The poll bugle has been sounded in five states. The political equestrians have rolled up their sleeves and jumped into the electoral fray. I am calling these the elections of the Indian political credo and soul. The biggest reason for this is that these elections will reflect the aspirations of almost one-fourth of the total number of voters in the country.
Let me begin with the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In May 2014, the country got a PM who had won the trust of a majority of voters. With his charisma, oratory skills and by embracing a hitherto unheard of political strategy, the man broke away from convention. Modi knew that the burden of people’s expectations is both heavy and fluid. You lose your balance for a moment and it will start flowing in a direction you don’t desire. This is what happened with Rajiv Gandhi, who swept to power with 404 seats in the eighth Lok Sabha and Indira Gandhi who annexed the Dilli Durbar with 352 seats in 1971.
These elections will prove to be a trial by fire for Narendra Modi who has completed half his term. The biggest reason behind saying this is that he has initiated an extremely centralised form of politics. ‘Surgical strike’ and ‘demonetisation’ are two moves that influenced both the commoner and the connoisseur. Leave aside opponents, Modi didn’t let even give his senior colleagues a whiff of these. If someone raised a hue and cry about keeping things under wraps, Modi had a solid retort in the fear of loss of confidentiality. In these elections, the BJP hasn’t named a chief-ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand or Manipur. Clearly the saffron party believes it can win these elections riding on Brand Modi.
If the BJP loses these elections, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, the biggest loser will be Brand Modi.
Now let us discuss the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. Grappling with the misdeeds of elders, this young leader has had to face the brunt of the party’s losses a number of times, not just owing to his own mistakes. He was even blamed for the party shrinking to just 44 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections but Rahul didn’t lose heart. He harnessed his inner energy through Vipassana meditation and kept saying what he wanted forcefully despite not having the numbers. If some questions were raised over the surgical strike and demonetisation, some of the credit should go to the efforts put in by Rahul and his associates. That’s why, in the last session of the Lok Sabha, all major Opposition parties agreed to join hands with him. The question is, will the Congress be able to hold on to Uttarakhand and Manipur? Will it snatch power from the NDA in Punjab and Goa and make a significant impact in Uttar Pradesh, the traditional fiefdom of the party?
If this doesn’t happen, then the road to 2019 will become even more difficult for Rahul.
These elections are also special because through them, Arvind Kejriwal is seeking to expand beyond the confines of Delhi. His party is fighting polls in Punjab and Goa with a lot of vigour. If the AAP wins in these two states, then going forward, Kejriwal would like to emerge as the central figure in the league of Modi’s adversaries. Even if Kejriwal doesn’t manage to form a government in these two states, it will give him the larger canvas that he has been looking for every since his massive win in Delhi.
This discussion will be incomplete if we leave Akhilesh Yadav out. Having fought with his father and uncle, this young man is going to seek votes in the largest Indian state on the basis of his performance. Fighting on many fronts, Akhilesh is facing a lot of questions. In case he fails to come to a compromise with his father, on almost every seat, he’ll have to face not just the Opposition, but also take on those who were his ‘own’ till recently. Another question being asked is whether he’ll join forces with the Congress, JD(U) and RLD? Even if they arrive at an understanding, how much would these partners be able to help Akhilesh, already besieged by conflicts within his party? Still, the voter, cooped up inside his comfort zone, can always spring a surprise. Did anyone imagine that Indira Gandhi would win the 1971 elections after sidelining senior party leaders a few months before the polls?
They say the road to Delhi has to pass through Uttar Pradesh. Which is why we need to discuss Mayawati’s prospects. Promising a no-nonsense administration and development, Mayawati is the undisputed leader of her party. She was the first to distribute tickets keeping in mind the religious and caste-based dynamics of the contestants. If she wins, she’ll leave a huge impact not just on Uttar Pradesh but on national politics too.
This election will be a harbinger for the emergence of younger leaders in the country. Think about it, how active can Mulayam Singh, Parkash Singh Badal, Harish Rawat and other such elder leaders be till the next assembly elections? Amarinder Singh has declared these elections are his last. His successor can’t continue to follow the old line: He’ll have to choose change and development over the politics of region, caste and communalism.
That’s why I am calling these assembly polls a vote for the Indian soul and political credo.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan