General Elections earlier than the scheduled timing of the first half of 2009 has been an active talking point in India's political circles for nearly a year. This speculation was fuelled by the stream of ultimatums emanating from the ruling Congress Party coalition partners threatening to withdraw support on every conceivable issue and bring about the fall of the Congress-led Government. Leading the pack more actively has been the Leftists combine led by the CPI(M).
Despite the brouhaha that they create on this count neither the Leftists combine nor the coalition partners of the Congress like the RJD, DMK etc have the political courage to exit power. The Congress itself is unsure of whether it can return to power. The Leftists are smug in exercising political control over the Government without accountability having a plausible exit strategy that they are not part of the Government. They too are uncertain along with the other coalition parties of the Congress that they can retain even the present number of seats that they hold in Parliament. All in all the Congress Government and its coalition parties would like to ride out their full tenure in power.
Unless some unforeseen dramatic political development takes place the next General Election in India seems set to take place in 2009 only. But then even if the General Elections take place in 2009 only, the fact is that it is just about a year left in the run-up to them and it really is not that much time left. It therefore becomes appropriate to survey India's political scene as it presents itself today.
The first to get off the block in terms of gearing itself for the forthcoming General Elections has been the major Opposition Party, the BJP. Having resolved their inner-party leadership issue they have named Shri L K Advani as their Prime Ministerial candidate and to fight the Elections under his leadership. The BJP could have also named their 'Shadow Cabinet' as was recommended in an earlier Column of mine. There is a whole line-up of competent and tried BJP leaders who should be projected for all the important ministerial portfolios as part of their 'Shadow Government'. This would give the BJP a big political edge over the Congress Party and add to its image of having both talent and political competence within its ranks.
The BJP however, has not fully got into a pro-active election-mode. With just about a year left in the run-up, the BJP as the main Opposition Party should have been a bee-hive of political activity especially in the States which it intends to re-capture from the Congress and whose loss in the last Elections led to its exit from power.
The Congress is a party dominated by a single political dynasty and does not have many politically talented people in its ranks. Once again the Congress Party the way it is structured would have to depend on the Gandhi dynasty duo of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to garner votes. They have not and further shy away from naming any Prime Ministerial candidate like the BJP. The strategy seems to be following a dual-track approach with the Congress leaders clamoring that Rahul Gandhi should be the next Prime Minister and the dynasty denying any such ambitions. In terms of feverish political preparations Rahul Gandhi seems to be concentrating heavily on the under-developed regions of Uttar Pradesh like Bundelkhand and tribal areas of Orissa and Central India.
There seems to be an underlying strategy in this pattern which seems to rest on a number of political considerations. Firstly it is easier to draw attention to the neglect of these areas by non-Congress Governments ruling in such States forgetting that Congress too is responsible for the neglected state. Secondly, it is easier to draw large crowds in such poor areas for Congress political meetings. Thirdly, the calculation seems to be that in such areas the iconic appeal of the dynasty may be much larger.
But there is a negative deduction that emerges here and that is that the Gandhi dynasty may have lost its political iconic appeal in urban and developed areas of India and therefore are politically concentrating on such backward areas.
The Congress seems to be taking very seriously the political threat that Shri Advani poses by the BJP naming him the Prime Ministerial candidate. The Congress Party seems to be in an overdrive to single out Shri Advani as the main target of their political attacks in the run-up to the Elections in a bid to erode his political credibility.
The Leftists despite their hold on West Bengal and Kerala do not seem to be destined to even retain the sixty odd seats that they occupy in Parliament presently. In an India which is economically resurgent today and where affluence is becoming a way of life, the Communists are not likely to offer much political appeal.
The regional parties like the RJD and the DMK who because of the coalition arithmetic received disproportionate political importance from the Congress do not seem to be returning back with the same clout.
India's political scene however is pervaded heavily by the uncertain political tilt of Ms Mayawati who swept into political power in Uttar Pradesh on the strength of a new political formula of adding economically weaker upper castes to her Dalit captive vote banks. This was covered in an earlier Column on her success.
Her party the BSP with its new political formula could double the number of seats that she holds in Parliament and this could be at the cost of both the Congress and the BJP. She could become a vital 'swing factor' for both the Congress and the BJP in case of a hung Parliament.
Ultimately, one needs to remember that the Congress and the BJP are the two major political parties of India and the results of the 2009 General Elections would revolve around their respective overall showings and the yearning of the Indian people for a strong leadership capable of leading a growingly nationalistic resurgent India without the delusional mindsets of non-alignment and minority vote-banks appeasement.