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Analysis of the 4th list of BJP – Part 1: The UP 53

BJP came up with its 4th list of candidates for the LS polls over the weekend and it looks like finally the jigsaw is falling in its place. As would be the case with any political party, especially the frontrunner, there is some amount of heart burn among those who have been denied a ticket to fight elections, but overall BJP seems to have avoided any major mishaps. For an antagonistic media and the intellectual class who were pinning their last hopes on a big fight erupting in the saffron camp vis-à-vis Sushma Swaraj-Murli Manohar Joshi v/s the new BJP, were left disappointed. Even minor acrimony in the form of Kalraj Mishra-Lalji Tandon types didn’t arise, so the newspapers started reporting names like former MLA, Ram Iqbal Singh and Nawal Kishore Yadav etc. who are not recognizable even within their own constituencies – such is the precipice of the intellectual falling down.

There is one clear pattern that is emerging from the BJP ticket distribution this time, that there is no pattern at all! For instance, in Bihar’s first list of 20 odd names, there were as many as 9 new entrants, but hardly 4 names out of 53 announced in UP can be termed as outsiders. What does this tell us? BJP is looking purely at electoral math independent to each state rather than working on any single political philosophy. Thus if bringing outside talent suits the political environment prevailing in Bihar, then a pro-BJP wave in UP only helps core ideological elements rather than turncoats. This “winnability being the sole criteria” will hold the party in good stead in the summer of 2014 notwithstanding whatever minor acrimonies are as of today.

There is one surprisingly negative aspect to BJP’s ticket distribution though – it seems the party somehow doesn’t have the same clarity in the smaller north-western states (the Punjab-Jammu belt) as in the heartland (UP-Bihar region). As it is the Jammu shenanigans has already become famous, now BJP seems to have made a mess in Punjab and parts of Haryana too. Will these small bits and pieces hurt BJP, or will the larger picture camouflage these minor indiscretions remains to be seen.

Uttar Pradesh

The 53 names announced from UP are a unique balancing act that has Amit-Shah and Rajnath Singh written all over it (there are some reports suggesting that the western part of the state had that latter’s imprint while the eastern parts were left to the former). Could this list have been better? The answer to that question would always be yes, but then the nature of elections is such that trade-offs are simply unavoidable. The bottom line is that this probably is the best possible list of 53 names that the party could have come up with under the circumstances. Now let us analyse UP as four sub-regions, for Uttar Pradesh is literally a country within a country.

Purvanchal

This is the Bhojpuri heartland of eastern Uttar Pradesh which shares its socio-cultural moorings with western Bihar (the Buxar-Champaran belt) which was historically ruled by Kashi Naresh (the emperor of Benares) with the oldest city in the world, Varnasi as its capital. Purvanchal is not only made up of 23 LS seats of Uttar Pradesh but also influences a dozen LS seats of western Bihar. Thus with a chunk of 35 MPs, the political importance of this region can never be overestimated. Amit Shah, the trusted lieutenant of Modi and in-charge of UP affairs, had realized long ago that winning Purvanchal would be the key to mission 2014 so he was always clear about BJP’s prime ministerial nominee contesting from this region. Although there is no real data to prove that a popular leader contesting in a particular region makes any difference to the party’s eventual seat tally, what cannot be denied at all is that Modi’s contest from here has immensely enthused ordinary workers.

Varanasi: Narendra Bhai Damodardas Modi, BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, will be contesting from the oldest city of the world. BJP has three sitting MLAs in Varanasi North, South and Cantonment assembly segments, which have total voters of about 12 lakh plus. Assuming 60% voting at least, roughly 7 lakh Varanasi city voters (of all the three assembly segments) should go out to vote on the 12th of May as Varanasi will go to polls on the last day of polling. Our current conservative estimates based on ground reports (not on actual survey) suggest that BJP and Modi should take an almost unassailable lead by getting around 4 lakh votes (out of 7 lakh possible turnout in the city). There are roughly 7 lakh voters in the two other Kurmi dominated assembly segments of Rohaniya and Sevapuri. The Kurmis, like any other OBCs in the heartland have tremendous goodwill for NaMo, so BJP should once again get anywhere about 2-3 lakh votes in these two assembly segments put together, assuming a turnout range of 55-60%. In the 2009 LS polls, BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi had won this seat by a margin of 17k after securing 2 lakh+ votes. This time we are projecting that Modi could get anywhere between 5 to 6 lakh votes and win this seat easily with a margin of 3-5 lakhs, no matter who contests against him. Rating: Super Positive

Salempur: Ravindra Kushwaha has been given the party ticket from this Kushwaha dominated seat in a strategically brilliant move, for he happens to be the son of Hari Kewal Sharma, a four time Samajwadi Party MP from Salempur. Former PM, Chandrashekhar’s son Pankaj Shekhar was eyeing this seat, but BJP seems to have kept only winnability as the criteria in deciding the candidature. There has been some resentment among BJP leaders like Ram Iqbal Singh about ticket being given to a new inductee, but most of these leaders are well past their sell-by dates. Rating: Positive

Bhadohi: Virendra Singh Mast, a product of the Ayodhya movement and twice MP during the 90s from neighbouring Mirzapur, has once again been resurrected by the party despite him losing 1999 and 2004 LS polls and even failing to save deposit in a by-election from Ballia necessitated by the death of former PM Chandrashekhar. Many see his candidature as a wasted opportunity, but the fact is that Virendra Singh still has clout and has a decent chance of emerging victorious in a close three cornered fight between BJP, SP and BSP, especially because he has been working on the ground for the last couple of years. With the prevailing Modi wave in this region, BJP should manage to take this seat, where it had finished a distant fifth in 2009 behind parties like Apna Dal, but the 4 lakh plus Brahmin votes will be crucial for the party in the end analysis. Rating: Average

Chandauli: Here the contest is mainly between SP and BSP, BJP has nominated ex-MLA, Mahendranath Pandey who has the dubious distinction of getting only 57k votes and finishing fifth in Badohi in 2009. Only a massive Modi wave can potentially cause a miraculous victory for BJP here. Rating: Negative

Jaunpur: Former minister Umanath Singh’s son K.P. Singh has been given the party ticket from this important upper caste bastion in a move that has surprised many observers. Here BSP’s Dhananjay Singh (sitting MP), who is widely seen as a sort of Rajput Robinhood was ahead in the race until now. Can K.P. Singh recapture this seat? There are two X factors that will decide BJP’s fate here – 1) Swami Chinmayanand, a former minister of state for Home in the Vajpayee government and four time MP (including Jaunpur in 1999) can create mischief for BJP although his clout has decreased considerably over the last decade and 2) support of local BJP leaders like Seema Dwivedi, the Mungra-Badshahpur MLA and 2009 MP contestant who is upset at being denied ticket this time. Congress has nominated popular Bhojpuri Superstar, Ravi Kishen from this seat who may also dent the ‘secular’ votes adding drama to the contest. Rating: Average

Machhlishahr: Former Apna Dal leader Ram Charitra Nishad has been nominated from here. This constituency will see a three cornered fight between SP, BSP and BJP, in which sitting MP Toofani Saroj of SP seems to have an edge. BJP can still win this seat if it can get the crucial support of Khateek voters who seem to be shifting allegiances in the 2014 polls. Rating: Below Average

Azamgarh: Sitting MP Ramakant Yadav who has won this seat thrice since 1999 on three different party tickets has been re-nominated by the BJP. Ground reports suggest that there is considerable local level anti-incumbency against Mr Yadav, especially among the upper caste Rajput community. He is still considered as “Yadavon ka sher” in Azamgarh though. There is also deep polarization among Muslims in this constituency who are backing SP to the hilt here. If Mulayam Singh contests from this seat then it could be almost a single horse race, otherwise BJP can make a fight of it, but this is a difficult seat for the party to retain. Rating: Below Average

Roberstganj (SC): This is a seat where BJP still has definite presence as a party, but Chhotelal Kharwar has been given the party ticket much against the wishes of party cadre. There is a great deal of anti-incumbency against the non-performing Pakauri Lal Kol, the sitting MP of Samajwadi Party, but since BJP’s ticket here has left a lot to desire, this is now a three cornered fight that needs massive groundwork by the cadre to win. Rating: Average

Ghosi: Former minister Harinarain Rajbhar who had joined SP a few years ago only to return back to the saffron fold has been given ticket here. He used to represent Siar assembly seat in Ballia district during the 90s but had lost out after delimitation and was waiting for long to resurrect his defunct political career. It seems to be a calculated risk taken by Amit Shah to give ticket to Rajbhar instead of other contenders like Vijay Pratap Singh. Thakur votes will be crucial here and Modi wave may come to BJP’s aid. Rating: Average

Ballia: Bharat Singh is again one of those who is part of the “deadwood” of the BJP who had lost even the assembly election in 2012 by a big margin. This is a seat where Neeraj Shekhar (former PM Chandrashekhar’s son) still holds sway and it is unlikely that he would be defeated this time too. Rating: Negative

Gorakhpur: Yogi Adityanath had improved his victory margin from 1.5 lakhs in 2004 to 2 lakh+ in 2009, the guess is that he may double that margin this time with much higher turnouts expected. Rating: Super Positive

Bansgaon: This is again one of the strength areas of BJP where Yogi Adityanath wields influence and Kamlesh Paswan, the sitting BJP MP, has made his own in the last few years. As of today Paswan is ahead in all the 5 assembly segments with massive leads in Chauri-Chaura and Rudrapur areas. Rating: Positive

Lalganj: Neelam Sonkar has once again been given the BJP ticket to take on BSP’s Baliram. Sonkar who had lost the previous encounter by less than 40k votes is much stronger this time, and so is the BJP. As of today BJP is ahead in Nizamabad, Phoolpur-Pawai and Lalganj assembly segments, but the only problem area for the party and Sonkar is Atrauliya assembly segment as of now. Rating: Positive

Deoria: Kalraj Mishra has got the ticket from here much to the heartburn of former state unit president, Surya Pratap Shahi, whose supporters have even burnt effigies of Rajnatah Singh. This time BJP has an edge in this seat but a lot depends on how much support Kalraj Mishra will get from the local leaders of the BJP, especially the likes of two-time MP Prakashmani Tripathi and Surya Pratap Shahi. If BJP leaders and workers bury their differences (especially along Thakur-Brahmin fault-lines) then this is a sure-shot seat for the party, or else BJP will have to struggle to cross the finish line. BJP is ahead of its rivals in Deoria town, Pathardeva and Rampur Karkhana areas, but the problem areas are Fazlinagar and Tamkuhi Raj assembly segments. Rating: Positive

Maharajganj: This is the rare eastern-UP seat that Congress had won in 2009, but BJP has nominated Pankaj Chaudhary once again – he is a 4 time MP from here. This time again old warhorse Pankaj Chaudhary has an edge, especially as the sitting Congress MP has been a big under-performer. Recent recruits R.K. Misra and Prem Sagar Patel (formerly BSP) who were expecting an MP ticket from here could create some problems for Pankaj Chaudhary, but it is still quite difficult to see BJP losing this seat. Rating: Positive

Basti: This is one of the baffling decisions of the party, for Harish Dwivedi, who had not only lost the 2012 assembly election from Basti town by a margin of over 20k, but had also finished 3rd has been given BJP ticket. This is a seat which is usually given to Thakurs, so it is even more baffling that BJP has made such a poor choice. It is said among some circles that BJP president Rajnath Singh has scuttled the chances of many Thakur ticket seekers which has created all this mess. There was talk of Fateh Bahadur Singh getting the ticket from here which would have been a far better choice for the party. Rating: Negative

Western UP

This politically significant Jatland shares its demographics with Haryana, parts of eastern Rajasthan and outer Delhi. 5 of 10 BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh came from out of these 27 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 election. BJP has announced 18 names in this region and is yet to decide on the remaining 9. With roughly 22-25% of the population, Jats are the most important political group of this region. Muzaffarnagar riots and the consequent polarization had made this one of the most favourable zones for the BJP, but there is some amount of heartburn among Jats because of ticket distribution. But the fact is that most Jat voters have already made up their mind to support BJP and the party has done a decent job of ticket distribution to keep all the other ethnic subgroups happy.

