SIGNS THAT SHOW BJP IS WORRIED IN GUJARAT

First phase of Gujarat state election is over. The second phase is on 14 December and the results will be out on 18 December. But the chances for the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat since 1995, are not looking so bright this time. There are, in fact, signs that say the BJP may lose the polls this time. Signs, that reflect in pre-poll surveys and trends in election campaign.

PRE-POLL SURVEYS

An opinion poll just days before the first phase of Gujarat assembly election on 9 December projected it to be neck and neck contest between Congress and the BJP. The ABP-Lokniti-CSDS survey projected equal vote share for both parties at 43 per cent. According to the survey, BJP is expected to win 91-99 seats and Congress 78-86.

Though the survey still gives the BJP more seats, when we see it in continuation of its previous pre-election surveys, we can easily see the rising graph of Congress as the campaign is progressing. The same agency in its November survey had predicted 113-121 seats for the BJP and 58-64 for Congress while its August opinion poll had given the BJP even a wider margin projecting 144-152 seats for it against Congress’ 26-32 seats.

Another set of surveys by Times Now also shows a declining graph for the BJP. Its October survey gave the BJP 118-134 seats which came down to 106-116 seats in its December tally. On the other hand, though not much rosy, the Congress pie went up from 49-61 in October to 63-73 in December.

The BJP is facing 22 years of anti-incumbency and to make matters worse this time, there are factors that can derail its juggernaut there, Narendra Modi, demonetisation, GST, atrocities against Dalits and demands of Patel reservation. Narendra Modi is not the chief minister of the state and the CSDS opinion poll showed that the trading class is not happy with demonetisation and GST. And the biggest faces of Patel reservation protests and the movement against Dalit atrocities, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani, are with Congress.

DEPLOYMENT OF A LARGE TEAM TO COUNTER ONE PERSON

The BJP has unleashed its full force in the Gujarat campaign. Apart from dozens of union ministers, many chief ministers and senior BJP leaders, Narendra Modi himself has devoted fulltime to the party’s prospects in Gujarat. He is addressing multiple rallies in a day with at least a big rally scheduled in every district of the state. Though Vijay Rupani is Gujarat’s chief minister, the BJP face in the Gujarat polls is no doubt Narendra Modi. And all this is to counter a single face from Congress, Rahul Gandhi, who has been pivot of Congress’ campaign.

RELEASE OF MANIFESTO IN THE 11TH HOUR

The BJP released its manifesto just a day before the first phase of Gujarat state election. Though the party quoted busy campaign schedule and technicalities behind this delay, the truth is, the BJP move came after Congress made it an electoral issue with Rahul Gandhi calling it a disrespect to the people of Gujarat. Congress had released its manifesto on 4 December.

RAHUL GANDHI’S UNORTHODOX MOVES

Two stands taken by Rahul Gandhi stand out here, saying he is a mature politician now and can take his journey as Congress’ president further. First, he had issued a written instruction to his party leaders last month not to launch personal attacks against Narendra Modi, seeing how a long list of below the belt comments by Congress leaders targeting Narendra Modi had hit the party’s electoral prospects, be it Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death) or Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘chaiwala’ or his very own ‘khoon ki dalali’ in last year.

Second, he immediately got Mani Shankar Aiyar suspended from the Congress party for his ‘neech aadmi’ (vile man) comment on Modi saying, “The Congress has a different culture and heritage and I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the PM and both, the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.”

While asserting that “the BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party”, Rahul, at the same time, denied the BJP the plausibility of using Congress’ personal attacks on Narendra Modi in its favour. And it is evident from the fact that Aiyar’s ‘neech aadmi’ jibe could not get much echo beyond few rallies.

RELIGION CARD

Rahul Gandhi started his Gujarat election campaign from Dwarka and has visited several temples across the state so far while on the campaign trail. He has declared his family and himself ‘Shiv bhakts’ (devotees of Lord Shiva) and is trying consciously to adopt the Soft Hindutva image to counter the BJP’s Hindutva politics. And it seems he has been successful so far in his attempts.

Otherwise the BJP would not have made Rahul Gandhi’s religion such a big issue, and that too based on a fake news. The BJP went big time saying Rahul was not a Hindu as he signed a non-Hindu visitor’s register during his Somnath Temple visit, a claim which was later refuted by the Somnath Temple trust.

‘DEVELOPMENT IN GUJARAT’ NARRATIVE MISSING

The BJP initially said its poll plank was all about development in Gujarat, something that would speak for itself. To counter it, Congress mounted a well-lubricated social media campaign focusing on ‘how development in the state had gone crazy’. But one look at BJP campaign speeches and one can easily see the development plank missing from there, something even its ally Shiv Sena pointed out today in its editorial Saamna.

DRAGGING PAKISTAN AND CHINA IN GUJARAT POLLS

The final days of campaigning in Gujarat has seen Narendra Modi and the BJP dragging in the issue of China and Pakistan meddling in Gujarat polls with Narendra Modi going as far as to allege that many including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a secret meeting involving the High Commissioner of Pakistan and an ex-Pakistani minister to discuss the Gujarat election.

There have also been allegations that Mani Shankar Aiyar colluded with Pakistan and even put out a contract to eliminate Narendra Modi. But the issue is not finding much traction as evident from the media coverage of elections. Apart from few news outlets, most of them are desisting from taking any stand on these allegations and counter-allegations.

