Making poll forecasts is a hazardous exercise best left to psephologists. Speculating on post-poll politics is even dicier. And yet, the critical phase of transition through which India is passing makes forethought imperative. Can the coming poll prove to be a turning point in India's transition? Circumstances suggest it can, but not in the manner that most politicians hope.
Four factors suggest that post-poll India could be poised for a paradigm shift. First, this election will likely have the heaviest turnout, with the largest youth percentage. This spells unprecedented voter involvement. The election itself is being fought on trivia bereft of real national issues. After elections high public expectations could plunge to acute frustration.
Secondly, some recent events suggest the distinct possibility of the Congress tally not exceeding a hundred. If that happens will the Dynasty survive as its centre of power? If it does not, will the Congress survive without the dynasty as its rallying point? For six decades and even earlier the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has held the Congress in its palm. This created a mindset and a debilitating culture that has over the years afflicted the entire political class. If the Dynasty ceases to call the shots the Congress to survive will have to reinvent itself. Mr. Rahul Gandhi reportedly is thinking on the lines of reviving the party as a single national force through work at the grassroots. That is a very long haul that would make the Congress of little relevance to the current challenges facing the nation. For the immediate the demise of the Congress would profoundly affect political attitudes in all parties.
Thirdly, by present indications post-poll India might well get its most fractured Parliament. That could spell weak governance, confused direction and instability. Even if the NDA succeeds in getting the highest tally, the several self-goals shot by the BJP make Mr. LK Advani's choice as next PM exceedingly doubtful. The party's endorsement of Mr. Varun Gandhi might have helped consolidate the hold on its traditional vote bank. It might also have fatally isolated it from all potential allies required to form a coalition government. The allies might demand a price, and the Prime Minister's chair could be it.
Fourthly, the events across the border suggest the increasing possibility of an impending crisis of such magnitude that could overwhelm a weak Indian government unable to summon an effective response. The recent cross border incursion by terrorists in Kashmir that led to the death of 8 soldiers provides clear indication that while a part of the Pakistan establishment is unwilling to change, the rest is unable to change. The disclosure by The New York Times quoting official sources saying that there is continuing and deep complicity of the ISI with terrorists dashes the last hope of Pakistan abandoning adventurism. It is undeniable that the Obama administration appears to be quite out of its depth on how to handle its so-called ally in the war on terror. Therefore little hope should be placed on it. But Pakistan can implode. The different sections of society within it are incompatible. And there is no force in sight with the will and purpose to neutralize Pakistan's self-destructive elements.
How would the possible disintegration of Pakistan affect India? It is common to hear stupid and thoughtless chatter that the destruction of Pakistan would be welcome. But if Pakistan were to break up, what then? Who would pick up its pieces? Do armchair strategists have the faintest idea about how India in that dreadful situation could safeguard its security? Or would they be complacent about some big power wielding final authority in Lahore and Karachi? Could a weak Indian government effectively face up to the challenge militarily and diplomatically?
All these trends suggest that after the election a paradigm change cannot be ruled out. The situation could make the need for a strong government imperative. Poll trends indicate the emergence of a weak government unavoidable. Something will have to give. Already business is feeling the heat of bad governance. The demands for black money funds by political parties during the current poll campaign add to its woes. Little wonder that Tata Communication Chairman Subodh Bhargava is already favoring a switch to the presidential form of government. After this general election the political situation and the public mood may impel very serious rethinking.