By S.Sivathasan –
The current Lok Sabha is the 15th and the constitutional term of office expires on May 31, 2014. Before this date it will be dissolved and elections held for543 seats. In the complex tangle that has come about since 2009, the next election is of much significance to India and even more to Sri Lanka. India’s normal international relations apart, are the involvements of Sri Lanka which cause concern for India. What are the constituents of this complexity and how are three principal players –Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka – likely to view evolving developments from now on? It appears that a new dimension is now added with the entry of the Northern Provincial Council in the state of play. The next five years seem to need sensitive approaches. In this context comes the Indian election.
Comfort Zone (37 years – 8 elections)
A broad survey of election results of the past will give some clues to the immediate future. In the duration of 62 years from the first to the present, there are two distinctive time zones. The first, comfort zone and the second uncertain zone. In the first 8 elections from 1952 to 1984, Congress swept the polls, winning 7 out of 8 and obtaining a clear majority for forming a government on its own strength. At 6 of the 7 elections, the majority ranged from 2/3 to 4/5.There was no party to challenge the supremacy of Congress. In 1977 Congress lost the elections, getting 34% of votes and 28% of seats. The Indian voter registered lack of appetite for Indira Gandhi’s ‘iron rule’, the only menu that could have nourished India best.
Uncertain Zone (25 years-7 elections)
In the second zone, out of 7 elections from 1989 to 2009, neither Congress nor a non-Congress party ever got a clear majority. In this period, the highest number of seats that Congress obtained was 244 out of 545 in 1991 and the lowest was 114 in 1999. If this performance was dismal, even more disappointing was voter endorsement. At five consecutive elections from 1996 to 2009, Congress was unable to break the barrier of 29% of the popular vote. It even came down to 25.8% in 1998 from the highest of 49% in1984. For the giant Congress it has been a matter of continuing disquiet.
Vote seat correspondence has now disappeared. The election of 1996 presents an incredible picture. The Janata Dal alliance secured 192 seats. With only 0.2% total votes more than the Congress, it got 52 more seats. The BJP alliance got 29 million votes less than Congress but 47 seats more. Such were the disparities at one election and they were not an exception.
Results From 1952
In the three elections when Nehru led the Congress after independence, seat majority was three/fourths. When Indra Gandhi led, the majority was two/thirds on two occasions. On her demise, the majority was four/fifths. Thereafter the decline was steady. It was a continuous slide for 22 years, registering 145 seats or less at four successive elections till 2004. Congress seat strength of 74% in 1952 reaching 80% in1984 declined to a shadow of 26% in 1996 and maintained the same level till 2004.
Consistent decline stabilizing at a quarter of parliamentary strength, rubbed in certain home truths. No longer was the prestige of the party or the charisma of the leader alluring enough to garner seats. The uncertain zone conveyed the lesson to whichever party came first in rank. It was never lost on the party that came second. The days of dominance of national parties or formations were over. States together with state level parties had come into their own. Among quite a few states, West Bengal, Andhra and Tamil Nadu demonstrated it well. The wide divergence between popular vote and Lok Sabha seats called for a new strategy. It was swift to surface and has come to stay.
However, support was obtainable only from state parties which had their own state agendas to be served. Many state parties became assertive on this score and state issues have begun to overshadow national concerns. This trend looks irreversible in the short term. The fallout from this is that a few of the powerful states will decide the texture of the government at the centre. In this regard, TN with its propensity for violent swings of the pendulum is of strategic importance and the leaders of the two major parties in the state will be much sought after. Thus it would seem that the destiny at the centre will be influenced by the fortunes of the periphery. Sonia and Modi are likely to make more visits now to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra. It may appear a strange irony that the South has to be courted for a victory in the North. For quite some time this necessity is inescapable.
In this context should be seen the importance that Tamil Nadu has gained more significantly in the last ten years. In the nineties, the fortunes of the Congress declined at a quickening pace from 244 seats in 1991 to 114 in 1999. By 2003, Karunanidhi sensed the weakening of BJP strength. Having no permanent friends but interests only, he deserted ranks from BJP and Vajpaai and joined hands with Congress and Sonia Gandhi. It was a great morale boost to Congress and had its impact on the country wide elections. More importantly pre-election arrangement with Congress brought forth a solid result of 100% of the seats in TN and Pondichcheri through the DMK-Congress alignment.