©SantoshChaubey

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THE AMETHI LOSS IS SYMPTOMATIC OF CONGRESS’ ROUT IN UTTAR PRADESH

The results of local body polls in Uttar Pradesh today once again confirm that Congress has become totally irrelevant in India’s politically most important state that sends 80 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

While the party has expectedly come fourth in the overall tally dominated by the BJP, what is symbolic of Congress’ plight in India’s most populous state is its rout in Amethi, the perceived bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, currently represented by Rahul Gandhi, which is proving a slippery ground for the grand old party of India if we see the past results.

The BJP has registered spectacular win in Uttar Pradesh and Amethi while Congress has literally been wiped out. Amethi has two Nagar Palika and Nagar Panchayat seats each. It lost both Nagar Palika elections in the constituency, Jais and Gauriganj while it had not fielded candidates for Nagar Panchayat polls in Amethi and Musafirkhana. In Jais, in fact, the candidate fielded by the party came fourth. On the other hand, the BJP won the Jais Nagar Palika and Amethi Nagar Panchayat elections.

Moreover, to compound the misery of Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made an impressive debut in the polls winning two chairman and 33 councillor posts. The party came fifth, just behind Congress.

The drubbing of Congress in Amethi civic polls is symptomatic of its rout in Uttar Pradesh, the state that has given nine prime ministers to India. The party that has ruled Uttar Pradesh for almost three decades is in imminent danger of being totally wiped out from the state including the Amethi and Raebareli Lok Sabha seats, its traditional strongholds since the days of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Rahul Gandhi’s mother and Congress’ president Sonia Gandhi is the current Raebareli MP. While Sonia Gandhi may not contest the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019 due to her health concerns, Amethi becomes important for Congress to retain as the seat will represent Congress’ next president with Rahul’s elevation scheduled later this month.

But if we go by the results of the assembly constituencies that fall in the Amethi Lok Sabha seat, we can say the Congress citadel has never overwhelmingly supported Congress, especially after Rahul Gandhi took over the constituency from his mother in 2004 Lok Sabha polls that he won comfortably.

Amethi parliamentary constituency (PC) has five assembly constituencies (ACs) – Tiloi, Salon (CS), Jagdishpur (SC), Gauriganj and Amethi.

In fact, in his first two LS polls from the Amethi constituency, Rahul won comfortably and massively, increasing his vote share from 49.33 per cent in 2004 to 57.25 per cent in 2009 but we also need to keep this in mind that whenever it came to parliamentary polls in Amethi, Rahul almost always got walkover from the main opposition parties, SP and BSP. And BJP was nowhere in the scene as a potent political force with a consistent downward spiral in Uttar Pradesh.

But that changed in 2017 assembly election. Stunning even the most seasoned political pundits, BJP won the assembly elections with a huge margin with 325 seats in the 403-member UP legislative assembly, so much so that no Muslim candidate could win even the minority concentration districts of western UP and their overall representation in UP assembly came down to a historically low of 25 MLAs, from a high of 68 Muslim MLAs in the UP assembly just five years ago, in 2012 assembly election. The 2017 outcome followed the massive BJP wave of 2014 LS election when the party had 71 out of the 80 LS seats in India’s most populous state.

And it reflected even in Amethi, in 2014 and now in 2017.

The battle for 2014 proved a tough one for Rahul Gandhi with senior BJP leader Smriti Irani as his main opponent. She gave a spirited fight and it reflected in Rahul’s winning margin coming drastically down to 12.36 per cent. Following is the break-up on how Congress has performed in Amethi assembly polls since Rahul Gandhi took over the Constituency.

2017 ASSEMBLY ELECTION IN AMETHI

In assembly election earlier this year, BJP won four out of five assembly constituencies falling in the Amethi PC, the party that had failed to win even a single AC in Amethi in 2007 and 2012 assembly polls. Congress failed to open even its account with the other left seat going to SP. Moreover Congress didn’t remain even the main opposition in two ACs, ending up third in Tiloi AC and fourth in Amethi.

TILOI (178)
Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh – BJP – 96119 votes
Mohd Saood – BSP – 52072 votes
Vinod Kumar Mishra – Congress – 3rd – 35837 (18.55%) votes

SALON (SC) (181)
Dal Bahadur – BJP – 78028 votes
Suresh Chaudhary – Congress – 61973 votes

JAGDISHPUR (SC) (184)
Suresh Kumar – BJP – 84219 votes
Radhey Shyam – Congress – 67619 votes

GAURIGANJ (185)
Rakesh Pratap Singh – SP – 77915 votes
Mohd Naim – Congress – 51496 votes

AMETHI (186)
Garima Singh – BJP – 64226 votes
Gaytri Prasad – SP – 59161 votes
Ameeta Sinh – Congress – 4th – 20291 (10.85%) votes
BSP – 3rd – 16.13% votes

But even earlier, in 2007 and 2012 assembly election, Amethi PC was not clearly a Congress bastion, if seen from the perspective of AC voters.

2012 ASSEMBLY ELECTION IN AMETHI

In 2012 election, SP, the party that had won that year’s assembly polls with 224 seats overall, ended up winning three out of five ACs falling in Amethi PC including the Amethi AC while Congress could win only two. The only solace that the party could have drawn was, it remained the principal opposition in other three ACs.