Muzaffarnagar: Of all the contenders in the fray for this very significant seat, BJP has chosen possibly the best man to represent the party instead of rabble rousers like Sangeet Som, which has sent a clear message that Modi’s agenda is one of development. Dr Sanjiv Baliyan, agricultural scientist is an emerging Jat icon and represents the suave face of Jat politics who talk of ideas to solve problems rather than simply create violent agitations. Dr Baliyan has the potential to be a new age Chaudhary Charan Singh in the next few years and create a dynamic shift in the socio-political landscape of Jats, which surely augurs well for the BJP. This is a seat that BJP will win with a thumping lead. Rating: Super Positive

Kairana: Again the choice was simply clear, Hukum Singh, the sitting MLA and a towering Gujjar leader who was seen as playing a major role in not only keeping the Hindus united but also calming the nerves by talking peace during the Muzaffarnagar riots. This should again give BJP an easy victory here. Rating: Positive

Saharanpur: Sitting MLA of Saharanpur, Raghav Lakhan Pal has been given the ticket from here which is a decent choice, notwithstanding the fact that sitting MP Jagadish Rana of the BSP was interested in BJP ticket. In the polarized atmosphere prevailing in this region, BJP should take this seat. Rating: Positive

Bijnor: Advocate Rajendra Singh has been nominated as BJP candidate here, but Kunwar Bharatendra Singh, the sitting MLA of Bijnor would have been a far better choice. Now it is almost a three cornered fight between BSP, BJP and RLD (especially after RLD nominated actress Jayaprada from here) with Chandpur, Hatinapur and Meerapur assembly segments holding the key. As of today, BSP seems to have an edge in this three-cornered battle. Rating: Below Average

Moradabad: Kunwar Sarvesh Singh of the Thakurdwara-Bilari royal family, a Bahubali of western UP and 5 time MLA of Thakurdwara has been re-nominated from this seat where he had lost to Mohammad Azharuddin by about 50k votes in 2009. This time BJP has a big lead in Thakurdwara, Barhapur and Moradabad town assembly segments which should help Mr Singh to easily sail through from this constituency. As Congress, which had won the previous election, has nominated Rampur royalty Noor Bano, there is a definite possibility of a split in minority votes between Congress and BSP giving BJP a clear edge. Rating: Positive

Rampur: With two time MP, Jayaprada shifting party and LS seat, there is a wave for change in this parliamentary constituency where BJP has nominated Naipal Singh, MLC. This is Azam Khan territory, where former UP CM Kalyan Singh still holds sway due to significant presence of Lodh votes. In a polarized atmosphere where Lodh votes are back to the saffron camp in a big way, BJP may win this seat from under Azam Khan’s nose. There was a section within BJP which was demanding ticket for Muqtar Abbas Naqvi, which would have been simply disastrous for the party, but Amit Shah and team seem to have once again kept “winnability” criteria on top. Rating: Average

Meerut: Rajendra Agarwal, sitting MP, has been re-nominated from here. With Congress nominee, actress Nagma being virtually out of contest even with RLD support, the main fight here would be between BJP and BSP. BSP will likely get the support of Muslims and a large section of Dalits, whereas BJP should get full support of Jats, OBCs and more importantly the upper-caste votes (which went to BSP in large numbers even in 2009). BJP is enjoying a clear lead in the three segments of Meerut (North, South and Cantt.) along with Hapur assembly segment, so it is advantage Mr Agarwal. Rating: Positive

Baghpat: Although a better candidate like say, Shahendra Singh Ramala, could have possibly made the BJP’s cause easier, but in the end analysis, former Mumbai top-cop, Satyapal Singh could be a giant killer here. History has shown us that usually it is the members of educated civil society who stand a better chance against established names in difficult electoral contests. Although Ajit Singh was on a back-foot after Muzaffarnagar, he seems to have regained some of the lost ground due to Jat reservation and Rakesh Tikait’s joining of RLD. This is now an almost equal contest with probably even a slight edge to Ajit Singh. Modi Nagar, Baghpat town and Siwal Khas assembly segments probably hold the key this time around. Rating: Average

Gautam Buddh Nagar and Bulandshahr (SC): BJP has nominated Dr Mahesh Sahrama and Dr Bhola Singh respectively from these constituencies and both are on a very strong wicket. BJP had lost Gautam Buddh Nagar narrowly last time by 15k votes and has re-nominated its sitting MLA from Noida. This time the party has significant leads in Noida, Khurja and Sikandrabad assembly segments, so it should be a much easier task to win. Similarly in Bulandshahr where Debai assembly segment had cost the party dearly last time, there is a big lead for BJP this time around. Rating: Positive

Aligarh and Firozabad: Both are difficult seats for BJP as Satish Gautam may find the going tough for himself and the party in Aligarh where Congress and BSP seem to be in a direct fight. Similarly, in Firozabad, three time MP, S.P Singh Baghel has been nominated by BJP, but he is facing a very tough battle against Akshay Yadav, Mulayam’s nephew and son of Ram Gopal Yadav. Rating: Below Average

Agra: Sitting MP of BJP, Dr Ramashankar Katheriya, has definite advantage from Agra so he has been re-nominated. Etmadpur and Jalesar assembly segments hold the key, for BJP seems to be reasonably ahead in two out of three Agra town assembly segments (North and South). In Jalesar, S.P. Singh Baghel still holds significant clout which may help BJP much in the upcoming polls. Rating: Positive

Mainpuri: It really doesn’t matter whom the BJP nominates, for this is Mulayam Singh Yadav stronghold and SP will likely win it again with a big margin. Rating: Negative

Etah: If Mainpuri belongs to Mulayam Singh, Etah is Kalyan Singh territory, so Rajvir Singh, his son is virtually undefeatable from here. Rating: Positive

Aonla, Bareilly and Philibit: Dharmendra Kashyap, Santosh Gangwar and Maneka Gandhi have been nominated from these seats. All three are stalwarts in their own right and are expected to win these seats easily for the BJP. Rating: Positive

Awadh

The central Uttar Pradesh region which had stopped supporting BJP for some time now, evidenced by the fact that BJP’s lone MP from entire Awadh region came from Lucknow in 2009, is once again looking towards the saffron camp with hope. Can BJP recreate its old magic is the million dollar question.

Lucknow: BJP president Rajnath Singh will be contesting from this party stronghold, which was once represented by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. BJP hasn’t lost this seat in close to 25 years, since 1991, so this is considered as a “safe seat” for the party. The only new X factor this time is that the last 5 BJP victories from here have come from Brahmin candidates, whereas this time a Thakur is contesting from here on the party ticket. In fact, this seat has been an unofficial Brahmin reserved constituency where Brahmins have always won it since 1971, except for a very low turnout 1989 election. Despite this history, Rajnath Singh is expected to win this seat by a big margin. Rating: Super Positive

Kanpur: Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, veteran BJP leader and possibly the tallest standing Brahmin face after Vajpayee has been allocated this urban seat which Congress had won in the previous three elections through Sriprakash Jaiswal. This seat should once again see a straight fight between BJP and Congress with others vying for a distant third position (including AAP). Congress as a party and Mr Jaiswal himself personally are both facing huge anti-incumbency so it is advantage Joshi here. Rating: Positive

Sultanpur: In a very good move, BJP has shifted Varun Gandhi to this Nehru-Gandhi loyalist seat. Here he is not only expected to win, but win big, especially now that Sanjay Singh has moved to the Rajya Sabha. Though Sanjay Singh’s wife Amita Singh is contesting on the Congress ticket from here, she might not be able to challenge Varun Gandhi. Of the 18% Brahmins, 27% OBCs, 6% Thakurs and even 24% Dalits, Varun will likely get a lion’s share of the votes, while the 21% Muslim votes may get divided between Congress and Shakeel Ahmed of SP. Varun Gandhi’s roadshows and Nukkad public meetings are attracting huge crowds, indicating which way the wind is blowing. Rating: Super Positive

Kheri: Ajay Mishra has been repeated by the BJP in a calculated risk by the party managers. He is the sitting MLA of Nighasan where he is likely to get a big lead of 30k+ (he had got a 20k vote lead even in 2009 LS polls). There is a huge vote polarization along religious lines here and since Congress and BSP have both fielded Muslims and SP has re-nominated Ravi Prakash Verma, BJP stands a decent chance of causing an upset victory. If Ajay Mishra manages to get leads in at least 2 out of three other assembly segments of Palia, Gola Gokrannath and Lakimpur, then BJP will be in the game. Rating: Average

Sitapur: Another of the Kurmi dominated seats where BJP has nominated Rajesh Verma, a new entrant to the party who was a two time MP from here on a BSP ticket and still holds considerable sway. This is a difficult seat for BJP to win, but in a multi-cornered fight with a Modi wave coupled with the personal hold of Mr Verma can help the party. Rating: Below Average

Hardoi: Usha Verma of the Samajwadi Party, who is also the sitting MP, has strong pockets of influence in this parliamentary seat and also there are hardly any negatives against her. BJP has bungled up by nominating Anshul Verma here, so SP has a clear advantage. Rating: Negative

Misrikh: BJP has nominated a very strong Smt Anju Bala for this reserved constituency, where a large number of Dalit voters, especially Chamars are expected to support her rather than the BSP. There are mainly 5 lakh Pasi voters, 4 lakh Chamar voters, 4 lakh Brahmin, 1.5 lakh Kurmi and 1 lakh Lodh voters here; BJP is expected to get a big chunk of Chamar, Brahmin and OBC vote making it easier for Anju Bala to win this seat. Rating: Positive

Unnao: It is difficult to understand the logic of nominating an outsider like Sakshi Maharaj in this Brahmin dominated seat (about 4 lakh Brahmin votes) where Congress’s Anu Tandon had won a thumping victory in 2009 with a margin of over 3 lakhs. Sakshi Maharaj is well past his prime and will need a herculean effort to defeat the very clinical Anu Tandon. Rating: Below Average

Mohanlalganj: This reserved constituency is a stronghold of the SP, which has re-nominated its sitting MP, Sushila Saroj and BJP has simply shown no “thinking out of the box” by nominating ex-MLA Kaushal Kishore who stands little chance of upsetting the Samajwadi applecart. Rating: Negative

