By S. Sivathasan –
A threadbare discussion is yet on, whether the Modi phenomenon seen on December 8th was a wave or just a gust. Many are laboring the point that there was no wave. Post-election, some see a storm in the making. Before the debate runs its course, a more devastating second landfall will overtake the first. Since the storm is already formed, watching its intensity can only be awaited. It cannot be preempted or deflected, nor can it be abated. Storm Katrina took two days between formation and landfall. For an election in a massive electorate such as India, four months are less than two days for a tropical storm. As some see on the radar, the storm has started moving and all feather weights standing on its way or seeking to resist it will be winnowed away.
Imperatives Before Parties
In the ensuing Lok Sabha encounter next May or earlier, there are only two national parties, BJP and Congress that will contend for power at the centre. The regional and state parties can have a meaningful engagement only as an alliance partner and never otherwise. No major party at state level has an all India perspective to stand at a general election seeking power for central governance. So all of them confined to a limited locality like the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra, Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu or Trinamool Congress in W. Bengal cannot stake a claim to central governance. They have to forge a pre poll alliance with either of the national parties to show up a credible performance. Those who do not do so are constrained to come into a post poll coalition. Either of the course is inescapable if they are to continue in the limelight, to partake of all what goes with power and to be of consequence.
In such a scenario how will events move from now till nomination? For prospective allies from the state, most primary in their calculation is which national party has the best assurance of success. Which alliance holds the finest chance of victory for them? In this respect, for once since 1984 the direction is very clear, so well in advance. Modi and BJP constitute a ‘sellers-market’ and buyers know it for sure. With bargaining power being heavily weighted towards the former the latter cannot specify demanding terms. BJP can therefore have its choice pick.
As of now, what composes the political environment? Congress held sway from the time of Tilak to the demise of Rajiv, except for a three year break in 1977. The fortunes have fluctuated from 232 seats in 1991 to around 140 in the four elections that followed. In 2009 the tally rose to 206 and with allied support got the handle on central power. The number has been sufficient for the full term till to date.
BJP got the highest tally of 120 seats in 1991, 11 years after its founding. It was in the seat of power in 1998 with 183 seats. The emergence of Modi in mid-2013, as the sole leader and Prime Ministerial candidate infused a fresh dynamism to BJP, a Party with a national sweep. The surge of the BJP has been coterminous with the decline of the Congress.
In recent times, irresoluteness has suffused the Congress in both policy segments, domestic and foreign. Lack of motion became endemic making for lustre less performance and consequent frustration of the people.
Congress had and yet has a trifurcated persona in leadership position. Absence of a single leader acknowledged for preeminence is inimical for steadfast decisions. More conspicuously it has denoted indecisiveness and has even been displayed. Its toll in electoral performance was seen in the recent elections. In an election year for the nation, it is construed as weakness. To Sir Ivor Jennings “a general election is always an election of a Prime Minister”.
In this context came the five state elections which have tested the mood of the electorate. Congress seats in them dropped from 352 in 2008 to 148 in 2013. BJP strengthened its hold from 229 to 407. To the Congress a positive gap of 123 turned into a negative one of 259 in a matter of five years. The results can quite rightly be interpreted as ripples coming out as visible indications from a strong undercurrent. If that be so how did it evolve? A long spell of inaction resulting in stagnation had disillusioned the people. Electors who had given 60 plus seats as a convincing endorsement over the first term grew restless. They had reason for higher expectations, particularly in clean governance. Of no less importance were thoughts of greater purchasing power being put in their hands. Neither of them was realized. Feelings that were simmering have now come to the boil. This explains the decisive rejection of the ruling Congress.
Pre Poll Alliance
There are only two contenders for Lok Sabha 2014. Both have to gain weight to wrest power. Since the BJP has received a very clear signal to Lok Sabha, it would suffice to take this party as the primary subject for examination. What can the strategy be in the choice of states? First option is to move closer to the more astute in the state leadership. In this respect,Tamil Nadu with Jayalalitha at the helm would score high.