TILOI (178)
Dr Mohammad Muslim – Congress – 61249 votes
Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh – SP – 58539 votes

SALON (SC) (181)
Ashakishore – SP – 69020 votes
Shiv Balak Pasi – Congress – 48443 votes

JAGDISHPUR (SC) (184)
Radhey Shyam – Congress – 56309 votes
Vijay Kumar – SP – 50912 votes

GAURIGANJ (185)
Rakesh Pratap Singh – SP – 44287 votes
Mohd Naim – Congress – 43784 votes

AMETHI (186)
Gayatri Prasad – SP – 58434 votes
Ameeta Sinh – Congress – 49674 votes

2007 ASSEMBLY ELECTION IN AMETHI

2007 was tad better for Congress when it could win three out of five seats in the parliamentary constituency. The 2008 delimitation had not affected the basic AC composition of the Amethi PC and it still consisted of the abovementioned five assembly segments – Tiloi, Salon, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj and Amethi – of which Congress won three including Amethi and remained the principal opposition in other two – out of which one went to SP and the other to BSP.

TILOI (92)
Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh – SP – 44513 votes
Dr. Mohammad Muslim – Congress – 44056 votes

SALON (SC) (97)
Shiv Balak Pasi – Congress – 45078 votes
Asha Kishor – SP – 31969 votes

JAGDISHPUR (SC) (107)
Ram Sewak – Congress – 34563 votes
Shri Ram – BSP – 21356 votes

GAURIGANJ (106)
Chandra Prakash – BSP – 34386 votes
Mohd Naim – Congress – 28393 votes

AMETHI (105)
Ameeta Sinh – Congress – 48108 votes
Ashish – BSP – 35684 votes

©SantoshChaubey

WHERE ASSEMBLY CONSTITUENCIES IN AMETHI GO? CERTAINLY NOT TO CONGRESS!

If we go by the results of the assembly constituencies that fall in the Amethi Lok Sabha seat, we can say the Congress citadel has never overwhelmingly supported Congress, especially after Rahul Gandhi took over the constituency from his mother in 2004 Lok Sabha polls that he won comfortably.

Amethi parliamentary constituency (PC) has five assembly constituencies (ACs) – Tiloi, Salon (CS), Jagdishpur (SC), Gauriganj and Amethi.

In fact, in his first two LS polls from the Amethi constituency, Rahul won comfortably and massively, increasing his vote share from 49.33 per cent in 2004 to 57.25 per cent in 2009 but we also need to keep this in mind that whenever it came to parliamentary polls in Amethi, Rahul almost always got walkover from the main opposition parties, SP and BSP. And BJP was nowhere in the scene as a potent political force with a consistent downward spiral in Uttar Pradesh.

But that changed in 2017 assembly election. Stunning even the most seasoned political pundits, BJP won the assembly elections with a huge margin with 325 seats in the 403-member UP legislative assembly, so much so that no Muslim candidate could win even the minority concentration districts of western UP and their overall representation in UP assembly came down to a historically low of 25 MLAs, from a high of 68 Muslim MLAs in the UP assembly just five years ago, in 2012 assembly election. The 2017 outcome followed the massive BJP wave of 2014 LS election when the party had 71 out of the 80 LS seats in India’s most populous state.

And it reflected even in Amethi, in 2014 and now in 2017.

The battle for 2014 proved a tough one for Rahul Gandhi with senior BJP leader Smriti Irani as his main opponent. She gave a spirited fight and it reflected in Rahul’s winning margin coming drastically down to 12.36 per cent. And we can assume the next one in 2019 is going to be even tougher as Smriti has maintained a regular connect with Amethi, visiting the constituency like she has always been in the electoral mood.

And in assembly election earlier this year, BJP won four out of five assembly constituencies falling in the Amethi PC, the party that had failed to win even a single AC in Amethi in 2007 and 2012 assembly polls. Congress failed to open even its account with the other left seat going to SP. Moreover Congress didn’t remain even the main opposition in two ACs, ending up third in Tiloi AC and fourth in Amethi.

2017 ASSEMBLY ELECTION
TILOI (178)
Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh – BJP – 96119 votes
Mohd Saood – BSP – 52072 votes
Vinod Kumar Mishra – Congress – 3rd – 35837 (18.55%) votes

SALON (SC) (181)
Dal Bahadur – BJP – 78028 votes
Suresh Chaudhary – Congress – 61973 votes

JAGDISHPUR (SC) (184)
Suresh Kumar – BJP – 84219 votes
Radhey Shyam – Congress – 67619 votes

GAURIGANJ (185)
Rakesh Pratap Singh – SP – 77915 votes
Mohd Naim – Congress – 51496 votes

AMETHI (186)
Garima Singh – BJP – 64226 votes
Gaytri Prasad – SP – 59161 votes
Ameeta Sinh – Congress – 4th – 20291 (10.85%) votes
BSP – 3rd – 16.13% votes

But even earlier, in 2007 and 2012 assembly election, Amethi PC was not clearly a Congress bastion, if seen from the perspective of AC voters.

In 2012 election, SP, the party that had won that year’s assembly polls with 224 seats overall, ended up winning three out of five ACs falling in Amethi PC including the Amethi AC while Congress could win only two. The only solace that the party could have drawn was, it remained the principal opposition in other three ACs.

