Mindgames dominate polls 2004
Exit polls saw a surge for the BJP in UP in the third phase of polling, and many attribute it to the mindgame that the NDA played against their bete noire in the Hindi heartland ? Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Exit polls saw a surge for the BJP in UP in the third phase of polling, and many attribute it to the mindgame that the NDA played against their bete noire in the Hindi heartland — Mulayam Singh Yadav. Yet this kind of psychological warfare was not BJP leader Pramod Mahajan alone's; these elections saw parties across the country playing mindgames, with the single aim of keeping and consolidating their voter base.
The BJP had to resort to such tactics when it found that its development plank, as manifest in the 'India Shining' campaign, was not working. So NDA convenor George Fernandes fired the first salvo last month, telling a TV channel: "I share a very good relationship with Mulayam. He is an old friend and I want him to join the NDA."
It wasn't all that outrageous, since George and Mulayam are old socialists. In fact, another stalwart from the old Janata Party, Bihar strongman Laloo Prasad Yadav, decided to field a weak candidate against George in Muzaffarpur, and this led to lots of speculation in Bihar. Similarly, Mulayam hasn't fielded any candidate in Ballia against former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, one of the old guard of the Janata parivar.
It was just George's timing that was suspicious. This became apparent when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee described Mulayam as his "ideologically compatible friend" and hinted at the possibility of Mulayam joining the NDA. Vajpayee's motive, it appeared, was to ensure Muslims went to the Congress, which in any case was not in a position to increase its tally of seats in UP given the significant erosion in its votebank. Vajpayee, and his strategist Mahajan, were more concerned about protecting the BJP's tally in UP, and about ensuring there was no solid front against the NDA during the elections. Vajpayee even went to the extent of appealing to Muslims to vote for Mulayam.
That the mindgames are all about protecting one's turf was evident from Mayawati's statements during electioneering. The BSP leader, who's had three 'honeymoons' with the BJP, went so far as to term her 'rakhi brother' Lalji Tandon, the man linked to the sari stampede in Vajpayee's constituency Lucknow, as 'Lalchi' Tandon. What she may do in the post-poll scenario, when she may be wooed by those seeking to form a government, is not relevant in her present calculus: she just wants to get as many votes as she can.
Similarly, Sharad Pawar, whose NCP is in alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra, told his electorate that anyone could become PM after the polls. He was evidently playing to Maratha pride, hoping to catch extra votes, but other leaders have taken it to mean he could switch sides once the results are in. He hasn't helped matters by going off abroad for treatment for his throat.
The formation which has had problems playing mindgames is the Left. H.S. Surjeet in Kerala embarrassed his front by looking at the big picture, which is to defeat the BJP. He forgot that his local opposition there was the Congress. A.K. Antony has no such confusion: he's made it clear to his voters he thinks the CPM is an obsolete party: "I am not soft on them," he said recently. "I have no sympathy for them."
Which is probably why one of the Left Front leaders spoke of M. Karunanidhi as one of the probable PM candidates. He knows that even if his front is to play a role in the post-poll scenario, it must retain its base locally. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Chattacharjee went to the extent of saying, "We will not leave an inch of room for Congress. We know the party's role during Gujarat riot and Babri demolition. We have come into pre-poll alliance with some secular outfits in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and our efforts will be on for post-poll tie-ups."
Even Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee has been caught in the dilemma: during his own campaign. He has to attack the Left, though he will be one of the key interlocutors in the post-poll scenario, talking to the Left for support.
When it comes to looking forward, Mulayam has not been shy of playing mindgames. He's publicly said that Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is his friend, and could support a third front government. To which Naidu said: "Mulayam is a friend of mine. We were together during the United Front government. He did not speak to me about a third front. We are with the NDA and will continue to be with it."
The only party that doesn't seem to have indulged in this sort of mindgame is the Congress, despite the personal nature of invectives launched against its president, Sonia Gandhi. Perhaps she is playing a long-term game.