Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Revisiting 1996?

Elections are rightly called the dance of democracy. Nothing captures the change of dynamics in a democracy better than elections. Right from local elections to general elections, it is a game of 'join the dots'. The elections is few states have just concluded and also we have crossed the half-term mark of UPA2. What better time than this to play a political pandit and see how things are shaping up for next general elections in 2014.

Let's take a electoral tour of India, as we try and see how parties are faring in various elections since 2009. Starting with states with more number of LS seats.

Recently concluded elections in UP showed how SP and BSP have literally squeezed out the national parties BJP and Cong in the state. While for BJP, the worry is that it is unable to take an upward turn from 15-16% where it has been stuck since 2007 Assembly polls. So it should plateau at around 10 seats if it does not improve it's leadership or fields winnable candidates in 2014. But for Congress, it is a matter of worry because UP gave it atleast 10 more seats in 2009 than expected. In current scenario, highly unlikely that they can cross 5 seats. It would be safe to assume that SP and BSP should share the remaining 65 seats (40 and 25 respectively)

A lot has changed in Maharashtra since Assembly 2009 and LS 2009. While NCP has either managed or grown it's rural base, Congress has been a laggard in both rural and urban centres. It has lost badly in local body polls. NCP while growing in rural areas, seems to have hit a plateau in urban centres. BJP on other hand has improved its standing in Vidarbha and also in most urban centres. Shiv Sena on other hand has been on a downward spiral except in the urban centres. MNS is slowly and steadily occupying the space that Shiv Sena is vacating. But the real game changer in Maharashtra are the RPI (Athawle group) alliance with BJP and SS and the tacit understanding between BJP-SS and MNS before and post local elections. In 2009, BJP-SS had lost nearly 10 seats due to MNS. 2014 won't be the same. Also I see NCP contesting independently. I see BJP-SS-RPI improving majorly under current scenario with NCP marginally improving. MNS should make it's debut in Parliament with a couple of seats. Congress seems to be losing touch with ground reality in Maharashtra and could end up in single digits.

Andhra Pradesh
AP has seen a huge churning since 2009. Jagan's exit and subsequent showing in by-polls has pushed Congress to merge PRP with it while Telengana movement has led to massive political changes. Not only has Congress lost by-polls in AP, it has lost them badly with TRS continuing it's grip over the region. TDP on other hand seems to be dealing with internal demons as of now. In last 2 general elections, Congress win was powered by its showing in AP. Seems next to impossible for it to repeat it until and unless they do both, merge Jagan's party and ally with TRS. Highly unlikely. TDP can surely hope to do better and tap the double incumbency. This is where I feel Congress losing seats and regional players (Jagan, TRS, TDP) gaining a few.

West Bengal
Now this state will be a tricky one. Not only is Mamata having a rocky start to her tenure as CM but her relation with the Congress are bad at the best. Does not seem Left Parties have picked up steam after it's last defeat. And Congress still is dependent on TMC. Mamata and Congress had more or less peaked out in last elections. So there are chances that while Mamata could still hold onto her seats or lose a couple, Left Parties should pick up seats in Cong areas and increase its tally. Given the nature of relation between Mamata and Congress, I think it safer to think she will be scouting for alliances in 2014

The most spoken about state when it comes to how people defy traditional logic. Also it seems Bihar's love affair with JD-U and BJP is still not over. Also the RJD and LJP have failed to recover from the string of defeats. As for Congress, it really looks an uncared child. Looks like they are squandering away whatever chance they have of occupying the space once taken by RJD. While JD-U and BJP had done exceedingly well in 2009 and looks set to repeat it as of now, some local MP level anti-incumbency could cost them a few seats to RJD. But nothing alarming.

Tamil Nadu
A Dravidian party is always in centre irrespective of who rules. And I don't think that rule will change in 2014. AIADMK and DMK will possibly fight elections independently and share seats. Post elections they could gravitate towards one or the other front depending on the 'value'. AIADMK is more likely to go with NDA but with maverick Jaya, you never know.