2012 ASSEMBLY ELECTION
TILOI (178)
Dr Mohammad Muslim – Congress – 61249 votes
Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh – SP – 58539 votes

SALON (SC) (181)
Ashakishore – SP – 69020 votes
Shiv Balak Pasi – Congress – 48443 votes

JAGDISHPUR (SC) (184)
Radhey Shyam – Congress – 56309 votes
Vijay Kumar – SP – 50912 votes

GAURIGANJ (185)
Rakesh Pratap Singh – SP – 44287 votes
Mohd Naim – Congress – 43784 votes

AMETHI (186)
Gayatri Prasad – SP – 58434 votes
Ameeta Sinh – Congress – 49674 votes

2007 was tad better for Congress when it could win three out of five seats in the parliamentary constituency. The 2008 delimitation had not affected the basic AC composition of the Amethi PC and it still consisted of the abovementioned five assembly segments – Tiloi, Salon, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj and Amethi – of which Congress won three including Amethi and remained the principal opposition in other two – out of which one went to SP and the other to BSP.

2007 ASSEMBLY ELECTION
TILOI (92)
Mayankeshwar Sharan Singh – SP – 44513 votes
Dr. Mohammad Muslim – Congress – 44056 votes

SALON (SC) (97)
Shiv Balak Pasi – Congress – 45078 votes
Asha Kishor – SP – 31969 votes

JAGDISHPUR (SC) (107)
Ram Sewak – Congress – 34563 votes
Shri Ram – BSP – 21356 votes

GAURIGANJ (106)
Chandra Prakash – BSP – 34386 votes
Mohd Naim – Congress – 28393 votes

AMETHI (105)
Ameeta Sinh – Congress – 48108 votes
Ashish – BSP – 35684 votes

©SantoshChaubey

HOW RAHUL GANDHI HAS PERFOMED ELECTORALLY IN AMETHI

Rahul Gandhi started contesting Lok Sabha polls from Amethi from 2004, the year when BJP’s India Shining campaign unexpectedly failed; ending Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rule and a coalition government led by Congress’ Manmohan Singh came to power.

Since 1967, when Amethi was carved out as a Lok Sabha constituency, it has been a Congress bastion, only briefly going to Janata Party in post-Emergency wave for three years and for a year to BJP in 1998.

And since 1980, it has been with the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sanjay Gandhi was a member of parliament from here in 1980 but his untimely death saw his brother and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi representing Amethi four times in the Lok Sabha till 1991 when he was killed in a terror attack. After Rajiv, Congress’ Satish Sharma was Amethi’s MP till 1998.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s wife, had joined politics and was chosen Congress president in 1998 and Amethi again came back to the Nehru-Gandhi family in 1999 when Sonia Gandhi contested from here, scoring a massive victory.

In the next Lok Sabha polls in 2004, Sonia left Amethi seat for her son Rahul Gandhi and shifted her base to Raebareli, another Nehru-Gandhi citadel and Congress fortress. Since then, Rahul has been winning the Amethi seat.

But while in his previous two terms, in 2004 and in 2009, where he almost got walkovers from other parties with successive gains in his already impressive winning margins, from 49.33 per cent of total valid votes polled in 2004 to 57.25 per cent of total valid votes polled, the battle for 2014 proved a tough one with senior BJP leader Smriti Irani as his main opponent.

She gave a spirited fight and it reflected in Rahul’s winning margin coming drastically down to 12.36 per cent. And we can assume the next one in 2019 is going to be even tougher as Smriti has maintained a regular connect with Amethi, visiting the constituency like she has always been in the electoral mood.

2014 AMETHI LOK SABHA ELECTION

Rahul Gandhi – Congress – 408651 votes
Smriti Irani – BJP – 300748 votes
Margin – 107903 – 12.36% of total valid votes

2009 AMETHI LOK SABHA ELECTION

Rahul Gandhi – Congress – 464195 votes
Asheesh Shukla – BSP – 93997 votes
Margin – 370198 – 57.25% of total valid votes

2004 AMETHI LOK SABHA ELECTION

Rahul Gandhi – Congress – 390179 votes
Chandra Prakash Mishra – BSP – 99326 votes
Margin – 290853 – 49.33% of total valid votes

1999 AMETHI LOK SABHA ELECTION
Sonia Gandhi – Congress – 418960 votes
Dr. Sanjai Singh – BJP – 118948 votes
Margin – 300012 – 48.07% of total valid votes

©SantoshChaubey

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS BEFORE 2019 LOK SABHA POLLS

WILL NARENDRA MODI REMAIN NUMERO UNO?
Like it was in 2014 Lok Sabha polls when it had helped Modi emerge as the only pan-India leader. Manmohan Singh had faded. Rahul Gandhi was not there. And regional satraps were just one-state phenomenon. If Modi had any competition from the regional satraps, it was from within the BJP only.

CAN RAHUL GANDHI BE THERE?
It seems Rahul Gandhi is honestly now trying to reach there, trying to break the image of a reluctant politician that he has carried ever since his initiation into the national politics in the latter half of the last decade. He is looking to break myths and facts around him with and after his US trip. And he is sounding focused.