To the discerning it would seem that no strength can be derived from the obese. In contrast to agile Tamil Nadu with a population of 72 million and seat strength of 39, Uttara Pradesh has mass with a population of 200 million and seat strength of 80. Yet at the 2004 election, 54 went to non-performers at 35 to Samajawadi and 19 to BSP. In 2009, a non-performing Third Front, received 44 seats from UP at 23 for Samajawadi, 20 for BSP and 1 for Independent. – (Source for data: Election Commission of India). At both elections, Congress got on its own 9 and in 2009, 21 seats. In 2004 Karunanidhi had worked out an adroit pre-election arrangement, aimed at co-sharing the driving seat with Congress
What could be the guiding principles in the selection of parties to align with? A brief survey of election results since independence will throw much light. In the first half of this period, Congress went into elections brimming with confidence. Charismatic leadership at the helm coupled with men of dedication in the states and supported by large groups of freedom workers in the countryside made Congress victory easy and certain. The pattern altered in 1977. Since then as the aura of service wore off, a massive change overtook the country.
Shift In Momentum To States
The loss of image became irretrievable for the Congress. The other national party suffered the same disability. Elections had become self-serving, parochial, particularist, non-idealistic and satisfying only pecuniary needs. This degeneration is now decades old. By 1980 smaller parties having a state perspective and only with a local base cropped up and flourished. Some of them like the DMK even existed three decades earlier. When these parties assumed importance, the larger parties courted them. The national parties saw clearly that leverage came not by priming the party machine, but by forging strategic alliances with state parties of promise. By themselves they were not vastly popular but when combined among themselves or with a national party, were a power to be reckoned with. A coalition with one national party (Congress), two multi state parties (CPI,CPM) and with two single state party gave Tamil Nadu a 39 out of 39 sweep with all the fortunes that followed. With an astute coalition to be brought about in 2014, there can be a repeat for TN. If it comes to pass, there can be tremendous power for TN.
What is the strength of parties in India now? The two national parties combined have a total of 322 seats and a vote share of 47%. Multi-state parties 5, and single-state parties 22, have a combined total of 200 seats. Their vote share is 52%. In 1991, they had a vote share of 43% while the national parties enjoyed a share of 56 %. Growth of state power in the last 30 years has been phenomenal. 1984 was the last year when a national party, Congress was able to form a government on its own with a strength of 415 seats. In the last 22 years, the highest obtained by Congress was only 232. In 2004 there was no prospect of a Congress government without Tamil Nadu and Puthucheri giving 40 seats.
Why the Prime Minister boycotted CHOGM should not be hard to seek. He deferred to the strongly held views and feelings of the people of TN that were expressed in unison. Those who couldn’t comprehend it yelped that a state should not be dictating to the nation. Politics is too serious an affair to be left to those not versed in it. Narendra Modi said recently in Tamil Nadu, “States should have a say in foreign affairs on matters that directly affect them”. The importance of TN was not lost on Modi when he made this statement. A fine doctrine for neighbouring countries to take their cue from. T.N. may become a formidable partner in Modi’s resolute Government.
Why this excursion into protracted numeracy in a simple exercise about an election? The reader may wonder. To figure out with some realism as to how the future will unfold in India, what part TN will play to influence the outcome and how it will impact on Sri Lanka. For this purpose, analysis needs to be shorn of wish. If facts are sacred, they have to be derived from figures and the latter has to come from authentic sources. Virtually all the sources I have quoted from are governmental. Computations and deductions are mine.
Wishes And Apprehensions
Many a negative wish may spring from an unrealistic reading of what governance is all about in a large country. So too with apprehensions. Power and the inevitable responsibilities alone will impose a heavy burden, restraints, limitations and inhibitions. More importantly, a Prime Minister coming forward with promise and a programme to deliver will be absorbed in managing and developing the economy. There are many challenges besides. So he is not going to be an overgrown Chief Minister but a transfigured Chief Executive in an altogether new and different environment. Having very many things on heaven and earth he is unlikely to stir up trouble and to stew himself in his own juice. If Muslims entertain fears, they will find them to be unfounded.
Lok Sabha elections have seen violent swings of the pendulum. Congress has experienced ups and downs on a few occasions with very little change in votes. This can apply to BJP in 2014. This is a very optimistic prospect. Only by March will the picture be clear. A strong mandate will spell a bright future.
In very broad terms, there is likely to be a toning up of the administration, percolating to all levels. Remnants of the license control raj continuing even after 1991 may get swept aside. The points of suffocation being experienced by the economy may find removal. Foreign policy is likely to be made to match the stature of a great power to be. This will have its impact on neighbouring countries.