By S. Sivathasan –
Past And Future – Some Streaks
Leanings towards Modi and high expectations from him have begun to work out the sea change foreseen for May 2014. They are in a manner comparable to those of two giants, Nehru and Indira and yet with a difference. Nehru blasted through to modernism with a vision. ‘Thinking large’, a predilection for science, Bhakra Nangal, nuclear power and IITs were great signature symbols. Foreign policy in which non alignment was sheet anchor made India proud and respected. In Indira Gandhi, resoluteness expressed itself in the Bangladesh War and resulted in triumph. Her steel frame and grit were manifest in ‘Emergency Administration’. Memories of both explain the “Magic or Miracle” description of 1980 victory. India longed for a repeat. In Modi, hope is sighted.
Man Mohan Singh’s liberalization contribution and Narasimha Rao’s steadfastness were path breaking. In Vajpayee’s tenure were seen forward movement and a picture of clean stewardship. The last five years showed up the Congress as weak and vacillating and marking time in a stagnant pool, waiting for some undefined miracle to salvage it. For all across the country, the moment of decision between irresoluteness and decisive pursuit has arrived. Need for departure seems now.
Most pressing for steady movement is decisiveness. Currently Indians are wont to think that the hour has produced the man and see Modi as the man of destiny. In some measure, the salient features of the greats were visible in three successive Modi terms in Gujarat. Resolute governance underpinning success captured India’s attention. Not a day too early has he reached for a larger screen having an all India perspective. In a country famished by stagnation and riddled by a perception of corruption, he has moved in to infuse long lost confidence. Credible success in Gujarat gives credence to his promises. What is the fall out? A change of mood in the country at large, translating to votes in the states and to government formation at the centre.
Clear choices are placed all the way till May 2014. Kinetic energy demonstrated in Gujarat over three consecutive terms or lack of movement in India for five years? In an economy where liberalization commenced in 1991, is the second phase to proceed with verve or stall for want of nerve? Where globalization has become unstoppable, are economic imperatives to have even reign or yet to suffer continued suffocation? Should India evolve into full federalism or wilt away into quasi-federal centralism? Do states have the right to be consulted on foreign policy issues affecting them or are they consigned to be inert spectators? This is a striking reference to Tamil Nadu, where his policy stance will resonate with the people’s aspirations. Is foreign policy to be assertive in the international fora or is it to be meekly muted? The image that Modi projects signifies that on these and more he scores handsomely.
Modi And Gujarat
The 5-state Assembly election results drive home some striking pointers. BJP scored a convincing 259 seats higher than the Congress in 2013, while the latter had a positive margin of 123 seats more than BJP in 2008. Modi made the difference.
In Gujarat was seen India in microcosm. Seen in Modi the CM, was India’s PM in the making. With three terms Gujarat’s economic performance was unmatched, and the state advanced to the forefront. Modi too advanced to the foremost position among Chief Ministers. Hence his plain sailing as Prime ministerial candidate.
A Month After State Election
The dust has settled down after the state election and parties are positioning themselves for the next encounter. They are preparing to take their bearings both from undercurrents and from surface manifestations. Among the states in the forefront is Tamil Nadu, a crucial one for Lok Sabha 2014. Decks cleared by Kani Mozhi’s resignation has set the DMK leader free to go closer to BJP. Since December 8 he was free to do his calculations. With which national party this swallow flies will signify the coming weather. Knowing full well that no TN party would align with his one, he has announced that the DMK will go it alone. Did he have a choice? Now the only option is an overture to or from BJP and that too only if an accretion of minor state parties to his is brought about. Nemesis otherwise.
Delhi results have been educative for DMDK and its leader Vijayakanth is in cohort with Vaiko and Ramadas and under correspondence with the DMK leader. All three were searching for any straw. In the aftermath of these developments was Jayalalitha’s announcement to go it alone. Vaulting ambition made her say so and DMK is likely to seize the opportunity to strike a deal in the state and then with BJP. If this happens, the equation in TN can change drastically. Topography on ground will vary constantly in TN in the coming weeks.
This is the MODI EFFECT on the 2014 election. This visible outcome in Tamil Nadu is a precursor to similar ripples in many a state, which will be seen in the next few months. EFFECT is similar, caused by the same undercurrent that has begun to surge.
Cast Iron Ceiling And Concrete Flooring?
The mood of the Indian voter has swung to extremes en masse thrice, in 1977, 1980 and 1989. The post Indira Gandhi one in 1984 is exceptional, because of the emotional overtones. In the 6 subsequent elections spread over 20 years, there were 2 moderate shifts. The results show quite vividly that the mandate given was for a social contract. Disappointment at failure meant termination of the contract. The greatest disappointment was in 1977 when the electorate withdrew 200 out of 352 seats from the Congress. In three years, with a reassessment of its own judgment it restored the 200 seats. In 2014, a major withdrawal of seats from the Congress is foreseen.