DEMONETISATION, GST AND PETROLEUM PRICES – WHERE THE ECONOMY WILL GO?
It has been mostly negative developments ever since the demonetisation was announced on November 8 last year – or if we say negatives far outweigh the positives so far, it will be apt – at least the goings at the moment say so.

India is a country of small and middle income people and businesses and demonetisation negatively affected them, even if we go by the logic of the short term pain – because no one can vouch for the long term gains – except some studies including the World Bank’s and Nomura’s projections that have shown faith in an exercise that really proved unimaginable in scale (read confusion here). GST has only added to this pain and (confusion).

The Modi government has been fortunate to reap the windfall benefits of historically low crude oil prices that have helped it mitigate the huge under recoveries of its oil marketing companies. In addition, the government has also filled its coffers with lakhs of crore of Rupees by increasing the excise duty multiple times. It has kept the oil prices high, like these were during Manmohan Singh’s government. BJP had made it a big issue then, in spite of the fact that the crude oil prices were historically high then.

Now Congress and opposition parties are making it an issue and they are right, at least in public perception – and this is all what matters in electoral politics – even if the Modi government has diverted this windfall gain in several infrastructural projects. That BJP is feeling the heat due to all these issues becomes clear from the government action on revising GST structure and hinting that it is now going to pass on the benefits of the low crude oil prices to consumers, finally.

WHAT WEIGHT THE REGIONAL SATRAPS WOULD CARRY?
The regional satraps are still one-state phenomenon. And what goes against them is, the appeal of their parties is also limited to their respective states – SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh – BJD in Odisha – RJD in Bihar – TMC in West Bengal – TRS in Telangana – Left Front in Kerala – and DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

The most important of them, who could have rallied other regional satraps behind him and could have posed a formidable challenge to Modi, Nitish Kumar of JDU in Bihar, is now Modi’s ally, thanks to politics of yore by RJD.

THE ALWAYS ILLUSIVE THIRD FRONT?
India has just few short lived governments third front governments, i.e., of VP Singh, of Chandra Shekhar, of IK Gujral and of HD Deve Gowda, and the alternative third front politics has always been a failure. The basic problem has been – all of them consider themselves to be PM material – so the unity to challenge the main national parties, i.e., first Congress and now Congress and BJP, has always been a misnomer. The maze doesn’t look different even this time.

©SantoshChaubey

THE RAJYA SABHA ELECTIONS AHEAD: IT IS GOING TO BE EVEN MORE DRAMATIC

Every Rajya Sabha (RS) election has become a talking point as it is in the Upper House of the Parliament where the ruling BJP finds itself in minority especially when it comes to passing bills and regulating the legislative agenda of the House. The drama and suspense around the election of three Rajya Seats from Gujarat can be seen in this context.

The Rajya Sabha elections for ten RS seats spread across three states, i.e., West Bengal, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, became dramatic this time thanks to Gujarat which is seeing a contest for the first time since 1996. Here, four candidates, including BJP heavyweights Amit Shah and Smriti Irani and Sonia Gandhi’s confidante Amhed Patel, were in fray for three seats and midst reports of cross-voting and other election code violations, the Election Commission had to withhold the counting procedure. It invited the parties, listened to their complaints, deliberated on legalities and finally came to the conclusion that the Congress was right that finally paved the way for Ahmed Patel’s victory.

Candidates for other seats, i.e., six in West Bengal and one in Madhya Pradesh, were elected unopposed.

Though the BJP and its coalition of parties known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are now the largest bloc in the Rajya Sabha, they are still far from, either the simple majority or two-thirds majority. A simple majority in the 245-member House needs 123 seats while a two-thirds majority needs 166 seats. And yesterday’s elections are not going to change that as the parties have retained their respective seats.

The BJP which is now the largest party in the Rajya Sabha has just one seat more than the Congress’ 57. Also, its coalition is in no better shape. After the dramatic political upheaval in Bihar with chief minister Nitish Kumar and his party Janata Dal (United) joining the NDA, switching sides from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the ruling alliance though now has 89 RS MPs, it is still 34 seats away from the simple majority in the House even if Nitish’s act has brought down the strength of the UPA from 84 to 74 MPs in the RS.

Following is the spread-sheet based on Rajya Sabha and Election Commission data that explains when the next Rajya Sabha elections in different states are going to be held. The table shows state-wise and tenure-wise retirement of the members of the Rajya Sabha which sees biennial elections to replace its one third members who retire every two years.

The table also shows the incumbent governments in states and when the next assembly elections are due there as it is the strength in the legislative assemblies that determines the outcome of the RS election. According to the information available on Rajya Sabha’s website, 67 RS MPs are retiring next year while in 2019, the year when the next General Elections are due, only 8 RS MPs are scheduled to retire. The BJP can expect to consolidate its position further in 2018 when 42 RS seats to be filled will fall in the NDA led states but the Gujarat experience says it is not going to be smooth road ahead.

The huge majority in Uttar Pradesh is expected to give BJP seven new RS seats out of nine falling vacant next year from the state but the party or its coalition partners don’t enjoy that advantage in other states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar. Also, the future assembly elections will further add to that sense of unpredictability.

©SantoshChaubey

WITH BIHAR AGAIN IN ITS FOLD, BJP IS NOW RULING OVER 73 PER CENT OF INDIA

India has 29 states and seven Union territories. Polls are held in these 29 states and two of the Union Territories, i.e., Delhi and Puducherry.