Farrukhabad: This high profile seat of Salman Khurshid is likely to see a major change in this election, but BJP has nominated Kalyan Singh’s right-hand man, Mukesh Rajput who had unsuccessfully contested from here in 2004 LS polls but had subsequently joined Kalyan Singh’s RKP only to lose the 2012 assembly elections from Bhojpur (where he finished second, ahead of the BJP). The onus is now on Kalyan Singh to win this seat for BJP and defeat the current External Affairs Minister in the UPA government. This could well see a close 4-cornered fight like last time when hardly 10-15k votes separated each of the top 4 contestant. Kaimganj, Bhojpur and Farrukhabad assembly segments hold the key to victory here. Rating: Average

Etawah: In this SP bastion, about 1 lakh plus Chamar voters, 1 lakh plus Brahmin voters, 80k Rajput and 60k Lodh voters are all ganging up against the Samajwadis and in favour of the BJP which has wisely nominated Ashok Dohre who is resourceful enough to win this reserved seat. Rating: Average

Kannauj: Another SP stronghold has been attacked by the BJP, where once again a good nominee by the party in the form of Subrat Pathak is attracting all the upper caste votes of Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas (numbering up to 3 lakhs). If BJP manages to also get the non-Yadav OBC votes of roughly another 2 lakh plus, then a surprise defeat of SP (represented by Akhilesh and Dimple Yadav over the last 5 years) cannot be ruled out! No wonder Mulayam is suffering sleepless nights and keeps targeting Modi and BJP in every speech of his. Rating: Average

Fatehpur: Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, the MLA from Hamirpur and a fiery speaker has been nominated from here. She has managed to completely polarize upper-caste (mainly Thakur) and Nishad votes in her favour. Currently BJP has taken big leads in Fatehpur and Khaga assembly segments and is also ahead in other areas. Right now BJP has a definite edge on this seat. Rating: Positive

Barabanki and Kaushambi: Both are difficult seats for BJP where Dalit votes, especially those of Pasis will make a big difference. In Barabanki, there are 6 lakh Dalit votes (about 60% of them Pasis) and 2 lakh Kurmi voters who will eventually decide who wins this seat. In Kaushambi too, BJP is facing an uphill task of attracting a combination of Dalit-Brahmin-OBC votes. Priyanka Rawat and Vinod Sonkar have been nominated from Barabanki and Kaushambi respectively. Rating: Below Average

Faizabad: 5 time MLA from Ayodhya and one of the original icons of Ram Janam Bhoomi movement has been nominated by the BJP to represent Faizabad in the 16th Lok Sabha, notwithstanding the heartburn it has caused to former MP Vinay Katiyar. Here again there is a BJP wave and the party is way ahead of the rest thanks to a very good ticket decision. Brahmins + Thakurs + Kurmis + Other Upper Castes account for close to 6 lakh voters here and all of them seem to be moving towards BJP, which is also getting a section of Dalit (Chamar) votes here. BJP is ahead in Ayodhya, Rudauli and Milkipur assembly segments as of today. Rating: Positive

Bahraich: Savitri Bai Phule, the sitting MLA of Balha is the BJP nominee here, which is another very good ticket by the party. As of today BJP is ahead in Balha, Bahraich and Mahsi assembly segments and is expected to have a very good showing in this parliamentary constituency. Rating: Average

Shrawasti: This is one of those dud decisions by the party that can possibly be overlooked in the overall scheme of things as Daddan Mishra is not only a deadwood but also very few Brahmin voters are present here (about 60-75k). One wonders how leaders like Daddan Mishra continue to survive despite finishing third in the 2012 assembly election (from Bhinga assembly segment of Shrawasti). Rating: Below Average

Bundelkhand

The lone seat that has been announced as of now is Jhansi, from where the veteran Sadhvi Uma Bharati will be contesting on the BJP ticket. She still has a larger than life presence here in Jhansi and should easily win this seat with a big margin. Rating: Super Positive

Note on Ratings Game:

Super Positive: Victory by big margin

Positive: BJP being ahead of the rest

Average: Tough contest but winnable for the BJP (especially in a wave election)

Below Average: BJP behind as of now, but the seat is not “unwinnable”, provided party puts in hard work and lady luck shines on its candidate

Negative: No chance of winning for BJP

(Part 2, consisting of non-UP states like Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab will be uploaded tomorrow)


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Analysis of BJP’s 2nd List

(BJP announced only the single seat of Wardha, Maharashtra, in its second list. To read analysis of the 1st list click here)

BJP released its third list of candidates for the 16th Lok Sabha election yesterday for two important states of Karnataka and Assam and 4 states where it can at best hope to simply put up a fight for second place in some of the seats – Odisha, West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. The party is trying hard to avoid ticket distribution in the important north Indian states, which is indeed strange because a similar delay had cost it dearly in Delhi assembly elections recently. A struggling Congress party meanwhile has announced its first list of 194 LS seats and has stolen a march against the BJP for an early localized campaign.

In key North Indian states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress candidates would start campaigning from tomorrow, even as regional parties like the Samajwadi Party have announced their lists many weeks ago. But BJP is still reportedly trying to find consensus in these states. Although it is understandable that BJP being the leading party for the 2014 elections has a larger pool of contenders, what is unforgivable is the apparent lack of homework about the unfolding situation. With limited time-period for campaigning, BJP is in danger of losing its nationalized advantage of an energetic Modi campaign due to last minute ticket distribution woes.

Southern Hemisphere: Karnataka and Kerala

In Karnataka, BJP has virtually re-nominated all its sitting MPs and has shown its inherent reluctance for risk taking – which may be the precursor to a national picture of no new faces. It is indeed strange that the party has not shown the gumption to usher in new talent anywhere; be it in the highly urbanized Bangalore region or erstwhile strongholds of coastal and Mumbai Karnataka. Everywhere the same old tired warhorses are trying their luck once again which leaves much to desire for a fast urbanizing India. What happened to names like Anil Kumble that were bandied about till a month ago?

Gulbarga: BJP has re-nominated ex animal husbandry minister, Revu Naik Belamagi for this SC reserved constituency. Not only had he lost this seat in the 2009 LS elections when Karnataka (unlike India) was in a strong BJP wave, but also he had lost the assembly elections in May last year. Congress has the towering Dalit leader and union Railway minister, Mallikarjun Kharge, re-contesting the seat and the only question now is what would be Congress’s victory margin – by all counts it should be closer to a lakh+. Had BJP shown some imagination here, it could have put up a real fight in this constituency, but now that is almost impossible.

Raichur: BJP has nominated ex-minister and former JDS legislator who had joined the BJP during the ‘Operation Lotus’ phase of the party and had later rebelled against the party. He is still a young leader, but has mixed credentials within the BJP fold. Congress is yet to announce a candidate here, but this is one of those seats which the party cannot afford to lose. Last time around, BJP had won this seat purely on the charisma of Sriramulu (who is now reportedly back in the BJP after his brief flirtation with a regional party), but this time BJP is banking more on the Modi wave.

Bijapur: BJP has re-nominated sitting MP, Ramesh Jigjinagi, who still has strong pockets of influence in this constituency. While Congress has given ticket to MLC Prakash Rathod who not only faces the “outsider” tag but also faces rebellion from within the party. Mr. Jigjinagi has won this seat twice in the past (BJP itself has been winning this seat since 1999), while Mr. Rathod has lost this seat thrice in the past. Congress does have an advantage in terms of 7 out 8 assembly segments having Congress legislators, but voters here have the maturity to make distinction between national and local elections.

Bagalkot: is a BJP and a Lingayat stronghold which the party cannot afford to lose. Having re-nominated sitting MP, P.C. Gaddigoudar, BJP has not taken any risks, while Congress is yet to officially announce its candidate. What has muddied the waters this time here is the presence of former Police Commissioner of Bangalore, Shankar Bidari, IPS, either as an independent candidate or possibly even on a JDS or AAP ticket. Bidari being a Lingayat, may hurt BJP’s chances here, for he has influential pockets in Jamakhandi, Ilkal and his home town Banahatti.

Chikkodi: The Katti brothers are virtually undefeatable here, so BJP has re-nominated Ramesh Katti. The only man who can take him on is small scale industries minister in the state Congress government, Prakash Hukkeri, but he is disinclined to fight an MP election and sacrifice his ministry.

Belgaum: BJP has reposed faith in the sitting MP Suresh Angadi, whereas Congress lacks serious candidates. So, this is again a seat that BJP cannot afford to lose. The only X factor that should worry BJP is the shifting loyalties of Marathi voters and the direction the MES takes (Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi), which has a sitting MLA in the constituency.

Haveri: This was one of the pre-conditions of BSY’s return to the party fold and has been met easily as there was no other leader worth his salt to fight from the Lotus brigade. Shivakumar Udasi had won the seat by a big 90k margin last time around and has a strong chance of winning again. Traditionally, Congress allocates this seat to the minorities, so the party may once again find it difficult to defeat the Udasis here. The two X factors this time are Sriramulu’s re-entry into the BJP, for he still has a lot of influence here especially among his Valmiki community voters and the role of rural development minister in the state Congress government, H.K. Patil, who has stature and influence in the constituency. If H.K. Patil manages to wrest the party ticket for his brother, then it could be a more even fight here.

Dharwad: Another BJP bastion, where state unit president, Prahlad Joshi will re-contesting on the party ticket and has a decent chance of repeating his victory. Although there was some talk of a localized anti-incumbency against the sitting MP in the last few months and the party’s performance even in our own poll survey here was lackluster, Dharwad is one constituency where there is a big Modi wave and Congress is struggling to name its candidate, this is also the area which is known as the birthplace of the LIBRA (Lingayat-Brahmin) social coalition in Karnataka, a mainstay of the BJP.

Koppal: BJP has changed its sitting MP and has nominated former JDS MLA, Karadi Sanganna, who had joined the party during the ‘Operation Lotus’ phase. This is a seat where there is a large presence of Kuruba and OBC voters, so it is a prestige contest for CM, Siddaramaiah, but Congress has not yet announced its candidate. This is one seat that could go to the wires, as it also has areas where both BSY and Sriramulu have influence over voters.

Davangere and Chitradurga: These two central Karnataka districts have seen the most insipid choices by the BJP, for it has simply re-nominated its sitting MPs – S.M. Siddeshwara and Janardhana Swamy, respectively. Congress has nominated sitting MLA, S.S. Mallikarjun (the son of Lingayat strongman Shyamnoor Shivshankarappa) for the Davangere seat and is yet to announce Chitradurga. BJP has once again shown lack of imagination here and may lose both the seats. Even a Modi wave and the return of BSY and Sriramulu may not be able to win either seats for the party, unless Congress bungles up Chitradurga.

Uttara Kannada: This is again a BJP stronghold and the party has re-nominated Anant Kumar hegde for this seat, although there was talk of making a change this time and going for former education minister Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, which never materialized in the end. This is an area dominated by Brahmin politics and Congress may find it difficult to defeat BJP. Congress hasn’t announced its candidate from here because there is a tussle between two influential leaders, Margret Alva and R.V. Deshpande who both want to secure a ticket to their sons.

Dakshin Kannada: BJP has re-nominated sitting MP, Nalin Kumar Katil, who had been found lacking in multiple surveys conducted in the constituency (including our own survey). Modi wave and Congress’s internal wars may help BJP here eventually, for there is a big fight between old war horse Janardhan Poojary and union minister Veerappa Moily who wants his son, Harsha Moily to contest from here on the Congress ticket. The former still has influence here despite his age, while the latter has tacit support of Rahul Gandhi.