Madhya Pradesh
MP for long is now as BJP bastion. It's performance in 2009 LS polls was quite disappointing considering it ducked anti-incumbency in 2008. Some seats lost were facing same MP fatigue as losing MPs were multiple times winner from those seats. Interestingly SP did well in LS 2009 in MP and now being in power in UP, could shock Congress in the border areas. As of now, looking at absence of any major wave for or against, one could bet on a status-quo or a few seats more for BJP in 2014 with Congress losing some.

The Lotus state in south. While BJP has faced troubled both within and outside, it has not impacted its performance in the by-polls. It has won most of the by-polls in last 3 years. Reason could be lacklustre leadership of Congress and the utter nepotism of JD-S. A lot will depend on how these parties gear up for next Assembly elections in 2008. If the BJP internal bickering is taken care of and governance put on a good track, Karnataka should give BJP 20 MPs in 2014. Else it is back to the 10-14 figures where it was earlier.

The NaMo land. While one can safely say this is a BJP fort for years gone and more to come, it's contribution to BJP's LS kitty has been very poor in 2004 and 2014 compared to the 90s. In the 90s right from 1991, for 4 elections, Gujarat sent more than 20 MPs for the BJP, twice even 25. In last 2 elections, the figure is down to 15. The reason behind this needs to be analysed. For 2014, BJP should try and change the trend back to 90s and increase it's tally instead of being at constant 15 level.

In 2009 LS, Rajasthan was another state which sent a big contingent of MPs for Congress. BJP still smarting under the loss in Assembly then was left with just 5 seats. Much has changed since then. On one hand, Congress government has serious image issues, on the other BJP under Vasundhra Raje is making a smart recovery. Much would depend on how both perform in Assembly polls in 2013 end. But for now safe to look at BJP gaining lot of seats at the expense of the Congress.

For the other states with less than 20 seats, here is my view:

Kerala seems to be happy with Congress as of now and hence it should not have much trouble getting a lion's share of the seats in LS. Orissa is where Congress could make smart gains due to rising unpopularity of Biju Patnaik government. Last time BJD swept the polls but could be vice versa now with Congress and BJD swapping seats and BJP winning a couple. Congress should also hold on to Assam due to absence of any credible opposition. Haryana could surprise the Congress which swept it last time. But going will be very tough as seen from the LS by-poll is Hisar. BJP with Kuldeep Bishnoi is making smart inroads and could win more seats come 2014. Punjab too could witness the same. With SAD-BJP bucking anti-incumbency, am sure it has learnt its lessons and could win more than 5 it won last time. Delhi is there for BJP to sweep if it picks candidates carefully. Dreadfully out of MP race in Delhi for 2 terms, corrupt Sheila regima has given enough reason for BJP to return with a bang. Jharkhand which went in favour of BJP should this time highly likely that BJP will have to share seats with Congress. I would put both parties at even. Chattishgarh is another place where BJP is ruling for 2nd term now. Nothing seems to have gone wrong for the party there yet and should continue it's strong showing. For rest of the states, I see BJP and Congress winning equal seats in J and K, HP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Congress sharing with regional players in North East.

Talking of parties and fronts, one can see that in 2009, Congress peaked out in a few states and is slipping big there while holding on in couple of smaller ones. For the BJP, 2009 was one of its weakest campaigns in 2 decades. Hence it could not maximise even in its bastions. Now its on a path to steady recovery. But while one can see Congress losing major ground and BJP gaining some ground, it is not enough to replace it completely. Hence part of the vaccum is being filled by a group of regional players and left front. Since in TN, WB, AP, UP, Bihar there are more than one regional players, one player will move towards so-called 3rd Front while another will inch towards BJP or Congress, depending on who is in a better position. As of today BJP is surely better placed and so one could see a bigger NDA during and after LS polls.

Coming to the 3rd front, it always needs a strong fulcrum, this time it could be SP which could be a central figure. Add to it a Left, NCP, DMK or AIADMK, Jagan or TDP or TRS, RJD, BJD and one gets a stronger alliance than UPA.

So if I have to be a political pandit for a while and take my picks for LS2014, I will say NDA largest alliance , 3rd front second largest and Congress in a supporting role for 3rd front post elections if needed. Reminded of 1996, aren't you?