With Bihar again in its fold, the other states where the BJP and its allies have their governments now are – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh (NDA partner TDP), Jammu & Kashmir (NDA partner PDP), Nagaland (NDA partner NPF) and Sikkim (NDA partner SDF). The party is number two in Himachal Pradesh and Delhi.

The BJP and its allies were already ruling around 70% of India’s geographical area with 53% of its population before the dramatic Bihar development. After an NDA government in Bihar, the area under the BJP’s influence has gone up 73 per cent with 62 per cent Indians residing here.

The BJP and its allies are now the ruling party/coalition in 18 Indian states while the Congress, that has ruled India for almost 55 years in its 70 years of independent, sovereign history, has shrunk to just five states and one union territory with Karnataka and Punjab as the only electorally significant states in its fold.

In terms of geographical spread, the Congress has shrunk to just 13% of Indian territory with only 11% of the country’s population residing in areas ruled by it.

The BJP along with its allies is now in all corners of the country with its state governments, in north India, in central India, in south India, in West India, in east India and in north-east India, the footprint the Congress enjoyed earlier while the Congress has reduced to only few pockets.

Other big states barring Karnataka and Punjab are all with the regional parties who have chosen not to ally with the Congress – Tamil Nadu (AIADMK), Telangana (TRS), West Bengal (AITC), Odisha (BJD) and Kerala (Left Front). In fact, the governments of Tamil Nadu and Telangana have shown clean NDA tilt on multiple occasions.

Also, elections in Karnataka are due early next year and its prospects don’t look good and there are very real chances that the huge anti-incumbency against the Congress led government will allow the BJP to easily win the state. The other states in the Congress fold are all smaller states, i.e., Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and union territory Puducherry.

©SantoshChaubey

CAN RAM NATH KOVIND, SECOND DALIT PRESIDENT, FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FIRST DALIT PRESIDENT K R NARAYANAN?

The article originally appeared on India Today.

India’s President-elect Ram Nath Kovind is only the second Dalit President of the country. He won comfortably by cornering 66 per cent of the Presidential electoral college while his rival, another eminent Dalit politician, Meira Kumar got 36 per cent votes.

The result of the presidential election held on 17 July was just a requirement for Kovind to take over India’s apex constitutional job and the coveted Rashtrapati Bhawan at the Raisina Hills in Delhi. But since he is the only second Dalit President in the country, he would obviously be compared with the first Dalit President of India, K R Narayanan who was in office from 25 July 1997 to 25 July 2002.

Former President K R Narayanan, described by Jawaharlal Nehru as the best diplomat of the country, was known as a pro-active President with an official run that saw landmark active presidential interventions and three of them stand out, his flat no to the then BJP led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government on the Constitution’s review in favour of Presidential System in India, his conscious decisions of returning the Union Cabinet advice on imposing the President’s Rule in states and his advocacy for weaker sections for their under-representation in Indian judicial service.

THE CONSTITUTION’S REVIEW

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to dilute the terms of reference of the National Commission that it had constituted for the Constitution’s review in 2000. After stern message from Narayanan who would go on to say that “we should examine whether the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution”, that any Constitution review process could only be undertaken within its basic framework only, preserving the sanctity of the Parliamentary System of India, the Atal Government was forced to change the basic mandate of the National Commission from ‘the ‘Constitution’s review to review the working of the Constitution’ with an assurance that the ‘review will be done without interfering with the basic structure of the Construction’.

The other most visible change that the former President’s tough stand brought was on who was going to head the National Commission to review the Constitution. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy L K Advani, reportedly, had requested former President R Venkataraman, a strong proponent of the Presidential System, to head the National Commission. But Narayanan’s reservations on the Presidential System, coupled with objections from the BJP allies like DMK and TDP on Venkataraman, the government had to shed the idea. Then it zeroed in on the name of the former Chief Justice of India (CJI) and former National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman M N Venkatachaliah. But Justice Venkatachaliah only agreed to head the commission after given assurance that the basic structure of parliamentary framework of the Constitution would not be touched and his decision would prevail in recruiting the other ten members of the Commission.

REFUSED TO APPROVE IMPOSITION OF PRESIDENT’S RULE IN UTTAR PRADESH AND BIHAR

This one is a fine example to see how President Narayanan rose above party politics to upheld the dignity of the post that required, theoretically, unflinching loyalty to the Constitution and unwavering impartiality in dealing with the political parties irrespective of the previous political affiliation.

In October 1997, President Narayanan returned the union cabinet decision on imposing President’s Rule under Article 356 in Uttar Pradesh for reconsideration. The United Front Government was led by Congress’ I K Gujral. It didn’t matter for Narayanan while returning the decision that he was a career Congress politician brought into politics by Indira Gandhi and was a Union minister in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. Gujral government respected his decision and the BJP led UP government of Kalyan Singh escaped the dismissal.

Almost a year after it, in September 1998, Narayanan returned the Union Government’s file on imposition of the President’s Rule in Bihar. The government in centre was of BJPs’, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee which had recommended the dismissal of the RJD government in Bihar led by Rabri Devi. In a series of dramatic developments, the Rabri government was able to demonstrate that numbers were in its favour – 182 MLAs in a legislative assembly of 325 members. The then NDA government had based its decision on imposing the President’s Rule in Bihar citing corruption and Constitutional breakdown in the state but the clear majority in the Bihar assembly in Rabri Devi’s favour could not override President Narayanan’s conviction that dismissing an elected government in the case would be akin to acting against people’s mandate and thus violating the spirit of the Constitution.