Shimoga: B.S. Yeddyurappa will win this seat easily for the BJP, the only question is about the margin of victory.

Chamrajnagar: BJP has nominated Krishna Murthy from here, whereas Congress has reposed faith in sitting MP, Dhruvanarayana. This being the home district of CM Siddramaiah, Congress should easily win this seat.

Chikkballapur: This is Veerappa Moily constituency, from where BJP has nominated a strong candidate in the form of former agriculture minister B.N. Bachhegowda who has a good influence among the Vokkaliga community present in large numbers here (Moily is an OBC). The two X factors here are – 1) If JDS fields a weak candidate, then it may help BJP consolidate its votes and 2) The presence of a large number of Andhra Reddy voters who had voted for Congress last time due to the YSR factor and may vote for BJP this time due to Sriramulu’s return (he is seen as close to Jagan Reddy). Even surveys have shown that Congress is on a weak wicket here, so Moily may struggle to retain his seat.

Bangalore Rural: BJP is losing rural, where it has nominated Muniraju and Congress has sitting MP D.K. Suresh as its candidate. BJP, in all likelihood, will end up as a distant third here, for the contest will be between Congress and JDS.

Bangalore Central: P.C. Mohan has been once again given BJP ticket, who had won last time as there was a split in the minority votes. This time BJP has shown no courage at all here, for there was a huge need to change the sitting MP; now this is a Congress seat to lose (only if there is some internal sabotage due to ticket distribution). Indications are that Sharief may get the Congress ticket one last time, but if Congress creates hara-kiri and nominates Youth Congress president, Rizwan Arshad, there may be rebellion within Congress, for Sharief is known to be very close to Devegowda.

Bangalore South: Surveys have consistently shown BJP to be ahead in this constituency, but Congress has shown courage by nominating Nandan Nilekani, who may finally prove to be the nemesis of BJP warhorse Anant Kumar. As of today, BJP is ahead in Govindraj Nagar, Basavangudi and Bommanahalli assembly segments, whereas Congress is ahead in BTM layout, Chikpet and Jayanagar assembly segments. In the end analysis, Vijaynagar and Padmanabhanagar assembly segments will decide who wins Bangalore South.

Bangalore North: BJP has nominated former CM Sadanand Gowda, who can be an energetic campaigner and has the backing of BSY too. Here, the one X factor could be the presence of JDS, which can take away Congress’s votes and help BJP. There are many BJP stronghold assembly segments here (Malleshwaram, Dasarahalli, Hebbal etc.) and since Vokkaligas are present in large numbers who count Sadananda Gowda as a leader of the community outside the JDS fold, the party may win this seat. At any rate, among all of Bangalore seats, this is the most-winnable seat for the party, especially since Congress doesn’t have a strong candidate here.

Kasargod: This is a Kerala constituency that has been on the BJP radar since long now and the party has re-nominated K. Surendran from here. He had finished a close second in two out of 7 assembly segments – Manjeshwar and Kasargod, but it would still take a minor miracle for BJP to win this seat notwithstanding a Modi wave.

Thiruvanantapuram: BJP has nominated O. Rajagopal to take on Shashi Tharoor of the Congress. If BJP can somehow make a contest out of this urban constituency by leveraging its online presence, then it can give a fight, especially since Mr. Tharoor is said to be suffering from localized anti-incumbency and is also facing flak for his wife’s death under mysterious circumstances.

Ernakulum is the third BJP seat, from where A.N. Radhakrishnan has been re-nominated, but has little chance of getting an upset victory in this K.V. Thomas constituency.

The East India: Assam, Odisha, West Bengal and Tripura

Except for Assam, BJP’s fight in the rest of east India is merely symbolic, so the party seems to have done with ticket distribution at the earliest to give its candidates enough time to make their presence felt. It is not yet clear if AGP is fully out of the NDA (due to opposition by the local unit of the party), so the Assam list too is incomplete as of now. Since there is an alliance with P.A. Sangma’s NPP, BJP has only announced Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura till now.

Gauhati: This is a Bijoy Chakravarthy and BJP stronghold where they lost only in 2004 because of AGP taking away a lot of votes in Boko, Chayagaon and Palasbari assembly segments. Now AGP doesn’t have any base left here, so the contest would be between Congress and BJP, the former has nominated Manas Bora, who won the much taunted “primaries”, but has great opposition from none other than the Congress CM, Tarun Gogoi. With Congress a divided house and AUDF cutting a small section of Congress’s minority votes, BJP is sitting pretty in Gauhati.

Mangaldoi: This is a sensitive constituency as it is vertically split between Bodos and Bangladeshi Muslims. Mangaldoi and Dalgaon assembly segments have significant Muslim population, whereas Udalguri and Panery are Bodo strongholds. BJP has re-nominated its sitting MP Ramen Deka who will face his big challenge from AUDF, rather than the Congress, which may be virtually out of contest here this time. The X factor of course would be BOPF (Bodo People’s Front), which may cut BJP’s votes if it puts up a strong candidate.

Nowgong: is again a BJP seat, where sitting MP, Rajen Gohain has been re-nominated. Here AUDF had got almost 2 lakh 50k votes last time which had helped the BJP tremendously in defeating Congress. If a similar arithmetic unfolds this time, Then BJP may emerge victorious again.

Lakhimpur: Used to be an AGP stronghold once upon a time when Dr. Arun Sharma had even been an MP, but now this is one of those seats where BJP has gobbled up AGP leadership and cadre. The state unit BJP president, Sarbananda Sonowal, who was once an AGP leader, is the party candidate in Lakhimpur and can give a tough fight to union tribal affairs minister, Ranee Narah, the Congress strongwoman who has won this seat many times in the past. The one X factor here is anti-incumbency, which is affecting the Congress both locally as well as nationally.

Jorhat: This is an out and out Congress stronghold represented by former union minister, B.K. Handique, who has never lost the seat in close to three decades. BJP has once again fielded the young and dynamic, Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, of the Tea tribe community who had given sleepless nights to Congress strongman in the 2009 polls.

In Odisha, the one seat of considerable interest would be Balasore, where BJP has fielded sitting MLA, Pratap Sarangi who has a chance of becoming a giant killer if he can possibly defeat Srikant Jena, union minister for chemicals and fertilizers. BJP still has pockets of influence in Nilgiri, Remuna and Jaleswar assembly segments and Congress is battling huge anti-incumbency, while this is one seat where there is limited influence of the ruling BJD.

In the rest of the seats announced in the 3rd list from West Bengal (17), Tripura (3) and Odisha (4), BJP candidates will find it difficult even to not lose their deposits. Among other interesting features, BJP has given MP tickets to two Muslims in WB and singer Babul Supriyo would be adding star power to the contest in Asansol parliamentary constituency, while national spokesperson and the chief Editor of Pioneer, Chandan Mitra is contesting from Hooghly.


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Sonia Gandhi: The Aakhri Mughal of Congress

It was in October 2010 when a dozen MLAs belonging to the ruling BJP in Karnataka had rebelled against the leadership and were camping in a Goa resort that the local Congress leadership, whiffing the scent of power for the first time in many years, decided to explore the possibility of forming an alternative government with the support of the JDS. Siddramaiah had then emerged as the consensus candidate to head the Congress party delegation to New Delhi for seeking formal approval of the high command.

A bunch of very excited Congress leaders along with Siddramaiah flew to Delhi and sought an audience with Madam Sonia Gandhi. Two Karnataka Congress veterans with very good command over the English language were assigned the task of explaining all the details of government formation and the arrangement with JDS and the rebel BJP legislators. Sonia sat quietly and gave the Congressmen from Karnataka a patient hearing for close to 45 minutes. At the end of it, all she asked was this, “Why do you want to come to power from the backdoor?”

Siddramaiah and co were stunned by that question, for the least they were expecting was a pat on the back for dislodging the first BJP government in south India. They tried to then explain how the ‘communal’ BJP was growing every day in Karnataka and how the state might end up becoming another Gujarat if Congress doesn’t take drastic measures immediately. Again, Sonia had just one crisp sentence as a retort, “You win an election and come to power, not like this!”

This whole incident might come as a shock to many of the Internet Right-Wing Warriors who have a mental picture of a power hungry, corrupt Italian lady who heads the Congress party today. How could it be possible that the Congress president actually disapproves the party’s efforts to regain power from an arch enemy like the BJP? Wasn’t Sonia supposed to be the EVM manipulating power crazed dictator who had possibly come to power only because her husband and mother-in-law were assassinated under mysterious circumstances? Most conspiracy theorists conveniently forget that Sonia was a reluctant leader who remained outside power circles of the Congress party for 7 years after Rajiv’s death – for 5 of those years, Congress was actually in power and she could have easily had it all, if she so desired.

What explains the mystery of Sonia Gandhi then? Answer is simple, plain incompetence! For instance, let us see how the 2010 Karnataka crisis unfolded thereafter. The Congress delegation returned back to Bangalore and gathered all the party legislators in a resort on the outskirts of the town despite Sonia’s admonishment. With the nudging of the governor (former union law minister Hansraj Bharadwaj) and the help of some infamous moneybags, Congress continued its act of destabilizing the government till BJP won a chaotic vote of confidence on the floor of the house. So much for Sonia’s much vaunted power over the party and the Gandhi family’s hold over Congressmen.

This incompetence of leadership has been a Sonia Gandhi hallmark for a long time now. She essentially wields control over the party just by keeping all the factions happy through her central coterie. In the process, every Congress leader has become a law unto himself and has created a mini-corrupt empire of sorts. This arrangement is visible everywhere in the Congress party, be it central ministers or state chief ministers. For instance, the brazenness with which Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy ran AP Congress or the shamelessness of a Vilasrao Deshmukh who managed to return as the CM of Maharashtra despite Sonia’s unwillingness or the way Hooda has managed to contemptuously show the proverbial middle finger to the central leadership time and again are all symptoms of the same malaise. Of course, they do pay their dues to the Dilli sultanate every now and then by say indulging a Vadra’s land deals or an Italian chopper deal etc.

This kind of a mutually beneficial ecosystem is reminiscent of the last century of Mughal Empire after the death of the dreaded Auranzeb in 1707 when the power of Mughals was essentially titular in nature. Just like the Mughals started disintegrating and other regional dynasties like the Nizams or Shahs started emerging as independent power centres, Congress too is disintegrating into regional powerhouses like the Pawars, Mamata Banerjees and Jagan Reddys.

This is the essential difference between an Indira Gandhi and a Sonia Gandhi; while the former had absolute control over the party and the electorate, the latter’s powers are merely symbolic in nature. Even such super powerful leaders as Nijalingappa, Kamraj and Atulya Ghosh had to go into political oblivion once they opposed Indira unlike today when a Mamata Banerjee is prospering in Bengal and a Jagan Reddy is on the verge of becoming the CM of Seema-Andhra, despite daring Sonia openly. But for a criminal error of judgment by Indira of imposing an Emergency, even stalwarts like Moorarji Bhai and Jagjivan Babu wouldn’t have found their brief interlude of sunny days outside the Indira political system.

