Thinking About Thinking. Elections 2014 – 1
Supporters may vehemently disagree, but there seems to be a veritable surfeit of irrational exuberance among the supporters of Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat and for all practical purposes the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party and the person expected to stake his claim to Prime Ministership should the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance win the general elections scheduled for 2014.
Premature celebrations and a sense of inevitability over Narendra Modi’s ascendancy erupt with frequent regularity on the social media. Between now and the general elections lie almost a year of uncertainty and manoeuvring.
Manoeuvring by the BJP itself which has shown a most remarkable talent for shooting itself in the foot -repeatedly, a worried Congress party and leadership wanting to wish and wash away nine years of scams and misgovernance, and fickle allies wanting to make sure they choose the winning side when the curtain closes on election 2014.
The fate of Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions is contingent on a host of factors, not least of all being the ability of the NDA to get to the magic figure of 272 Members of Parliament (MP) – the simple majority mark in the Lok Sabha. More critical for the BJP is the number of seats it can win on its own, for that will provide it with a bargaining cushion with its more fickle allies.
Let us look at some possible scenarios that may unfold, based on the number of seats that the two principal alliances win – the UPA and NDA. While the number of seats that the Congress and BJP could win is in some ways related – apart from a scenario where regional parties suddenly find themselves completely out of favour with the voters, it is reasonable to assume that the Congress and the BJP both cannot be expected to raise their tally of seats or votes at the same time – let us speculate on possible post election scenarios starting with the Congress.
By the way of a summary, it is important to keep in mind that the Congress party won 206 seats in the 2009 elections, increasing its tally from the 2004 elections by a whopping 61 seats on the back of a mere 2% swing of votes in its favour. The BJP on the other hand saw its tally decline by 22 seats on the back of a 3 per cent decline in votes polled. The difference in the seats between the two parties was a massive 90 seats.
Congress wins more than 180 seats.
This is, on an analysis of the current ground situation, the single most unlikely scenario. It would however be pertinent to note that deft political moves – some may call it desperate – may make it possible for the Congress party to have an outside chance of retaining 180 or more seats in 2014. If that were to happen, it is a near certainty that the Congress will form the next national government for a third time in succession.
For the Congress to win upwards of 180 seats it would need to do several things, either in exclusion or in some combination. It could create a large enough politically homogeneous vote-bank that could be relied upon to swing the results in enough constituencies to get it past the 180 mark.
While in the past the Congress could rely on the backward classes, and the Congress did in fact do its best to keep them socially and economically backward, this vote bank has split and has been appropriated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other regional political parties over the last twenty years.
The Congress tried to appease the so-called Hindutva vote-bank in the late 1980s and woo it away from a resurgent BJP, when Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister and leader of the Congress, ordered the gates to the Ram Janambhoomi temple at Ayodhya opened, thus setting in motion events that would culminate on December 6, 1992. That move backfired and the BJP ended up gaining the most out of the Congress party’s communal politics.
The Muslim vote bank never quite forgave the Congress for that perceived treachery and between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the BSP parties the Congress found itself decimated in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh. Things have changed considerably in the past twenty-five years and it is a much wiser Congress party today.
It has implemented and announced several steps and policy measures to wider the schism between groups and ethnic blocs in society, and continues to diligently unearth new ways of dividing society on communal lines, the latest being its initiative to set up special courts for Muslims, a promise to reserve jobs for Muslim communities, pronouncements that Muslims have the first right to resources in the country, and so on – a twenty-first century implementation of divide et impera.
While Muslims have had a history of voting on religious lines in India for several decades, the state of Gujarat proving to be the perhaps lone exception in the state elections of December 2012 when a sizable number of Muslims voted to re-elect the BJP Chief Minister, Narendra Modi (the BJP won 60% of the seats where Muslims constitute 20% or more of the population in the constituency).
Going back to the pre-Independence times, the Congress had allied with the fundamental and orthodox elements in the Muslim clergy and political class (the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen was till November 2012 a member of the Congress-led UPA alliance) in India to stymie the social and economic upliftment of the community, while marginalizing the moderate and progressive voices within the community.
The prospect of a significantly large electoral group voting en-masse on almost exclusively communal lines makes it a very tempting option for a beleaguered Congress. Such a voting pattern can decisively influence election results in more than a hundred constituencies where such a bloc forms more than ten per cent of the electorate and where the margin of victory or defeat is less than 2 or 3 percentage points.
Second, in the event that a religious partition of the country’s electorate is deemed unpredictable in its ability to deliver the necessary votes, the Congress would need to reach out to a wider section of the electorate. Outright bribes are one option. They however can be very expensive, for the party, and also illegal. The way out of that is by legislating economic bribes, through the promise of free food and free wages to a massive section of society.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act(MNREGA) and the Food Security Bill (FSB) are two examples of astute political but economically ruinous policies. These can destroy the fiscal edifice of a nation, but the immediate returns to the Congress are simply too alluring to be passed up on.
Lest one get confused over opposition to a scheme meant to benefit the poor, it should be pointed out that the bulk of the funds allocated to these schemes are actually siphoned off by politicians, contractors, and bureaucrats, thus incentivizing them to support the Congress lest the spigot of free public money dry up. Favourable coverage will always be forthcoming from the ideologically inclined and a pliant main stream media, with little critical analysis of such policies.
Lastly, on this point, it should be pointed out that MNREGA and a seventy thousand crore rupee (Rs 70,000,00,00,000) farmer loan waiver is credited with having helped the Congress win the 2009 elections, though at the cost of crippling the country’s finances, destroying the agricultural credit system, and creating a runaway inflation monster (CPI inflation during the Congress-led UPA’s tenure the last eight years has averaged over 8 per cent, compared with less than 4 per cent between 1998 and 2004).
A third option is not something that could be directly attributed to the Congress, but it is worth pointing out that the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) can determine the results of an election known even before voting has taken place.
While electoral fraud can be committed even without EVMs, as is alleged here for instance (also read here, here, here, here), EVMs make fraud that much more difficult to detect and trace. There have been security concerns raised about the vulnerability of EVMs to tampering.
In the absence of any paper trail it is easy to see that manipulation of election results via EVMs represents a safer and more reliable method of engineering election results. Indeed, Minhaz Merchant, journalist and biographer, hinted as much in a tweet on May 6 2013, when he wrote, “In Guj, BJP fell from 125 to 115 in last hour of counting. In Karn, Cong rose from 109 to 119. Lightning strikes twice?”
In Guj, BJP fell from 125 to 115 in last hour of counting. In Karn, Cong rose from 109 to 119. Lightning strikes twice?
— Minhaz Merchant (@minhazmerchant) May 8, 2013
This, and lawsuits brought seeking to bring transparency to these voting machines, suggests that there is some disquiet and a lack of confidence in the fairness of polls conducted under the Congress regime, which can be more harmful to democracy in the longer run.
A fourth option that may or may not be initiated by the Congress is a little more extreme, and I will dwell upon it in the second part of this article.
Yes, 180 seats for the Congress is almost as unlikely as having a semi-literate foreigner run the world’s largest democracy by proxy, with zero accountability, who is given a free unquestioned run by a pliant media that would put Pravda to shame, and rule by proxy through a rubber stamp of a retired bureaucrat who has never won a direct election in his life, some may argue.
Views expressed are the personal opinion of the author.