These two decisions of President Narayanan remain unparalleled in the Indian political history. They effectively established the credibility of the institution of the President of India that it was not mere a decorative position with a rubber-stamp President to follow the diktats of the government of the day but an institution that housed the soul of the Indian Constitution.

ADVOCACY FOR WEAKER SECTIONS IN THE INDIAN JUDICIARY

K R Narayanan was vocal about under-representation of Dalits in the higher judiciary. He would often question the judges’ appointment and transfer process in the High Courts and the Supreme Court, something that even invited confrontation with the judiciary. Narayanan on record had said even if deserving candidates from the weaker sections were available, they were ignored.

He had written in November 1998, “I would like to record my views that while recommending the appointment of Supreme Court judges, it would be consonant with constitutional principles and the nation’s social objectives if persons belonging to weaker sections of society like SCs and STs, who comprise 25 per cent of the population, and women are given due consideration.”

Though the then CJI strongly refuted it ruling out any caste-based discrimination in the appointments in the higher judiciary, two successive CJIs, A M Ahmadi and J S Verma, had failed to recommend elevation of any High Court Dalit Justice to the Supreme Court, before CJI M M Punchhi recommended Justice K G Balakrishnan who was then the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court for the Supreme Court in March 1998.

After the strongly-worded suggestion from Narayanan, the judicial circles started trying to figure out whom the President was referring to but CJI A S Anand, who succeeded Punchhi refused to elevate Balakrishnan as he was 53 then while the minimum age for the elevation to the Supreme Court was 55 as per the judicial convention being followed. Though exceptions could have been made for meritorious candidates, the Supreme Court Collegium ruled out doing so in Balakrishnan’s case who was finally elevated to the top court in June 2000 after he turned 55 in May 2000.

LIKE NARAYANAN, KOVIND, TOO, COMES FROM A HUMBLE BACKGROUND

President-elect Ram Nath Kovind, too, comes from a humble background as President Narayanan. They both had their share of struggle before they started on the path to success in life. Kovind though may not have as illustrious a career as Narayanan had who was an IFS officer, a career diplomat, a union minister and the Vice-President before becoming the President of India, he has been a successful lawyer, practicing in India’s apex court for years.

And like Narayanan, he has also earned a reputation of playing by the rule book while being Governor of Bihar. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is all praise for him the way he has discharged his gubernatorial responsibility in the state. Like Narayanan, he has been speaking for the weaker sections going as far as to join agitation against laws that he considered anti SC/ST. His clean and non-controversial record will only help him.

Let’s see if he can follow in the footsteps of K R Narayanan, extending the legacy of the Presidents who restored the credibility of the institution. In his post-victory speech, an emotional Kovind said he was going to the Rashtrapati Bhawan as a representative of every Indian citizen who worked hard to arrange for an evening meal. Let’s see where his conscience drives him.

©SantoshChaubey

FAR-RIGHT GETS MAINSTREAM IN FRANCE

Increasing right-wing populism is making the world more inward looking, protectionist and hostile to the anti-people movement between the countries.

And the just concluded French presidential election, with a liberal pitted against a far-right candidate, was also being seen in this context. A far-right victory in France, one of the major global powers, socially, economically and militarily, would have been another major setback for the liberal politics.

And though France has given its answer, we need to go beyond mere stats. Though France has elected a liberal candidate with a thumping majority who had based his election campaign on everything antithesis to the far-right promises of his rival candidate, the far-right, too has got a sizable chunk of votes.

France’s president elect Emmanuel Macron who had launched his centrist political movement En Marche! just a year ago in April 2016 and has had a political career of just five years, won 66 per cent of the votes, almost twice of her far-right rival Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FP) who got 34 per cent votes.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right FN had exploited social insecurity owing to high unemployment rate in France that is hovering around 10 per cent, a number of terror attacks that have killed over 230 in the last two years and a troubled economy with years of sluggish growth rate. She said globalisation and Islamism were two major threats France was facing.

Her remedy to save France from the threats of terrorism, unemployment and troubles of economy were classic far-right.

She blamed globalisation and the European Union and promised to take France out of the EU, the Euro and the passport free travel zone Schengen Area. She promised to crackdown on immigration to save France from Islamic terror and joblessness. The biggest refugee crisis that the world is witnessing since the World War II with hordes of people from the civil war torn countries trying to cross into the safe territory of the European countries only added to the sense of social insecurity – with terrorism and high unemployment in the backdrop. A section of French population believes that it will be detrimental to the French culture.

These are exactly the attributes the right wing politics is explained with – protectionism, anti-globalization (anti-EU or Euroskepticism in case of the EU), nationalism and ultra-nationalism, anti-immigration and nativism or ethnic preferences. France is known for its liberal values, politics and social life, something that Le Pen had vowed to upturn, with her attempted grab of populism by adopting tough anti-globalization, anti-immigration, anti-Euro and anti-Islamism measures.

