr. Milind Deora during a meeting mentioned that do not come to home for water, electricity and any other problems. It is not quite as relieving as watching him on news channels after the Mumbai attacks.

My Fellow Brothers and Sisters, Lets get our Country Back.

(Dhawal Shah, an entrepreneur, rues voting for Congress in 2004 Lok Sabha elections. India Unbound concurs with most of the points raised by him.)

Shivaji spoke but would we listen ?

You are solely responsible for your situation

You are solely responsible for your situation

It is very rare for a movie to give a social message, without getting preachy and entertain at the same time. Mee Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy (I am Shivaji Raje Bhosale speaking) is one such exception. The movie is based on grievances of Marathi Manoos (Marathi people) in Mumbai. The issue raised is same as the one raised by Bal Thackeray in 60s and recently by Raj Thackeray. However the solution suggested is different than what is being propagated by Raj Thackeray today or was espoused by Bal Thackeray in the past.

The movie starts off by introducing the main protagonist, Dinkar Maruti Bhosale, a clerk in a bank, as Damn Marathi Bhosale. Dinkar feels that Marathis are neglected and disrespected in their own state and “outsiders” are making hay at the cost of locals. Till here it seems as if the movie is espousing Raj Thackeray’s  agenda.  However, when Dinkar curses himself for being a Maharashtrian, Shivaji’s spirit, a la Munnabhai, comes to the rescue and the movie takes a turn for good. When Dinkar Joshi rues the fact that Gujaratis dominate the busuines landscape in the city, South Indians dominate the hotel industry and North Indians dominate the bureaucracy, Shivaji asks him that had anyone stopped Marathi Manoos to do any of these ? Dinkar then decides to take charge of his life and with the guidance of Shivaji reclaims self respect and sanity back in his life.

The movie has  exaggerated the plight of Marathi Manoos at some places. For example, Dinkar’s daughter wants to change her name as a film director, who himself is a Maharshtrian but hides this fact, believes that Marathi girls have no future in Hindi movie industry. But the plus point is that “outsiders” have not been vilified. The corrupt BMC employees and Policeman in the movie are Maharashtrians and so is the corrupt minister. This was probably a subtle reference to the fact that Maharashtrians dominate BMC and Policeforce in the state. Two North Indians help Dinkar Bhosale a la Jiva Mahale when he goes to meet his Afzal Khan. The movie does not end before making a point that political apathy is not the solution to corruption in politics and only by participating in the political process can one make a difference.

Locals v/s outsiders is the backdrop of the movie. However, the movie succeeds in driving home the larger point that people themselves are responsible for their situation and nothing would change unless they take steps to change the status quo in a positive manner.

Will we see the return of nervous 90s ?

Till poll results do us apart ..

Till poll results do us apart ..

The next eight weeks would be very cucial for India’s future. This may sound cliched as the phrase is repeated before every general election but India is at a very important point wherein if we fail to capitalise on our demographic dividend, we may miss the bus again. And when we see leaders like Sharad Pawar, Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan aspiring for the top job with no national agenda, it sends shivers down the spine. Will we again see someone like Charan Singh (1979), VP Singh (1989), Chandrashekhar (1990),  Devegowda (1996) or I K Gujral (1997) who became Prime Minister not because of public support but because they had least political opposition? Will we again see a period of political uncertainity, policy paralysis & indecisive Government? We are told that Manmohan Singh could not carry out any economic reforms as he was dependent on Communists. What would a Sharad Pawar, Ram Vilas Paswan or Mayawati do who would be even more dependent on Communists and other smaller parties ? If scientific and not so scientific polls are to be believed, we would see UPA leading a hung parliament i.e. none of the pre poll alliance will get the majority. In 2004, all opinion polls, exit polls and astrologers were proved wrong. There is no reason to believe that this may not happen again.

There are several possibilities if neither NDA, UPA or the third front gets majority. But the three most probable scenarios are :

  • Post elections, parties which comprise third front would join either NDA or UPA resulting in a Congress or BJP led Government
  • Communists could support Congress led Government which does not include Manmohan Singh and P Chidambram
  • Either Congress or  BJP decide to support a Sharad Pawar or Mayawati as PM.

Of all the three possibilities, it is the third possibility which is the bleakest of all. All previous third front Governments were either supported by BJP or Congress  (Janata Party of 1977 had Jan Sangha (former BJP) as an important constituent). Both BJP and Congress have nothing to gain politically by supporting a third front Government at the centre. Congress has seen its base shrinking and loosing ground to the same parties which it supported to form Government in the centre (SP in Uttar Pradresh, RJD in Bihar and JD (S) in Karnataka are a few examples). BJP paid the same price in UP for supporting Mayawati thrice to become Chief Minister. So will Congrerss or BJP support Mayawati to become PM ? Not if they are serious about being relevant in Indian Politics. 

Mayawati and her supporters believe that the country is moving towards bi polar polity and wish to see BSP as one of the two poles. That means exticntion of either BJP or Congress. Any move by Congress or BJP to support Mayawati would be detrimental to both BJP and Congress. And hence even if Maywati gets 60 seats from UP (the most optimistic scenario) and insists on becoming PM,  she would be as irrelevant as Mulayam was with 37 MPs in the fourteenth Lok Sabha. Apart from Mayawati, leaders like Sharad Pawar, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jayalalita are not serious contenders. All these leaders are fighting for their political survival and are not even contesting all the seats in their respective states. Talks of Prime Ministership are just a gimmick to enthuse voters on regional and caste lines. Sharad Pawar’s party is facing a dual anti incumbency in Maharashtra. The fact that he raised the issue of Marathi PM should clear doubts about his seriousness for the top job. Pawar is too seasoned a politician (He has tried his luck before in 1991 after the death of Rajiv Gandhi) to know that one cannot become a serious contender for PM of India by stoking regional passions.