Electoral behavior in India has displayed that it had resiliense, it is unemotional and holds no party sacred. It has had enough elbow room to express its mood to move up 415 seats in 1984 for Congress and then come down to 140 for the same party at a subsequent election. The BJP moved down to 116 from 189 at an earlier one in 1999. In a ‘first past the post’ system in contrast to proportional representation, there is neither a ceiling nor a floor to restrain such vagaries. If that be so, can even three cogent reasons be adduced to say that Congress cannot come to 100 or below, or BJP will not go to 280 or more at the 2014 elections? Is it rational either, to argue that when there is a rare groundswell through a wave and a storm, there cannot be the advantage of a margin of 180 seats or more for BJP? When alliances crystallize, the picture for coalition will become clear. Then results will be predictable but till then only speculation is possible.
Storm And Effect
If the above reasoning is accepted hypothetically, what are the options? Vote mobilization is one, pre-election alliance a second and post-election coalition a third. None of them are exclusive of one another.
Not always was there a correspondence of votes to seats. In 1996 UF alliance had 97.1 million votes and 192 seats; Congress had 96.4 million votes and 140 seats. Most eggs in the alliance basket of the states would seem the better option.
In 7 Lok Sabha elections since 1984, not once has either of the 2 major national parties won an absolute majority of 272. For government formation between 1989 and 2009, the lowest deficit was 40 seats. The highest was 127 seats, the number needed by the Congress in 2004. Tamil Nadu gave to the Congress 39 of them, 100% from any one state. What brought it about? The straits of the Congress, which in 3 previous elections had a deficit of 132 seats. The need for survival alone demanded an accommodative spirit in 2004. The astuteness of the TN leader in forging a six party alliance capitalized on that spirit and Congress caved in. A successful bargain with the Congress gave it a whip hand. The example of TN is invoked to show the thought processes of pre-election partnerships.
As of January 2014, of the 6 larger states (identified as having 40+ seats with Tamils Nadu ie including Puducheri), 4 states of UP, Bihar, W. Bengal and TN may opt for post-election coalition. Ambitions of the leaders of larger parties in these states would account for such posturing. When personal agendas remain unrequited, there will be withdrawal of support under cover of ideological incompatibility. Maharashtra and Andhra have other compulsions not to join the 4. There are another 6 states having 20 – 29 seats. They are clearly on either side of the major parties and do not have much leverage for bargaining. To them party fortunes therefore lie only in their own state wise coalitions. The 12 states hold among them 81% of the 543 seats of Lok Sabha. If pre-election alliance does not give a clear majority, post-election manouevres to test the sagacity of Modi will be in full swing.
In the last five Lok Sabha elections since 1991, the regional and state parties have together taken up an average of 49% of the votes and around 42% of the seats. Their escalating bargaining strength in government formation is well known. An intensifying storm of the BJP would make the state parties temporize and be accommodating in a pre-poll situation. Inducing a country wide surge in the coming two months to create that accommodative spirit would therefore be very relevant. Larger parties in the bigger states of UP, W.Bengal, Bihar and Tamil Nadu would put up a posture of independence to strike a better bargain in the post poll situation. Good performance by the national party that leads would soften the position of the regional party. The next 4 months will give the indicator.
AIADMK Pledge on MGR Day
In 1996, BJP on its own strength secured 161 seats and yet the leader Vajpayee was denied premiership. Congress won 140 seats but couldn’t capture power with P V N Rao as its leader. Deva Gowda with only 46 seats for Janata Dal, became Prime Minister having forged an alliance totaling 192 members. If 46 secured premiership, should it be all too difficult for AIADMK to be in the most strategic position in Delhi to get it with 40? Should fortuitous circumstances perform a miracle only once, is apparently the query of this formation. In a persona of vaulting ambition and impossible dreams, such hopes can spring with ease.
When that option fails, can’t the party hold a union government to ransom even with 30 seats, when 18 seats made Gujeral’s government collapse in 1998? The go it alone stance already announced by Jayalalitha has many a connotation, 40 can wag 232. Modi has the monumental task of exploiting the situation to his advantage or to dashing them both. All his resources have to be marshalled if he were to accomplish it.
Most Trying Challenge For Modi
For BJP to present its commitment to erasing corruption, clean election should come first in time sequence. Probity in governance needs to be preceded by a show of character in the candidates selected by BJP. Not allying with parties that are corrupt though with winnable prospects is the very first step. Excluding candidates with tainted antecedents comes next. Such concerns would place a serious limitation in alliance formation. Inclination to take them on board will be quite tempting. Yet veering from it is the stuff that would make for idealism.
Whether Modi scores on this account remains to be seen. The wait is less than three months. It is his obligation to make a beginning. The Lok Sabha having 150 MPs with court action pending is a standing indictment against all parties. In this respect Congress has lost colour. Before calling the Congress kettle black the BJP pot has to be of lily white purity. India now awaits a new beginning.