This was a watershed for the Congress in 2004 which had descended to its lowest electoral performance in 1999, but was able to add 31 to its own strength and 40 more through the DMK partnership. The coalition remained intact for government formation and the government continued to be stable for the full term. At the elections of 2009, Congress reaped an additional 61 seats.
Though seats for the Congress increased by 92 in ten years, popular vote remained same at 28%. This phenomenon drives home the point that while coalitions add to seats, their influence is at the margin in electoral harvest of seats. This factor spreads across some states. Seats are brought not by the popularity of national parties in the states but by state party or parties brought together through electoral arrangements. A classic instance is TN.
Further, Tamil Nadu (TN) occupies a prime place not merely on the electoral map. Its location makes for strategic importance for India. It is said that some of the invasions have come from the soft under belly of India. The last one to conquer from the South, being the British is a recent reminder. Sri Lanka and the Northern part, together with Kachchativu and Trincomalee harbor will exert a strategic influence on relations. TN is among the most developed and prosperous of the states. Of late, the electoral weight has been more than proportionate. That is why Sonia dances attendance upon TN. Modi’s first visit after nomination was announced was to Trichi, where he spoke two sentences in Tamil. He spoke forcefully on the perennial problem the fishermen experienced with Sri Lanka. He knows the importance of Tamil Nadu for his electoral fortunes.
This time around, M Karunanidi’s (MK) calculations may go awry. Jayalalitha (JJ) has thrown the spanner in the works of MK. Polls say she will win 29 seats. A good coalition locally can give her even 35+. JJ is no less astute than MK. She has cultivated Modi for several years. When TN turned tide after 2009, she moved astutely with the tide and stole a march over MK on the SL Tamil issue. It manifested in the State Assembly election of 2011. Since a political leadership for the youth movement is yet to evolve, she will capitalize on the emerging resurgence, reap the benefits at the Lok Sabha election and heap them on Modi. MK has already lost out on this. The massacre of Tamils in SL has caused a sea change in the attitude of Tamils towards SL. Consequently political leadership has changed its stance. It has already influenced Delhi regarding PC elections and India’s position at the UN.
Modi through three consecutive successes at the hustings, displayed his ability at converting popularity into votes and seats. Once in power, he became CEO of ‘Gujarat & Co’, showed his prowess most at economic performance and on the strength of that sought further terms. He eschewed populism and derived support for his clean hands and strong measures. Gujarat became a coveted state for increasing capital flows and for FDI. He exhibited no impatience for the national canvas. The people in due course harboured the thought that India was on the way to becoming Gujarat writ large. When the idea matured and acceptance became widespread, he got his nomination as Prime Ministerial candidate and awaits people’s endorsement. He has eight months ahead of him to press forth his claims and to establish his credentials.
In handling the Sri Lankan Tamil issues to their successful conclusion, it is resoluteness that is required. If one national party lacks it, TN may show its desire for another. Modi’s leadership is bound to inspire greater credibility. Having got the mandate, he is bound to honour it. In this situation complexities with SL will certainly arise.
Since independence to now the destinies of India were presided over by Nehru and Indira Gandhi, for half the time. Among others, Narasimha Rao (NR) and Vajpaai made a great contribution. It is widely known that to the landmark economic reforms of 1991, much of the credit goes to Manmohan Singh. The reforms that changed the economic landscape of the country have exhausted their potential and lost steam. Yet, even despite Obama’s urging that India should proceed with the next phase of reforms, not much has happened. Perhaps the resoluteness of NR is not to be seen. The country may think that Modi will make a difference. In such a background elections are to be held in India and a change of helmsman is bound to have repercussions on Sri Lanka.
To win an election or to form a government, coalitions either pre or post- election became the norm in the uncertain zone time period, when no party got an absolute majority. In later occasions they became a compulsion. So it will be at the 2014 election. The eight months for election, will see a flurry of activity for deals. The post-election scene will make the picture clear for purchase deals. Who will sell, who will buy and at what price? Immediately after the results, the configuration that emerges will determine the texture of the next government.
In the pre and post-election period, the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka and before the UN are likely to figure prominently in TN. So too will be devolution and the Indo-Lanka Accord. Happenings in the Northern Province will also have their impact. If Modi is elected PM, both he and CM Tamil Nadu will approach the problems with greater sensitivity than in earlier years under a different dispensation.