Realizing the limitations of her political talent and electoral charisma early in her political innings (probably when Pawar rebelled in the late 90s), Sonia has been running the Congress show by simply letting other Congressmen rule and loot as per their own whims and fancies. What this had created is an artificial buoyancy of the Congress party which simply prospered electorally for 10 years just by the virtue of creating mutually beneficial regional and sub-regional ecosystems of individual Congressmen of various hues and shapes. This electoral model had its limitations, for it could succeed only as long as a weak and pliant opposition cohabited in the same Lutyen’s sphere of Dilli. The other factor that kept Congress viable was the secularism bogie which had so many adherents to its tenets that the entire political spectrum would eventually remain subservient to the Congress’s cause of continuing to rule Dilli.

In the midst of all these happy political coexistences, India was changing like never before – a process that nobody in Dilli noticed until it was too late. Tokenism, which had worked fine for long enough to help Sonia prosper as a powerful national leader, had gone long past its sell-by date and India wanted substantial development not just RTI, Secularism, NREGA et al. For instance, 24/7 Bijlee was one of those symbolisms in which every Congress and non-BJP government in India had failed because it simply was not possible to give uninterrupted power supply in a mutually beneficial ecosystem that Congressmen had built under the aegis of Sonia Gandhi. Thus today Congress is facing its third and possibly the last phase of decline in 2014 after being in power for 60 years. Sonia Gandhi is the last Moghul of the Congress party.

Cong DeclineThe first phase of Congress decline actually began in 1977, after emergency, but then the Indira assassination event completely altered the 1984 elections, so for all practical purposes, we take 1989 as the year that marked the first phase of Congress’s electoral decline. This was a decline brought about by three major factors – 1) Increase in the index of opposition unity, 2) Emergence of the hitherto neglected silent majority of the other backward castes and 3) The rise of Hindu nationalism. This first phase lasted only about half-a-decade even as Congress lost its primacy as the lone dominant political force in India, for the party consolidated itself at the sub-40% national vote-share levels.

The second phase of Congress’s decline began in the mid-90s when for the first time the party went below the 30% national vote-share levels. This phase was again characterized by three important factors – 1) Weak Congress leadership, 2) Maturing of Hindu nationalism and 3) Deeply entrenched Mandalization of Indian polity. The commonality between these two phases of Congress’s electoral decline were related to class struggle and vigorous reinforcement of identities.

The Sonia years were essentially an artificial plateau created by building symbiotic political ecosystems with not only other Congress leaders but also other political parties. Sonia never gave the Congress party a new direction, she only temporarily arrested the decline of the party at a huge long term cost to the party and the nation. This plateauing of Congress’s vote-share was misconstrued as a reclaiming of the central legacy by many informed political pundits in Dilli. Eventually that misconception will prove to be costly for the Congress ecosystem.

Today Congress is staring at the third phase of political decline which may prove to be decisive in the end analysis. At every decline Congress has breached a major resistance level in terms of vote-share – 40% level in the late 80s and the 30% levels in the mid-90s – so it is now poised to breach the most important resistance level of all, the 20% levels. Two reasons why a sub-20% vote-share would be a likely deathblow to Congress are;

  1. Seat Conversion CongressIts wide geographic spread which was once a great asset to the party would be converted into a huge liability at below 20% national vote-share levels, for the seat conversion rate would then fall dramatically. For instance, in states like Bihar, Seemandhra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Delhi etc. Congress may yet get a double digit vote-share but may win no seats at all – this is one of the prices that a political party pays in a first past the post system with a thinly spread out vote-share (for ex: BSP got a national vote-share of 6.2% in 2009 but was able to win only 21 seats, whereas a Samajwadi Party got only 3.4% national vote-share in the same election but won 23 seats due to concentrated presence).
  2. Rahul4PMDeclining demographic support systems – in two of our recent poll surveys of Karnataka and Jharkhand a unique finding that has huge implications is that almost 3 quarters of those who want Rahul Gandhi as the next PM belong to the minority community. This tells us a story of how Congress is losing the support of all other ethnic groups and is becoming an exclusively Muslim-minority centric party. As we have seen just a couple of months ago in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, a purely Muslim vote-bank will not be able to convert votes into seats.

There is an interesting historic parallel to Congress’s demographic disaster. Some 68 years ago in the last general elections of a British controlled India in 1946 a very unique electoral trend was witnessed when Congress got the united spectrum of the whole Hindu vote, whereas Muslim League was the sole beneficiary of an exclusive Muslim vote. Interestingly, just 6 years later (post-partition, of course), in the first general election of an independent India in 1952, the Muslim vote, in almost its entirety, returned back to the Congress while the Muslim League ceased to exist. Today, a Modi led BJP is targeting the united spectrum of the Hindu vote whereas the Congress is depending on an almost exclusive Muslim vote… 5 years later in 2019 history may well repeat itself in its full glory!

Cong ray of hope titledIn the upcoming elections starting from April the 7th, Congress may witness an unprecedented meltdown in the northern, western and eastern India and its only ray of hope is this small belt of southern peninsula where Congress has to win at least 50+ seats out of a possible 95 seats that the party may contest here from a total of 113. The problem for the Congress party is that the three important factors that are causing its third phase of decline are all neither emotive issues of identity nor are they about a class struggle, but in fact they are wholly about governance, or the lack of it – 1) Need for better governance models, 2) Humungous corruption scams of UPA and 3) A united national vote instead of a divided regional vote. On all three counts Congress is found wanting. With pseudo secularism, crony socialism and convenient capitalism as the three weapons, Sonia and Rahul have managed to rule India for a decade, but now all the three weapons have been irreparably blunted, so the end of Congressism is just around the corner.

Detailed Election schedule as announced by the Election Commission


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Analysis of BJP’s 1st List

As the election juggernaut begins for possibly the most important election since 1977, BJP announced its first list of 54 names late yesterday evening. Indian elections will be essentially fought at the local level, so it is not just Modi that matters for BJP, but getting each ticket right in terms of local equations is of primary importance. Here is a quick and brief analysis of the first list by BJP.

North India (The Heartland)

Two states have been dealt with in the 1st list – J&K and Himachal Pradesh, in both the states 1 seat each has been left out for now (Srinagar in J&K and Mandi in Himachal Pradesh) – both not winnable for BJP as of now. There are almost no surprises in the remaining seats as the selection process has been along expected lines.

Himachal Pradesh:

Hamirpur will see BJYM national president Anurag Thakur defending his family pocket borough, which he should be able to do pretty easily. Congress doesn’t even have a strong candidate to put up against him and is depending on rebel BJP leader, a onetime protégé of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal (Anurag Thakur’s father) who is also an independent MLA in the current assembly, Rajinder Singh Rana. BJP had won this seat by a big 72000+ votes in 2009 by taking a lead in 14 of the 17 assembly segments. This time too, Thakur is ahead in at least 11 assembly segments (as per ground reports), so it would be a herculean task to defeat him.

Kangra will see the veteran BJP leader, former CM, Shanta Kumar, once again trying his luck at the age of 79. Here, his onetime protégé and sitting (rebel) BJP MP, Dr. Rajan Sushant will be contesting on the AAP ticket, but fight will be mainly between BJP and Congress. This is a tough seat for the BJP, for it had just managed to scrape through with 3% margin in 2009, but if anybody can win this one, it has to be Shanta Kumar who still has tremendous grip over this constituency. Congress is a divided house in Kangra, as CM Virbhadra Singh wants OBC leader and former MP, Chander Kumar to contest as the party candidate, but high command wants to pit union minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch, a royal from Rajasthan, as a counter to the formidable Shanta Kumar. As of today, BJP enjoys a slight advantage here.

Shimla will again see sitting BJP MP, Virender Kashyap, trying to defend his seat and his likely opponent from Congress could be Mohan lal Bragta (Sitting MLA of Rohru). This is a very tough seat which can go any which way and the ruling Congress party has some advantage as this is Virbhadra territory. As per current ground reports, both BJP and Congress are ahead in 7 assembly segments each, while 3 are too close to call.

Jammu and Kashmir:

There isn’t much to write about Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh, so we’ll limit our analysis to Jammu and Udhampur. In Jammu, BJP state unit president, Jugal Kishore Sharma will be taking on sitting Congress MP, Madan lal Sharma. This is an almost even contest where anti-incumbency and Modi dynamics may play a crucial role. Aknoor, Rajouri and Surankote assembly segments will decide who wins this seat.

In Udhampur BJP has chosen state spokesperson, Dr. Jitender Singh, who definitely has an edge over Congress. Even in 2009, BJP had lost the seat narrowly despite taking pole position in more assembly segments than Congress. Unless something drastic occurs in the next 2 months, BJP is likely to win this seat easily.

Western India (Southern Hemisphere):

Apart from Goa, here BJP has only taken up the difficult state of Maharashtra in the first list, a state which has always been dominated by the Congress culture. This is also a state where sub-regional political fiefdoms largely control the electoral narrative and BJP has indeed made some smart choices. This is also a state where AAP is supposed to have some electoral relevance outside the national capital region, so BJP has to think out of the box, especially in urbanized pockets. Yet BJP hasn’t fallen into the “civil society trap” and has given importance to electoral realities rather than TV studio evangelism.

Maharashtra:

Mumbai North: Over the last decade or so, Congress has made Mumbai its bastion, so it would be a herculean task for BJP-SS to storm this fortress. If there is one weak link in this strong Congress fort, it is Mumbai North, where BJP can win if MNS doesn’t cut too many of the Sena-BJP votes. Sitting MLA, Gopal Shetti is a very good choice indeed. Now the plan has to be to consolidate Marathi votes and the votes of the business community (who are expected to back Modi). AAP may also play a spoiler for Congress’s Sanjay Nirupam, so this a seat where BJP has a theoretical edge in 2014.

Mumbai North East: Kirit Somaiya has been re-nominated here and he would take on NCP strongman Sanjay Dina Patil. There are two major X-Factors in this constituency – the role of MNS and Gujarati voters – both had gone against BJP in 2009 and yet Dr. Kirit Somaiya had lost by a margin of only 0.4% (less than 3000 votes). This time the Gujarati voters, who had voted for Congress due to Manmohan Singh being perceived as pro-business in 2009, are expected to back BJP to the hilt due to the Modi factor. Last time Sanjay Dina Patil of NCP had emerged victorious solely based on his huge lead in Shivaji Nagar assembly segment, whereas MNS had emerged in the pole position in 3 assembly segments. This time too Vikhroli, Bhandup west and Ghatkopar west will be crucial to BJP’s chances.

Dhule: This is as close as BJP has come to civil society, by denying ticket to sitting BJP MP and instead nominating Dr Subhash Bhamre, a noted surgeon of Dhule. Bhamre had narrowly lost the assembly election on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2004 and is not exactly new to politics, but definitely has a freshness to him. Dhule has about 7 lakh Maratha votes and 4 lakh minority votes, so a clear polarization is required for BJP to emerge victorious here. Last time in 2009, Molvi Nihal Ahmed had contested on the JDS ticket and had got 72k votes which had helped BJP win by about 20k margin.

