Thursday, April 30, 2009

Modi 2014 or earlier

This morning, Times Now telecast unedifying images of Rajnath Singh grimacing in irritation when asked the question about Narendra Modi as the successor to LK Advani. The panelists on the show had quite a laugh at Rajnath's apparent discomfiture. Sitting next to me in the panel, Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to dodge the question, somewhat unsuccessfully.

The BJP leaders may have a right to be a little concerned that the Modi issue somehow undermines Advani. It may even make it look that Advani is the grudging choice and that Modi is the "real" leader. At least this is what the Congress claims.

Judged in terms of tactical positioning the BJP's embarrassment is understandable. But they have created the embarrassment by trying to pretend that the media has no right to speculate about a post-Advani situation.

The Congress isn't embarrassed when Rahul Gandhi is projected as the future leader. The party does so quite openly in its poll messages.

Wherever I have travelled throughout India, BJP workers are less inhibited. They see Modi as the leader for the next election. The BJP HQ in Delhi has been flooded with requests from candidates requesting Modi's presence in their constituencies.

The appeal of Advani and Modi are different. Advani is the elder statesman; Modi is an inspiration.

The BJP may rightly feel that this issue can't be raised in the middle of an election but they can't duck this question indefinitely. Nor can some nervous leaders try to derail Modi's natural progression to the top job. Unless they can show that someone else is better suited.

As a BJP supporter who has tremendous respect for Advani--he was my inspiration in the 1990s--I have no hesitation in saying that the future belongs to Modi.

If Advani becomes PM he is entitled to a full term in office. He will have my full and unstinting support. There can be no question of Modi replacing a popularly elected PM.

Yet, when it comes to the next election in 2014 or earlier, my vote is unwaveringly for Narendra Modi.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Phase Two trends

As usual I want to repeat that these are not my conclusions but those of pollsters who have conducted surveys on the ground. I will desist from going into figures (because they can go so horribly wrong in four and five cornered contests) and stick to broad trends. The idea is not to contribute to the satta market but to try and make sense of electoral behaviour.

Phase 2 has been very good for the BJP and its allies, good for BSP, not so good for the Congress and somewhat disastrous for the so-called Fourth Front.

These are the reported trends from the states:

  • Big setback for the Congress in Assam. Gains for the BJP-AGP alliance.
  • In coastal Andhra and Rayalseema, the Congress performed significantly better than it did in Telengana (where it faces a rout). However, there is likely to be a sharp dip in the Congress Lok Sabha tally. It is unlikely to be near the half-way mark of the 42 seats. Chiranjeevi has done quite well.
  • The BJP appears to have swept Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Its MP tally may be better than 2004.
  • In Karnataka, BJP appears to have done as well as in 2004. But there are non-quantitative reports of the BJP not doing so well in Bangalore.
  • Although BSP appears well ahead in Phase 2 constituencies that polled in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has done very well in the seats adjoining Amethi and Rae Barely. The BJP has the upper hand in only a couple of places. The SP is likely to see a fall from its 2004 tally.
  • Bad news for the Lalu-Paswan alliance in Bihar. The BJP-JD(U) alliance seems to be coasting to a big victory.
  • Congress has done well in Orissa. The BJD will suffer in the Lok Sabha. By implication, there is a question mark over its ability to secure a clear majority in the Assembly.
  • Small losses for the Congress-NCP in Maharashtra.

The big question after Phase 2: can Congress retain its status as the largest party in the Lok Sabha? I would prefer to not speculate and leave it to the final results. But the bush telegraph has started buzzing in Delhi.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Early trends

One of the most sensible things the Election Commission has done is to ban exit polls. They were being misused quite blatantly to try and influence voters--the UP Assembly election of 2008 was a textbook case of partisan psephology.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon looking at some raw data of an exit poll of Phase 1 by one psephologist. I don't want to go into the numbers game because that is improper. However, there are some clear trends that I thought fit to share. These are not my conclusions but based entirely on the data of one pollster. Read it with interest but read it with caution too.

  • The Congress is facing a complete rout in Telengana. The TRS-TDP combine is likely to make a clean sweep of the region. Chiranjeevi did well but not enough to win Lok Sabha seats.
  • Lalu Prasad Yadav is quite beleaguered in Bihar but Congress has come to his partial assistance by weaning away some upper-caste support from the NDA.
  • The BJP is doing spectacularly well in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
  • The Congress is the principal beneficiary of a split in anti-Congress votes between the BJP and BJD in Orissa. Naveen Patnaik's gamble may not pay off unless he stages a dramatic recovery in coastal Orissa in Phase-2.
  • UP remains a picture of fragmentation but the BJP appears to have performed remarkably well in Phase 1, dewspite low voting in the urban segments. The SP has suffered and the Congress is still not in a winning position. Mayawati is nNumber One in eastern UP.
  • Kerala appears to have gone the UDF way conclusively.

These are trends as deduced from the exit polls. They are not the last word on the subject.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Apologise to Gujarat

Earlier this morning a lawyer narrated to me the gist of the report by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court into the Gujarat riots investigations.

