Early elections may or may not occur but every political party is prepared for such an eventuality
09-Feb-2013 •Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
The 16th general elections are scheduled for April-May 2014 but the Indian polity has already entered a fluid phase. There is intense speculation that the elections could take place ahead of schedule. Sections of the Opposition and even parties supporting the ruling UPA coalition from outside will not be unhappy if elections are conducted six or eight months before these become due in advance. Some parties like the Trinamool Congress, the AIADMK and the Samajwadi Party would like to face the electorate even earlier, say, in April-May, to minimise the impact of anti-incumbency sentiments in West Bengal, TN and UP, respectively.
A week is a long time in this country’s politics. The country expects considerable uncertainty in the near future as representatives of all political parties step up their rhetoric and explore possibilities of shifting allegiances. The months ahead are going to be filled with surprises and one can expect many twists, turns and somersaults by opportunistic politicians. As far as the Government is concerned, the announcement of a number of populist measures is likely. Besides the touting of the cash transfer scheme using UID cards as a political game-changer, the powers-that-be are mulling the exact contours of a Food Security Act, a programme to distribute generic drugs free to all those who live beneath a nebulously-defined poverty line and a proposed new land acquisition law to make mandatory the consent of owners of 80 per cent of agricultural land converted for non-agricultural purposes.
At the time of writing this column in early-December, there was intense pressure on the Government to roll back its decision to restrict the number of cooking gas cylinders to six per year. Large sections of the Congress party have already expressed their unhappiness with this move which will further erode the real incomes of poor and middle-class households whose budgets have already been drastically slashed by inflation in general and food inflation in particular. The corporate sector is no longer cribbing about “policy paralysis”. However, even ardent supporters of Manmohan Singh acknowledge that the second UPA Government’s biggest shortcomings have been its inability to control inflation and the perception that corruption in high places has not merely grown in scale but also become increasingly brazen. These two considerations will make it particularly difficult for the incumbent regime to return to power for a third successive five-year term.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee hopes to increase the tally of MPs belonging to her party from 19 (out of 42 in the state). Despite her megalomania, she probably realises that the longer she stays in power the more popular her political opponents, the Left Front led by the CPI(M), could become. This story is repeated in case of the Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is confident the SP will increase its tally of MPs in the next Parliament and that anti-incumbency feelings against the UP Government led by his son, Akhilesh Yadav, are yet to gain momentum. Their party is the third-largest in the Lok Sabha at present after the Congress and the BJP, accounting for 22 out of the 80 MPs from UP. Their staunch rival in the state, Mayawati of the BSP, could hardly be said to be unhappy about the fact that the ruling coalition needs her 21 MPs more than before, particularly since the UPA does not wish to be excessively dependent on the SP. Besides that, a section within the BJP owing allegiance LK Advani wouldn’t mind early elections since this may offer the last opportunity for the 85-year-old BJP leader to aspire for the top job in the country.
The Government may not collapse suddenly. It is going to make strident attempts to convey an impression that it means business. There is, however, a section within the Congress that seems sure that the chances of losing power are high and the party should cut its losses now and quit before its image gets battered further. After the next elections, this section would prefer a 1996-like situation (when the Congress supported the Deve Gowda-Government) to a 1989-like scenario (when the BJP and the Left came together to support the VP Singh-Government).
Will history repeat itself?