In Beed, Gopinath Munde should easily sail through, while in Nagpur the sheer stature of Nitin Gadkari would help him win the seat. In both these parliamentary constituencies AAP is losing deposits as of now. Similarly, Sanjay Dhotre in Akola and Hansraj Ahir from Chandrapur are poised to defend their respective seats. Raosaheb Danve Patil from Jalna was also an easy choice for the BJP as there were hardly any other contenders. Dilipkumar Gandhi too is in a strong position in Ahmednagar.

Among the three ST seats of Dindori, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Palghar, BJP is ahead in Dindori, where sitting MP Harishchandra Chohan has been re-nominated. Gadchiroli-Chimur will see a tough fight and Palghar may not favour BJP even in 2014 as it is a Aghadi stronghold.

Sangli is a seat that Congress has never lost in post-independent India, it’s an area where Congressism is so deeply entrenched that even at the height of anti-Congress atmosphere in the mid-90s when BJP-SS had captured Maharashtra and Vajpayee was ruling India, Congress repeatedly won the seat in 96, 98 and 99. Realizing that here only Congressism can defeat Congress, BJP has nominated Sanjay Kaka Patil, a rebel NCP MLC. It remains to be seen if a Modi wave can achieve what JP couldn’t achieve after emergency, Rajiv didn’t lose in 1989 and Vajpayee-Thackeray couldn’t engineer in the 90s.

D.B. Patil had won Nanded in 2004 and he has been re-nominated to take on the Congress which rectifies a mistake committed in 2009 when he was denied ticket. There is some amount of religious polarization here and that will have a crucial electoral impact. It remains to be seen if Congress nominates Adarsh-tainted Ashok Chavan (or his wife) from here.

Goa:

Sitting MP, Sripad Yesso Naik should sail through from North Goa, but south Goa is the real challenge for Manohar Parrikar. South Goa election will tell us how successful Parrikar has been in incorporating Christians into the BJP fold as has been widely reported.

The East India

BJP has token presence in most of these states, yet winning a few seats here and there could be crucial for the party in adding up numbers towards majority. In the first list, BJP hasn’t touched on the most important region of the state, Assam, where seat-sharing is apparently still being explored.

Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram:

Kiran Rijeju is obviously the best bet for BJP from the North-East apart from Assam. He had lost Arunachal West by a heartbreakingly narrow margin of 0.5% in 2009 despite winning 17 assembly segments (Congress had won 16) and is widely expected to emerge victorious this time. Not much is known about the electoral trends of Manipur, but BJP is apparently gaining some traction there, especially in the Inner Manipur seat, where Indira Oinam was denied ticket which had let to protests. Both the tickets have been given to academics in Manipur, Dr R.K. Ranjan and Prof Gangumei Kamei.

Odisha and West Bengal:

Of all the 6 names announced from Odisha, BJP has the strongest possibility of winning in Sundargarh where Jual Oram will possibly take on Hemanand Biswal of Congress. Oram had lost by a narrow 12k votes in 2009. In West Bengal, Rahul Sinha, the state unit president, may put up a strong fight in Kolkata North. Other than these two seats, cannot visualize anybody else having an electoral impact, from the 17 names of West Bengal and 6 names from Odisha that BJP has announced yesterday.


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Jharkhand Story Part 2: The Poll Survey

(Read Part one Here)

Jharkhand elections are usually decided by three M’s – Money, Muscle and Maoists – now in 2014 a fourth M dimension has been added to that mix – Modi. Everywhere one travels, one finds the evidence of the fourth M which has transformed the LS elections in this rich tribal state. In the last few weeks a host of IAS officers and top cops have resigned their high profile jobs and are joining the BJP in hordes to contest the upcoming polls which gives us enough indication of the prevailing Modi wave – former DGP (Punjab cadre) Arun Oraon of Gumla, the legendary former IG Amitabh Chaudhary and Principal Secretary Vimal Kranti Singh, IAS, are some of the examples. Many of these officers are local heroes and have a very tough record on corruption, which makes it an even more formidable combo for the Lok Sabha elections.

BJP hasn’t attracted such large numbers of new political talent into the party for over 2 decades; for instance, the last time BJP made a big tactical move in Jharkhand was in 1996, when it fielded Nitish Bharadwaj who had played the role of Krishna in the hugely popular TV series of Doordarshan’s Mahabharat, against an almost undefeatable Shailendra Mohato of JMM in Jamshedpur. Since then, most of BJP’s tickets are revolved amongst tired old faces and have nothing new to offer. Possibly, 2014 is going to be an exception and Jharkhand is where the revolution is beginning in the heartland.

Jharkhand PM preferenceTo be sure, Modi has addressed only one political rally so far in this state and yet his presence can be felt everywhere. An interesting raw number probably best illuminates the NaMo popularity – 504 of the 1119 respondents polled have voted for Modi as PM, about 3 months before the actual election and with the real campaign yet to begin! This kind of support for an individual leader is unprecedented in the heartland, especially in a politically divided state like Jharkhand (For detailed methodology and raw data of OSOP-Jharkhand, click here – OSOP Jharkhand).

Modi popularityIt is now clear that this Modi phenomenon means different things to different people – for backward caste voters his OBC status and humble origins as a tea-seller are of primary importance, whereas for upper caste voters it is the zero corruption of his leadership that is very attractive, but what is the most important reason that attracts all classes of voters towards Modi is his singularity politics! Two of the most oft quoted reasons as to why Modi should be the next PM were – 1) “Unka koi nahi hai” and 2) He doesn’t believe in “Bhai-Bhatijawaad” politics.

There is another very curious finding about the NaMo phenomenon that gives us great insight into the voting psyche of the heartland. A significant portion of voters belonging to the “other reasons” class of thinking for ‘Modi as PM’ have chosen “Hindutva” as a reason to vote for him. Now this is a strange reasoning as Modi hasn’t used a Hindu plank or indulged in anything remotely sectarian throughout his campaign, yet a certain section of voters identify him as a Hindutva icon. When we dig deeper, we find that most of these voters reside in areas where there is large scale presence of Muslim populace!

On the other side of the spectrum is Rahul Gandhi whose support base is almost exclusively limited to minorities and sections of Dalits – 80% of all those who want Rahul as PM belong to Muslims, Dalits and other minorities (of these 50% belong to Muslims). Curiously enough, one of the most oft quoted reasons by Muslim voters for their support to the Gandhi scion is “secularism” and its variants. Thus in areas with significant Muslim populace, Modi gets the Hindutva vote whereas Rahul gets the token secularism vote, which tells us a story of a whole new phenomenon that I have termed as Micro-Polarization!

Micro PolarizationMicro-Polarization is a new dividing line that exists only in mixed religious populations – a euphemism for various sub-regions of the heartland with significant Muslim populace. What we are seeing in Jharkhand is a polarization that is only limited to these Hindu-Muslim fault-line areas and is not a pan-regional phenomenon like the 90s when the Ram Janam Bhoomi movement had divided our society almost vertically. While Modi gets vote for lack of nepotism, non-corrupt attitude and governance (24/7 Bijlee, cure for inflation, jobs etc.) in the non-conflict Hindu zone on the one hand, he gets the polarized Hindu vote from the Hindu-Muslim fault-line zones on the other hand. This is Micro-Polarization, a 2014 phenomenon that has the potential to almost completely decimate the secular-socialist political edifice of India which is the reason why Modi evokes so much of fear among his opponents.

The peak of anti-incumbency

Our OSOP survey covered 47 polling booths spread across 21 assembly segments of 9 parliamentary constituencies with a target sample size of 1420. We achieved an actual sample size of 1119 with adequate social representation to all sections of Jharkhand society (for a detailed report, read this).

Anti-incumbencyOne of the primary findings of our survey is the tremendous levels of anti-incumbency not only against the central UPA government but also against the local state government of JMM-Congress combine. What is significant to note here is that the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is almost getting wiped out of the electoral scene of the state in the 2014 election which is somewhat similar to the situation in the neighboring Bihar where the ruling JDU is also facing a similar meltdown. Although Congress (due to central anti-incumbency) is also facing a big setback, this almost total decimation of ruling state parties in the Bihar region in particular and the heartland in general is a significant electoral phenomenon.

Vote-ShareA new Modi led BJP of 2014 is not only staking its claim to the mantle of the national alternative to the Congress party, but more significantly it is emerging as the destroyer of regional ruling parties in the heartland – be it JMM in Jharkhand, JDU in Bihar, SP in UP or Congress in Uttarakhand. This is what makes the new BJP such a potent electoral force. For instance, with a 9% swing in its favor, BJP is sitting pretty in Jharkhand with a 36% vote-share, notwithstanding a substantial 18% voters still remaining undecided and a great many of them wanting Modi as the next PM of India. With the unique frontrunner advantage of the first-past-the-post electoral system and tremendous popularity of its prime-ministerial candidate, BJP can only grow further in the next few weeks leading up to elections unless it commits unpardonable blunders.

Congress on the other hand is severely limited by its exclusively minority vote-bank which will not convert into seats without weighty support from sections of Hindu voters as we have seen in the recently concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The grand old party is in real danger of drawing a blank in Jharkhand and limiting itself to a combined total of less than 15 seats in the entire heartland region! The only way forward for the party is to build a broad coalition, but even with allies like Lalu and Soren in Jharkhand, it may be very difficult to plug an almost 20% vote-share gap of the BJP. What is more, a broad anti-BJP coalition can potentially polarize the voters further and BJP may end up benefitting with more of the fence-sitters rooting for it.

SwingAnti-incumbency against the state government in Jharkhand is so high that even the tribal consolidation in favor of Congress and allies is not happening here unlike say in Chhattisgarh (assembly elections) and Orissa as per reports emanating out of that state. While the OBCs and upper castes (roughly constituting 40% of Jharkhand voters) are solidly behind BJP, even sections of the tribal vote is going to the BJP – Oraons and Mundas have already moved to the BJP (7-9%), while other smaller groups are also now moving towards the party. Thus the entire BJP spectrum of vote is roughly in the 50%+ category which is almost undefeatable in the Indian electoral system.

In the midst of all this, Babulal Marandi is staring at glorious insignificance in a state in which he once had tremendous traction. Almost 70% of Marandi’s (JVM) voters seem to prefer Modi as the next PM, which can potentially turn into a BJP vote by the time elections are held. In fact, Koderma was one of the parliamentary seats in which our survey was conducted and the former CM is floating on thin ice here. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Marandi loses the 2014 MP election and faces political oblivion in the near future. Thus the Modi juggernaut moves into the heartland by significantly adding tribal votes to its already brimming kitty of OBC and upper caste votes. The united spectrum of Hindu vote is now falling short only in the Dalit category and the recently reported overtures of Ram Vilas Paswan could alter those dynamics too, for although Mr. Paswan no longer commands the same following as he once did but he still is the second tallest Dalit leader of the heartland beyond Mayawati.

Seat projectionsAs per our current projections based on the vote-share, BJP is ahead in 11 seats, while JMM, JVM and ‘others’ are ahead in in the remaining 3 seats each. Yet, BJP definitely has the potential to make a clean sweep of Jharkhand, provided it manages the ticket distribution process smoothly. Congress, although emerges as the number two party in terms of votes is unlikely to win any seat in Jharkhand as of today because of a sub 15% vote share – the party had won just one seat in 2009 with exactly 15% vote-share. A combination of RJD-Congress-JMM can at best make a difference in about 4 seats, so BJP is almost assured of a 9 seat haul in the state even in a worst case electoral scenario.