What I heard was shocking. Some of it has already appeared in a report by Thomas Abraham in The Pioneer. Some other dailies too have carried small reports of Teesta Setalvad's role in orchestrating a hysteria based on questionable and, perhaps, fabricated evidence. Some of the horror stories of pregnant women being disembowelled appear to have been the product of warped minds.

It is likely that the SIT report will find its way into the hands of the media by tonight. The question is: will it be published?

I hope so but some doubts linger. There is a convenient and self-serving mythology that has been built around the 2002 riots. It is part of the liberal consensus and an aspect of the political assault on the BJP and Narendra Modi. To now admit that this vilification was based on dubious information would be too much of a loss of face. The liberal establishment will rally to pretend nothing has changed.

As of today I have not seen the TV channels rush to Teesta to get her reaction. Maybe they will conclude that this story is nothing compared to the rantings of Ashoke Sahu in Kandhamal. After all, there is an election on.

I hope the people of Gujarat don't let this opportunity pass. For seven years the state has been demonised and painted as extraordinarily barbaric. The liberal establishment, the Left, the NGOs and the Congress are all guilty.

I hope Modi demands that all these people now apologise to the people of Gujarat and the people of India.

The riots in Gujarat were terrible. Let the real murderers be punished. Let the Supreme Court intervene to stop the political witch-hunt once and for all.

But first let's see how the media approaches this explosive SIT report.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Beautiful and angry

I write regular columns for a number of mainstream, mass-circulation dailies. If, in a column, I had openly appealed for support to any one candidate contesting the Lok Sabha poll, an editor would have contacted me and stated the newspaper's inability to print it. An article, it is understood in our profession, shouldn't be akin to an advertisement.

Yesterday's Sunday Times of India had Shobhaa De going overboard in her endorsement of banker Meera Sanyal who is contesting as an Independent from Mumbai South. Saturday's Mint also carried an endorsement of Sanyal. Other publications have given disproportionate publicity to Mallika Sarabhai who, it seems, is contesting from Gandhinagar merely to paint rival L.K. Advani as an "outsider"--a theme that should appeal naturally to Raj Thackeray.

It is well recognised by everyone that neither Sanyal nor Sarabhai are likely to win. I am doubtful if both of them will save their deposits. Eliciting mass support, it would seem, is not on the agenda of both these candidates. Yet, both have made a virtue of the fact that they are fringe players and that most voters will not trust them with their vote. Exclusivity may be a social virtue and a criterion for club membership but it doesn't suit public life in a democracy.

That the levels of sanctimoniousness is inversely proportional to public support is puzzling. But it is an indication of the disdain with which these beautiful people view their co-citizens. They are snobs in an arena where snobbery is at a discount.

I can understand the media viewing the likes of Sanyal and Sarabhai as expressions of light relief--in the same way as the British media used to view "Lord" Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. But when their candidature becomes a pretext to tell the "great unwashed" that they are ignorant fools, something stinks.

Politics is hard work, time consuming and requires a particular temperament. Would any of these candidates be able to spend countless hours interacting with people in inhospitable government offices and attending hundreds of marriages and funerals each year? Would they like their privacy to be invaded at odd hours by pesky constituents?

OK, if policy interventions are what separates national politics from parish pump issues, where has Sanyal distinguished herself? Her priorities seem distinctly municipal. Why, for that matter, doesn't Sarabhai contest on an anti-Narmada, anti-Modi plank instead of going on and on about Advani's "outsider" status? And, if she is so much of a rooted Ahmedabad woman, why has she appealed to "outsiders" from JNU to come and campaign for her? Are local people repelled by her "old money" disdain for the parvenu?

An election is an occasion for many social games. We are witnessing a strange intervention founded on high media exposure and low public acceptability.

I am not complaining. Sanyal and Sarabhai are adding to the versatility of a democratic system they implicitly abhor.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Varun is a distraction

Last night, Times Now telecast a fascinating interview with Narendra Modi. Unlike many BJP leaders who end up scoring self-goals, Modi was focussed and was not deterred by Arnab's attempt to sound aggressive. In fact, Modi dominated the show from start to finish.

One facet of the interview that struck me was the deftness with which Modi skirted the Varun Gandhi controversy. When asked the question he merely replied that the issue was sub-judice.

Modi is a canny politician. He is willing to talk at length on the IPL controversy but he insists on stonewalling questions on Varun. Why?

The reasons are obvious. Modi knows full well that the Varun issue has derailed the BJP campaign. The BJP wanted to make the UPA's record of misgovernance the theme of the election; the Congress and the secular media are delighted that Varun is the eye of the storm.

Of course, this is not to condone the arbitrary use of the National Security Act against Varun. Mayawati's response has been disproportionate to the alleged offence.

That point needs to be made but it is important that the BJP gets back its focus fast.

My earlier blog "The Varun tapes" elicited many hostile comments. I believe many of those were emotional responses centred on secularist double-standards. I don't disagree with the fact that Varun is being hounded because he speaks in a Hindu idiom. (It is tasteless all the same).

An emotional Hindu response is precisely what the secular lobby wants. They want to divert attention from the most vulnerable part of the Congress--its shoddy record of governance.

The Varun issue will be resolved in court. His election prospects will not be jeopardised if he happens to be in prison till polling day.

Let's get back to the issues that suit us.

Think strategically, not emotionally and in anger.

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