The carrot of Marathi PM is for the voters in Maharashtra to beat the anti incumbency factor. Shivsena realised this a little late. But will the voter in Maharashtra realise this gameplan before he votes? We will know this only on 16th May.

Narendra Modi and Rajiv Gandhi

The last few days have seen a lot of prominent voices in support of Narendra Modi as future Prime Minister of India. Since NDA has declared LK Advani as its Prime Minestrial candidate, these voices are not relevant at least in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. However, the onslaught of secularists against supporters of Narendra Modi exposes their hypocrisy. One could have understood their discomfort with the Chief Minister of Gujarat if they have had similar opinion about Rajiv Gandhi who was ruler of India during the 1984 Sikh riots, the worst ever riots after partition.

In fact the 1984 violence was so one sided that it was not a riot but a pogrom unleashed on the Sikh community by workers of the ruling Congress party to avenge the assassination of their leader Indira Gandhi who was killed by two Sikh terrorists. Very little is known about the extent of 1984 killings as there was no internet and no 24/7 news channels in those days.  Khushwant Singh, then the editor of The Illustrated Weekly Of India and a Gandhi family loyalist had called up President Gyani Zail Singh, a Sikh, for protection during the riots. The President, who also happened to be commander-in-chief  of our armed forces advised Khushwant Singh to take shelter in a Hindu house. Neither the Police nor any Government Department but a good Hindu friend was the suggestion by the then President to a fellow Sikh who had called up for help. We may be baffled at this helplessness of the President but he knew what he was talking for it was not a Hindu – Sikh riot and hence the advice to Khushwant Singh to take shelter at any Hindu’s house. The President also knew that the pogrom was being carried out under the watchful eyes of Delhi Police and hence did not advice Khushwant Singh to take the help of Police. In fact the day after Indira’s assassination, when the pogrom had just begun, a peace march by some residents of Lajpat Nagar, a Delhi locality was stopped as participants did not have official permission!! In many places Police took away kirpans from Sikhs and made the job of Congress workers much more easier.

For three days, killings continued unabated in the capital and around 3000 Sikhs were killed. But the national television did not show any footage of the riot (Doordarshan was the only Television Channel in those days).  All that the state run TV channel showed was the dead body of Indira Gandhi and her mourners. It was as if the city of 9 million people was in the somber mood of mourning. The world was totally unaware of the happenings in the capital of India. People did listen to some Congress workers shouting Khoon Ka Badla Khoon Se Lenge (We will avenge blood with blood) well within the earshot of new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi but were unaware of the extent of the bloodshed as it was totally blacked out by the only Television Channel in the country.

The official toll by the Government immediately after the riots put the death toll at 425. Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was then the president of BJP contested the official death toll and asked his colleagues to collate figures. BJP’s total added up to 2800. The Congress quickly branded BJP as an anti-national party. Later the Ahuja Committee, appointed by the Government to compute the number of deaths, put the death toll as 2,733 in Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi and his Government never apologised or regretted for the bloodshed. Instead he defended the pogrom by saying, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” Editors of national dailies rationalised the killings. Girilal Jain, editor of The Times Of India explained that the Hindu cup of patience had become full to the brim. N.C. Menon, editor of The Hindustan Times wrote of how Sikhs had clawed their way to prosperity and it was about time. When Khushwant Singh returned his Padma Bhushan award, Vinod Mehta, current editor of Outlook magazine and a shining jewel of the secular pack , wrote that when it came to choosing between a Sikh and an Indian, Khushwant Sikh chose to be a Sikh!!

During the Lok Sabha elections of 1984, Congress ran a hate filled campaign which included advertisements and posters that had a picture of a Sikh Taxi driver with the caption Kya Aap Ek Sikh Taxi Driver pe Bharosa kar sakte hain ? (Can You trust a Sikh Taxi Driver?). In Amethi, where Maneka Gandhi was contesting against her brother in law Rajiv Gandhi, slogans like Beti hai Sardar ki, Qaum hai Gaddar ki (She is the daughter of a Sikh, a community of traitors) worked and so did the hate filled posters in the rest of the country. Congress got 401 seats in the Lok Sabha; a feat which not even Indira Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru had achieved. Of course for a congress sympathetic mainstream media, this victory was result of a sympathy wave.

Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, HKL Bhagat who actively took part in the killings continued getting Lok Sabha tickets in successive elections. Jagdish Tytler was even made a minister in the UPA government. PV Narasimha Rao who was the Home Minister during the pogrom, was severely censured for his connivance with the killers, by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, hero of 1971 war, in his affidavit to Nanavati Commission . Not only did Rajiv Gandhi made him a cabinet minister again after the 1984 elections but he was also made the Prime Minister after the death of Rajiv Gandhi. Even today mainstream media criticises P V Narasimha Rao more for the demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya, in which non one was killed than for the 1984 massacre of thousands.

Now compare this with the Gujarat riots of 2002. According to UPA Government 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the riots. Now if it was a state sponsored riots against Muslims how come 254 Hindus lost their lives ? Gujarat is the only state where many rioters have been convicted by courts whereas the first conviction in anti Sikh pogrom happened in 1997. Even during the riots a lot of rioters (both Hindus and Muslims) were killed due to police firing. The state has progressed a lot since the 2002 riots and hence Modi’s popularity has soared not just in Gujarat but in the entire country despite the fact that he is still held responsible for the riots unlike Rajiv Gandhi who was darling of the same section of the media. This double standard is unfathomable.

People who hold Modi morally responsible for the riots would be probably justified in doing so if they apply the same yardstick to Rajiv Gandhi and Congress regime of 1984. When they dont do that, they expose the hollowness in their secularism.