(Read our Detailed Jharkhand OSOP )

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Local battle v/s national war – the next stage of electoral strategy

Pawan Kumar Bansal, the corruption tainted former railway minister in UPA 2, is like a cat with nine lives, for he keeps getting a new lease of life every time he is on the verge of a collapse. Bansal’s political career should have ended long ago; in 1999 to be precise, when he had managed to get the Congress ticket from Chandigarh despite losing back-to-back elections in 1996 and 1998. Had he lost the 1999 election too, it would be a virtual death knell for him. The 1999 national elections were held in the backdrop of the Kargil war and a really high dose of chest-thumping patriotism which was equated with the then ruling NDA government headed by Vajpayee, thus Chandigarh, being a garrison town with a large portion of army men, should have logically voted for the BJP with relative ease. Additionally, BJP’s sitting MP of Chandigarh, Satyapal Jain was a formidable candidate – a self-made man who had grown up in poverty as a newspaper hawker and had gone on to study law – which made it almost an impossible battle for P.K. Bansal of the Congress party.

BJP did the unthinkable in 1999, it denied ticket to Mr. Jain and instead nominated the party vice president, K.L. Sharma (Pandit ji, for everybody in the Sangh circles), to the Chandigarh parliamentary seat because Mr. Sharma had become extremely unpopular in his own constituency of outer Delhi! The 1999 general election was necessitated due to BJP losing the vote of confidence by a solitary vote, which should have made the party extremely weary of each and every MP seat, but instead BJP leadership went ahead and disturbed a winning combination in Chandigarh to accommodate an apparatchik of the high command who was loaned out by the RSS. Needless to state that BJP shamelessly lost Chandigarh just a few months after Kargil war and Pawan Kumar Bansal got a new lease of life. Since 1999, Bansal has won two more electoral victories from the Chandigarh seat despite BJP re-nominating Satyapal Jain and what is more, he has even improved upon his victory margin each time.

This is a classic case of bad ticket distribution hurting the party not just in one election but in three elections on the trot. This has been BJP’s forte since a long time; in fact, it is a unique mindset defect of the Hindu psyche which forcefully grabs defeat from the jaws of victory. Look at what is happening in Chandigarh today, the party is running like a headless chicken and yet everybody wants to contest the LS polls hoping to ride on an apparent Modi wave and cash in on the corruption charges against Mr. Bansal. Whole new dynamics are being cooked up overnight and celebrity names like that of Kirron Kher, the actress wife of Anupam Kher, are being bandied about by the high command, despite her having zero connect with the political environs of Chandigarh. Pray, who is in-charge of Chandigarh in the BJP? Answer: Arti Mehra, need one say any more?! In the end, P.K. Bansal may yet survive the battle of 2014, but he will have only BJP and its leadership to thank for this all over again.

Contrast this with how clinically Congress handles ticket distribution. Let us take the case of another highly urban constituency, Mumbai North as a case in the point. In 2004, Ram Naik, the then O&G minister in the Vajpayee cabinet had already won Mumbai North 5 times on a trot since 1989, but was facing some anti-incumbency after 15 years. Congress was quick to pounce upon this small window of opportunity and pitted fimstar Govinda against the veteran Railway commuter’s activist of Mumbai North, Ram Naik. Govinda and Congress were able to convert the entire electoral battle into a fight for the north Indian migrant labors, who are present in abundant numbers and have had various issues of conflict with BJP’s alliance partner in Maharashtra, the ShivSena. Govinda turned out to be a giant killer in Mumbai North in 2004 as Mr. Naik was defeated by a greenhorn celebrity.

Conventional political wisdom of that time was that this was a one-off defeat for Ram Naik, who was expected to bounce back by the next election. As it turned out, Govinda, the filmstar was one of the worst performing MPs of the state as he hardly found time for his constituents in the midst of a busy movie career. Ideally, Mr. Naik deserved to return back to the parliament in the 2009 polls, but Congress had other plans. Govinda was dropped as the Congress candidate and Sanjay Nirupam, who had ostensibly deserted ShivSena on the issue of maltreatment of north Indian migrant laborers in Mumbai, was given the ticket and Congress once again managed to defeat Ram Naik with ample help from Raj Thackrey’s MNS. This is a classic case of converting anti-incumbency into an opportunity which all but finished the political career of a veteran BJP leader who had risen through sheer hard work. The study of contrasting impact on the political lives of P.K. Bansal and Ram Naik gives us a metaphor to distinguish Congress from BJP; it is this metaphor that tells a story.

2009 Urban votesIn the top 50 urban parliamentary constituencies, Congress got 30 lakh more votes than the BJP in the 2009 elections and also managed to win 26 of those 50 seats, while BJP won only 14 (10 were won by others). One of the primary reasons for such a good showing by the Congress was due to some very smart ticket distribution, an area where BJP failed miserably in the last elections barring the lone exception of Bangalore. Indeed, Bangalore was an oasis in an otherwise BJP’s urban drought of 2009, for some very smart choices had been made by the local leadership – for instance, putting up Prof. D.B. Chandregowda from Bangalore north was nothing short of a masterstroke.

The same BJP seems to be devoid of ideas this time around in Bangalore, as the names of P.C. Mohan (Bangalore central), C. Ashwathnarayana (Bangalore North), Muniraju (Bangalore rural) and Anantakumar (Bangalore South) are doing the rounds of informed circles. Do any of these inspire confidence? None! There is now a very distinct possibility of BJP drawing a blank from Bangalore this time around, for even old war horse Anantakumar is facing the toughest battle of his life in the form of Congress’s Nandan Nilekani, the former CEO of Infosys (the iconic brand of Bangalore). Why is BJP not thinking out of the box? For instance, since winnability should be the only criteria, why is Anil Kumble, the original icon of Bangalore not being persuaded to contest from Bangalore rather than Uttara Kannada as is being reported?

With Bangalore going into a spin, Delhi in the grips of an Aam Aadmi frenzy, Mumbai and cities of Maharashtra remaining largely divided and other tier 2 cities like Chandigarh showing absolutely no logic, BJP is well on its path to repeat its dismal performance of 2009 in urban India. Thus in the midst of an apparent Modi-wave, BJP is virtually writing itself off in large chunks of urban India! If it cannot get its act together in urban India, then what are the chances that the party will work any better in small town or rural India, where the elections are far more localized in nature? Probably Modi has answers.

voting pattern IndiaOur past studies of the last few elections have shown that voting patterns in India are essentially local in nature, although more localized in rural India than in urban India. Rarely, in star constituencies, like say, Amethi or Gandhinagar, voters may exercise their franchise overwhelmingly on a national issue of electing a future ruler, but otherwise most electoral contests are fought along local issues. This is what Modi is seeking to change, by converting each MP seat into a national election and a vote for Modi and BJP which partially explains his overtly national agenda in all his speeches, public rallies and pronouncements. By touring all over India and building almost an unprecedented clamor for a single political leader, Modi has possibly converted the 2014 contest to a virtually one horse race. This is reminiscent of the early 70s and 80s, when all that mattered in elections was Indira Gandhi, and local candidates could be virtually any non-entities. Here is a small story from the 1980s to elucidate Indira’s hold over remotest corners of India. C.M. Stephen, an orthodox Christian from Kerala and a permanent resident of Delhi had lost the New Delhi parliamentary seat to opposition stalwart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee narrowly, but since he was to be in the union cabinet owing to his unquestionable loyalty to Mrs. Gandhi, Mr. Stephen was asked to contest from the Godforsaken, utterly backward, Gulbarga constituency in a bye-election. A Maliyalee speaking Delhi resident contested from northern Karnataka and won a landslide victory with a margin of over 33%. The funniest part of this story was that the voters of Gulbarga and even local Congress leaders couldn’t even pronounce the name “Stephen” and he was referred to as “Tiffin” even in open speeches by Congress leaders during campaign! Thus Mr. “Tiffin” won a parliamentary election without as much as visiting the town of his conquest – that was the power of Indira.

Of course, 2014 is not 1980, and our voting populace is presumably more mature now. So there could be a danger of localized shenanigans hurting the overall performance of the BJP. For instance, in our recent survey of Karnataka we have seen that 3 out of every 10 voters who want Modi as the next PM of India are not even voting for the BJP. A somewhat similar pattern is emerging from our Jharkhand survey too, albeit a little less apparent. Usually, these anomalies get sorted out by the time of elections as things settle down, but poor candidate selection can have a very adverse impact on such a factorial index.

Converting an election into a virtual national referendum is a great tactic no doubt, but Modi must be weary of localized factors. There is somehow a strange reluctance on the part of the BJP and Narendra Modi to address local issues at this point of time; for instance, his unwillingness to take on either the DMK or ADMK and their shortcomings in the Chennai rally last weekend was almost mindboggling – Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party and even the “recounting minister”, P. Chidambaram are virtually absent in the TN political landscape, so attacking them cannot possibly win you any additional votes. It is quite possible that there is a “stage-2” in the Modi strategy when he will take the campaigning to a far more local level once candidates are announced and the real electioneering begins in earnest.

Close Margin seats BJPYet, the interregnum, between stage 1 and stage 2 is where many a battle is lost, for it is here that contestants are decided and party tickets are distributed – a process in which BJP has failed time and again. In fact, not only did BJP lose more close contests in 2009 as compared to 2004, but also the number of very close contests (less than 3%) that BJP lost in 2009 more than doubled when compared to 2004 – from 15 to 34. These are very significant numbers that are telling us a story of bad ticket distribution of a party that is yet to realize its full potential.

The real battle for Narendra Modi over the next month is not external, for no political party or opponent can defeat him in the present political scenario of India. The real battle is within. Can Modi ensure that winnability is the sole criteria on which party tickets are distributed? Or will he succumb to the same old malaise of the BJP giving tickets to the likes of Pandit ji as in 1999 Chandigarh and face low margin defeats? The answer to these questions are crucial for the 2014 India which has rediscovered hope in another four-lettered word – Modi!


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Jharkhand Story Part One: The Preamble

In the summer of 2004, as I travelled all over northern India and happened to be in Hazaribagh at the peak of election campaign to be a witness to Lalu Prasad Yadav addressing an election rally, I was awestruck by the sheer anger against the central government and the amount of cheering from the crowd for an opposition leader. A consummate politician enthralling the voters with native wit woven in a fastidious political narrative is a sight to behold. Lalu is one of those rare politicians who can keep the crowd in rapt attention during his speeches and it is indeed an experience that shouldn’t be missed, for his connect with his audience is second to none. “All of you who will support RJD in the next Lok Sabha election stand on one leg and raise your right arm” proclaimed Lalu, suddenly, in the midst of his diatribe against the central NDA government led by BJP. Thousands in the crowd immediately followed his orders and stood on one leg even as a sea of hands went up in the air. Then Mr. Yadav, in his inimitable style, squealed in mock anger, “You Yadavs will always remain dumb, what was the necessity of standing on one leg? You could have simply raised your hand, I had no chance of noticing from the podium whether you are standing on one leg or two!”… And there was an uproarious laughter in the crowd even as half of them tried to re-stand on both their legs, while the other half was unsure whether they should!