And when she performed exceedingly well in the first round of the French presidential election on April 23, coming close second to Macron’s 23.8 per cent with her 21.5 per cent votes, bypassing all other nine candidates including the Socialist and the Republican Party candidates who have ruled over France for decades, it came as shock for many.

Though Macron was projected to win the polls, the first round results presented a very real chance for Le Pen to emerge as winner, especially if voters of the Socialist and the Republican parties decided to boycott the polls with no socialist or republican candidate in the fray. And the figures of abstentions and rejected votes – as high as 36 per cent – tells us that many of them, indeed, did not support Macron.

And even if Macron has registered a spectacular win, we cannot dismiss the fact that Le Pen’s vote share tells us that over 30 per cent of the France now identifies with the right-wing politics, that is highest for any far-right party in any major country in the world. And she has vowed to take her political journey forward.

And if Macron fails, she is bound to make a bigger come back. Macron has inherited a divided France, hanging between conflicting ideologies. He has no time and has to be on the job from day one to fulfill his campaign promises of taking France out of economic stagnation, create jobs, tackle terrorism and balance immigration. And he has to do all that keeping in mind that even his campaign saw violent protests and anger in the streets.

©SantoshChaubey

EMMANUEL MACRON, THE UNORTHODOX POLITICIAN, WHO CAN BECOME THE YOUNGEST PRESIDENT OF FRANCE

The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bid modified and extended.

If elected, at 39, Emmanuel Macron would be the youngest president in the French electoral history. Before it, Napoleon Bonaparte’s 40-year old nephew Louis Bonaparte was elected in 1848. France is holding its second and final run-off round of presidential election today. By tomorrow, the outcome will become clear on who has won the polls though it will be officially declared on May 11. According to pre-poll projections, he is set to win the election with all the surveys giving him a lead of 20-23 per cent over his rival Marine Le Pen.

Macron, whose rise in French politics is described as meteoric, sounds like an unusual politician who holds his ground for what he believes in. He is unabashedly pro-European Union and pro-free immigration. He is a staunch believer in globalization and advocates for common Eurozone budget. He has apologised for the French colonial legacy, especially in Algeria, likening it to “crime against humanity” and believes in integration and assimilation of Muslims to tackle the rising spectre of Islamist fundamentalism, and therefore terrorism, in France.

He has not taken a comfortable middle way to skirt his views by using diplomatic words, especially after the rise of Marine Le Pen, her rival from the Front National (FN) with a far-right ideology, who has risen to become an important pillar in the French politics exploiting people’s scepticism and fear against the EU, globalization, immigration and linking terrorism and Islamism after spate of terror strikes in France that has killed over 200 in last two years. Le Pen sees globalization and Islamism as two major threats for France while Macron quotes in his speeches the disorder that Brexit has brought to Britain and Donald Trump’s election to America, attacking the far-right ideology directly, two events that Le Pen finds capable of creating a new world. Le Pen promises taking France out of the EU while Macron talks about France’s greater integration in the EU.

The incumbent French president Francois Hollande from the centre-left Socialist Party (PS) brought Macron in politics. Macron was member of the Socialist Party from 2006 to 2009. In 2009, he became an independent politician. In 2012 when Hollande became the president and the Socialist Party got majority in the National Assembly, he became member of Hollande’s personal staff. In August 2014, he was appointed a minister to oversee economy, industry and digital affairs in prime minister Manuel Valls government.

He was going strong and was seen as the political protégé of Hollande with a prime career ahead. But no one had expected that it would come so soon. In an orthodox move, he left his political office in April 2016, his formed En March! (EM), that he called a political movement that translates to ‘on the move’. His supporters liken the event with ‘birth’ when Macron had announced to form the EM. In August 2016, Macron resigned from the Valls government to take a plunge in the presidential elections.

And within eight months, he has become the presidential candidate with highest ratings who looks poised to win the election when the results are finally announced. Macron emerged with the largest vote share in the first round of the French presidential polls held on April 23, according to the pre poll projections.

Macron won the first round with a narrow margin. He secured 23.8 per cent votes while his rival, Marine Le Pen of came a close second with 21.5 per cent votes. The polls go to the second and run-off round when no candidate is able to secure 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, something that has never happened.

Macron has also won the televised debated between him and Marine Le Pen, held on May 3, comfortably, with 63% viewers finding him more convincing. And for the final rounds, all pre-poll surveys have given him a 60-40 lead over Le Pen. Some surveys have reported even higher a gap.

His campaign’s emails and documents were hacked on Friday and were leaked online, hours before the campaigning ended. But it is not expected to affect the final outcome as there was literally no time to use it as election propaganda material. Also the election commission in France has issued stern warning to disseminate it further.

Like his political decisions, he has taken an unconventional approach even to his personal life. He is married to his teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 24 years older than him. When they began courtship, she was married and was a mother of three. She left her husband and married Macron in 2007.

Born to doctor parents, Macron is a philosophy and public affairs graduate. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National School of Administration which has given three French presidents including Hollande. He was in the French Civil Services from 2004 to 2008 when he left his government career to join Rothschild as an investment banker that made him a millionaire.

He has been able to present himself as a youthful source of energy with fresh perspectives in the ongoing political discourse in the country. And the rewards, so far, have been quick and stunning. And now there are very real chances that we are going to see the next French president in him when the results are announced on May 11 after the final round of the French presidential election today.

©SantoshChaubey