This incident, although funny to an outside observer, gives us an idea of the amount of control Lalu Prasad has on the Yadav psyche in the Bihar region and the general Yadav affinity to hero worship a single political leader in the heartland. Incidentally, Lalu was able to defeat the then external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, in Hazaribagh by a huge 1 lakh vote margin in the 2004 election (CPI, an ally of RJD, won that seat). Jharkhand on the whole was a major disappointment for the BJP and NDA in 2004 as the Congress-JMM alliance swept the state by winning 10 MP seats while BJP was reduced to a solitary MP, despite getting the highest vote-share. That MP, Babulal Marandi, later left the BJP to form his own regional outfit and the party was in danger of being totally decimated in a state that Vajpayee had gifted to the long standing demand of a people who had seen scant progress even after decades of independent Indian rule.

 Jharkhand 2004 and 2009

In 2009, BJP lost a huge 6% vote-share as was feared after the exit of Marandi, but the party increased its MP seat haul by a whopping 800% to win 8 out of 14 seats. This difficult arithmetic was made possible by the Congress’s “go it alone” policy, which met with success only in UP and failed miserably elsewhere in the heartland; as a result both JMM and Congress lost 4% and 6% vote-shares respectively. What is clearly evident from the above chart is that BJP individually maintains a clear 12% lead over its nearest rival, but is not able to maintain a similar lead in terms of actual seats because of the index of opposition unity.

In the upcoming Lok Sabha election, the real threshold for any political party/alliance is to cross the 36% vote-share which would enable a literal sweep of Jharkhand. Since Congress-JMM have an alliance and going by the last two election cycles, it is theoretically possible that the 2004 result may be repeated (of BJP winning very few seats despite an individually higher vote-share). Practical electoral politics is a completely different ball game though, for there are two important factors that are going against the UPA;

  • A combination of massive anti-incumbency against both the corruption tainted central government and the non-performing state government
  • A reasonably powerful Modi-wave all across the heartland which is creating whole new social coalitions and enabling the united spectrum of Hindu vote

The second factor is clearly evident on the ground and is also proven in the recently concluded assembly elections in the neighboring states whereas the first factor is something that needs to be elucidated more clearly. Rahul Gandhi, the lone rival to Modi, is doing a roadshow today from the same Hazaribagh town where Lalu was able to create his magic just a decade ago. What is striking this time is the lack of enthusiasm among the people to even listen to the Gandhi scion. B.K. Harisprasad, the Congress general secretary in-charge of the state has been camping in Ranchi for the last two days marshalling all the resources at his command but is still unable to create a buzz. For instance, even the posters and banners weren’t posted on the roads as late as 24 hours before Rahul’s proposed arrival. Hundreds of youth Congress workers were fanning all over the colleges and schools to gather youth but were getting a less than enthusiastic response.

Consider this; Rahul Gandhi will be spending his morning at the Ashoka hotel conference room (Ranchi) interacting with tribal women who have been given special passes with seat numbers and at least 2 of them that I talked to were mighty uncomfortable about the whole exercise. Just goes on to show how distant Rahul and Congress are from the ground realities that they choose to “export tribal women” to a five-star hotel for a useless conference with the heir apparent (in the words of a local journalist). It is indeed a far cry from the Lalu Prasad Yadav of 2004 who was able to enthrall the crowd with his earthy wit to the hubris of a Rahul Gandhi of 2014 doing photo-ops with tribal women in five-star environs. In that difference between 2004 and 2014 is also the story of an India that I have witnessed firsthand, wherein a country no longer stands on a symbolic one leg at the command of a leader but wants to not only stand on both the legs but also wants to run like never before… towards an alternate destiny.

The chaiwala from Gujarat is the new euphemism for a hitherto backward India wanting to run, after getting tired of symbolisms of both the one-leg variety and the five-star kind. This tribal, mineral rich, eternally looted state of Jharkhand is possibly showing the way for India to rediscover herself even as anecdotal evidence from ground zero suggests a huge surge of support to Modi and his politics of change. To be sure, BJP hasn’t exactly shown itself to be any different in Jharkhand in terms of governance, but nothing can be as worse as the current government in the state.

A state in deep coma

To understand the apathy of the present Jharkhand government one must really visit the state, it is an experience that will bring tears to the eyes of the most stone-hearted bigot on earth! One wonders how Rahul Gandhi can even ask people to vote for his party in this state. Everything in the state has come to a virtual standstill, no government department is functioning, nothing is happening anywhere and all you see is the tired faces of people all around you. Let me try and elucidate the deep coma that the state has been pushed into with a very important example.

Just a couple of days ago the chief secretary took stock of all the departments and made a shocking announcement in a press conference that only 30% of the budgeted expenses for development works have been utilized in the last 10 months. Yes, a visibly upset R.S. Sharma, I.A.S, told the whole world that of the 16800 Cr annual budget allocated this year for various development works, only a paltry 5050 Cr were utilized till January 31st and there was now tremendous pressure to somehow utilize the remaining 70% of the funds in the next 2 months, before the fiscal comes to an end!

Budget allocation and utilizationAlthough most of the national media missed these shocking numbers (as usual), the people of the state are unlikely to forget this government for a long time to come. In fact, many people tell you that this is possibly the worst government the state has ever seen and not even the one headed by Madhu Koda showed such apathy for governance. As R.S. Sharma took different officers to task for their non-performance, he also knew that he is only addressing the symptoms of the disease, for the underlying pathology is a cancer of the political non-governance. Apparently no officer, right from the district collector to junior engineer, is safe in Jharkhand today, for he or she is not allowed to clear any files without paying a hefty fee to the political masters. The situation is so bad that many young junior level officials prefer to go on long leaves than to work for the government! No wonder that even allocated budget has remained unused to such huge proportions. What many local journalists are worried is that in the next two months most of the remaining budget would be swallowed by political corruption in a mad rush to meet the fiscal deadline.

Caste-Vote Matrix

Elections, especially in the heartland, aren’t as straight forward as the logical progression of electoral consequences for non-governance or corruption should be, for caste is a variable that cannot be ignored. In Jharkhand too, caste-vote matrix is of primary importance as a tool to analyze and understand elections. At the outset Jharkhand is a tribal state which is also the raison d’etre for the state’s formation, but scratch the surface and you will find all the colourful caste combinations that are part of the heartland politics – the Brahminical hauteur, the OBC mobilization, the Dalit imprudence, the Tribal dominance and the Muslim decadence.

Caste-Vote MatrixThe 39% of tribal voters are mainly composed of four main ethnic groups, of these Santhals constitute a 4th of all the tribals in the state with roughly 21 lakh votes which is why the Sorens enjoy so much of clout as they totally dominate the Santhal Paraganas. The other three important tribal groups are Oraon (11 lakh voters), Munda (9 lakh voters) and Ho (about 5 lakh voters). Apart from these dominant groups, there are scores of other tribes in Jharkhand with votes ranging from a few thousand (Bauri, Dom, Ghasi etc.) to a few lakhs (Bhuiya, Kol etc.). It is indeed a nightmare for a pollster to try and track all these communities so a broad spectrum of vote-weightage is used instead. Yadavs and Kurmis are the two dominant OBCs with roughly 16-18 lakh votes each, while the Telis constitute the third pole of the OBC vote with roughly 8-9 lakh votes. Among the upper castes, Brahmins have a lion’s share of vote-weightage with roughly 9-10 lakh votes. Unlike other parts of Hindi-heartland, the Muslim vote doesn’t matter much in the state which is also borne by the fact that Furkhan Ansari of the Congress party is the lone Muslim candidate to have won a parliamentary seat since the state was formed (he too lost narrowly in 2009).

One of the factors that has been responsible for BJP’s growth in central and north-central India has always been the Sangh-inspired outreach to the tribal populace which has given rich electoral dividends. Jharkhand is possibly the lone exception, for somehow BJP’s tribal strategy hasn’t taken off the way it has in the neighboring states of MP or Chhattisgarh. Congress’s ability to keep Santhal strongmen, the Sorens, politically relevant in the state for more than 2 decades has been tremendous. What has also helped the Sorens and the Congress is BJP’s mishap with Babulal Marandi – this is one of those unsavory aspects of Rajnath Singh’s leadership that will hurt the party for a long time to come, even if 2014 may push the issue below the carpet for the time being.

Our survey results should ideally tell us whether there is OBC consolidation in favor of Modi in Jharkhand too, especially, we should be able to examine the anecdotal evidence of Yadav’s moving towards BJP in a big way (for this we are trying to track specific polling booths in Chatra and Manika assembly segments of Chatra parliamentary seat using RSSI). The Kurmi vote also could be a crucial deciding factor in the 2014 election and the impact of Nitish Kumar’s split from BJP has to be analyzed. Similarly, our survey should also tell us if the Modi impact is limited only to OBCs and upper castes or whether the tribal voters are also looking towards the chaiwala from Gujarat with hope.

The geography

Chota-NagpurJharkhand is divided into Chota-Nagpur, Santhal Paraganas, Palamu and Singhbhum (Kolhan) divisions. The Chota-Nagpur division is by far the largest and also a traditional stronghold of the BJP – it consists of the entire Ranchi-Hazaribagh-Lohardaga-Dhanbad-Koderma belt and is home to more than 50% of the state’s MP seats numbering 8. The main contest in this region is between Congress and BJP while the other players queer the pitch. BJP had won 5 of these 8 seats in 2009, while Congress had won the lone seat of Ranchi (Subodhkant Sahay) and JMM had drawn a blank. BJP’s good showing was despite the division of votes due to the presence of Babulal Marandi’s JVM (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha) which had captured 5 lakh votes in the Chota-Nagpur region alone. In fact, Subodhkant Sahay won the Ranchi seat by a margin of just 13 thousand votes while JVM had accrued 31 thousand votes.

Santhal ParaganasIn the 3 seats of Santhal Paraganas, the contest is mainly between BJP and JMM, but Marnadi’s outfit and Congress usually play spoilsport here; for instance, JVM got close to 3 lakh votes in 2009 and yet couldn’t prevent BJP from winning two seats, even as Shibu Soren (JMM) managed to win his traditional stronghold of Dumka. All the seats here are multi-cornered fights, so the results can go any which way even with minor shifts in vote-shares. Congress may not contest any seat this time here, although Rahul Gandhi is supposed to be still keen on Godda. There is some talk of a silent seat-adjustment between BJP and JVM, but the situation is quite fluid yet.

The lone seat of Palamu and the two seats of Kolhan divsion – Jamshedpur and Singhbhum – make up the remaining 3 MPs. Of these, Singhbhum is currently held by former CM, Madhu Koda, as an independent, while Jamshedpur is interestingly poised as JVM had annexed the seat from the BJP in a bye-election due to another former CM, Arjun Munda, vacating the seat in 2011.

In Conclusion, the richest state of India which has seen near zero progress in the last 65 years has the potential of transforming India in the new century and is central to the vision of a Modi who wants to build a powerful economic platform from where India can take-off to new heights. The importance of winning Jharkhand could be more economic than political in nature, but the new messiah of heartland needs this state far more than most of the political pundits have understood.

[This is designed as a two part series, as Jharkhand is a state that many readers would be unaware of, in terms of the electoral and political landscape. Thus Part One is essentially introductory in nature, whilst part 2 would try and analyze the survey findings]