Thursday, February 12, 2015

Did BJP hold on to its vote share in Delhi 2015?

While discussing the shocking Delhi 2015 election results with anyone, a reference to the BJP vote share staying constant is almost certain. This myth is also being widely propagated on the social and conventional media. The vote shares for major parties in the past 3 Delhi elections are tabulated below –

2015 Vidhan Sabha
2014 Lok Sabha
2013 Vidhan Sabha

If you compare between the last 2 Vidhan Sabha elections, then BJP has somewhat held on to its vote share. But one cannot ignore the Modi factor in this election, as he and his style of governance was BJP’s campaign plank, almost till the end. Even the polling day, Modi’s face was splashed across all major newspapers in an attempt to urge voters to vote for BJP.
When you compare the vote share changes with respect to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it is evident, that AAP could have got only about 6.5% of the vote shift from the Congress. A majority of the APP incremental vote (around 15%) came from the BJP’s kitty.
Official BJP spokesperson’s are ignoring this drop and claiming that you can only compare a Vidhan Sabha election to another Vidhan Sabha election. In any other election season, I would have agreed but not now. If you attribute BJP’s increase in vote share in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and J & K to the charisma of Narendra Modi and organizational skills of Amit Shah, then you cannot insulate them when they have so spectacularly failed.

Another way to look at this “Constant Vote Share” argument is to acknowledge that all the effort that the Modi-Shah duo has put in the last 14 months, campaigning, building the organization strength, strategizing and governing the country has come to a naught J

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Battle lines – Bihar 2015

2015 Vidhan sabha elections in Bihar are a big test for all political parties. Nitish Kumar's JD(U) is looking to stay relevant after a complete rout in the last Lok Sabha. Laloo's RJD is also facing a credibility crisis, with him unable to contest elections. BJP has to build on the gains made in the Lok Sabha and figure out its strategy to counter the possible coalitions or mergers aimed solely at stopping them from gaining power. Congress which is already reduced to only 4 seats in the Bihar assembly will want to showcase some improvements to give hope to its nationwide supporters.
In this keenly contested political battle caste considerations reign supreme in strategies of all parties, with a smoke screen of development thrown in by the BJP and JD(U), led by Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar.  RJD is still trying to hold on to their traditional combination of Muslims and Yadavs. The JD(U) had in the past cobbled together a coalition of the backward castes, and maha dalits, with a strong support of Kurmis and Koeris. BJP has a strong support base in the upper caste Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasths and also some sections of the OBC. Congress has been marginalised and can only count on the support of Muslims and Brahmins, in certain pockets.
The Battle for Bihar 2015 will see strategies and counter strategies to out manoeuvre the opposition social combination. The proposed merger of the Janta Parivar is one such attempt to add Maha Dalits, Kurmi-Koeri, and some OBC votes to the Muslim-Yadav combination of RJD. This merger or coalition will also provide a strong anti-BJP pole which will help consolidate the minority vote. Problems in the proposed merger are already cropping up, with Nitish in a hurry but Laloo being cautious. This change is based mainly on the problems being faced by Nitish Kumar in controlling CM Jitan Ram Manjhi. In case of a change of CM, the maha dalits might feel cheated and move away from JD(U).  This would leave Nitish Kumar with only the Kurmis as his committed supporters and Laloo might not see great value in the merger. Laloo would then want to reach out to the Maha dalits himself and this was evident in his careful approach towards Manjhi in recent statements. A coalition with Congress would make more sense for Laloo in such a scenario.
The BJP, which received votes from across the social spectrum in the Lok Sabha, is aware that it will be difficult to repeat the same in the absence of a Modi centric campaign. BJP is therefore trying to break opposition votes by focussing on the Maha Dalits and the Yadavs. Current CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s actions and words are helping the BJP, and there are even hints that he might join the BJP and be their face to attract the Maha Dalits. In case Manjhi does not switch sides, then BJP will rely on Ram Vilas Paswan to be their Maha Dalit face. On the Yadav front, BJP has fielded Nand Kishore Yadav prominently, in addition to appointing Bhupendra Yadav as in-charge for the state and giving priority to Ram Kripal Yadav.

The rapidly changing political landscape of Bihar will see many more twists and turns and the final outcome will only be clear when the votes are counted. However, for any keen political observer or analyst, Bihar will provide key insights into the future direction of India’s politics, both in terms of social & political coalitions.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Electoral Battleground - Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2012

Political drama is at its peak in Uttar Pradesh, with instances of police atrocities, murders and rape continuing to hog the headlines in national media. This has pushed Mayavati on the the backfoot, who till a few months back was enjoying tremendous power without any problems. She was sweeping bye-elections, MLC elections and panchayat elections with ease. But now BSP cadres are jittery. They are not so sure now about the Sarvajan ideology helping them, this time around. The traditional vote bank of the BSP may still remain intact but the success mantra for the clear majority in the last assembly election was the support of upper castes (primarily Brahmins) and certain sections of Muslim community.

Today, the upper caste voters in Uttar Pradesh are having doubts about the capability of Mayawati in tackling the deteriorating Law & Order situation in the state. This was the very plank that catapulted Mayawati into power throwing out the Mulayam Singh government. Voters in UP always knew that they have no choice with regards to corruption but the least they wanted was an end to the goonda raj rampant in SP rule. Congress and BJP are trying hard to woo this segment as they have been their voters in the earlier days. How successful will these attempts be, will only be known at the hustings in about 10 months time. But they will surely regain some part of their lost support base.

Another important factor in these elections will be the impact of the new delimitation. By the very nature of the excercise, the number of urban seats have grown in sync with increasing migration to cities. This works to the advantage of Congress and the BJP as they are the major parties in the cities. The SP and the BSP at best play a fringe role in most big cities, coming 3rd or 4th. Many speculate that the rise in fortunes for the Congress in LokSabha 2009 in UP was in part due to the delimitation of seats.

This brings us to the all important Muslim vote bank in a state where they matter more than anywhere else in India. Mulayam had a setback in the LokSabha elections when he joined hands with Kalyan Singh, who is seen as a major architect of the Babri Masjid demolition. He then went on to antagonize Azam Khan, another popular muslim leader from SP, because of Amar Singh. Situations have now changed, Mulayam has kept Kalyan SIngh at a fair distance and would not dare repeat the same mistake again. Amar Singh is on his own and with that Mulayam has welcomed Azam Khan once again in the party. All is still not well and Azam Khan will definitely have his pound of flesh as he realisies that he is critical to Mulayam in his strategy to woo back the muslim community to SP fold.

Congress's efforts to woo the Muslims are being led by none other than Digvijay Singh, who one can argue sometimes goes overboard with his muslim appeasement agenda. Still Congress has no big names in UP to draw the Muslims to its side, the 3 Muslim MP's from the state are Cabinet Minister, Salman Khursheed, Mohammed Azharuddin, and Zafar Ali Naqvi. Salman Khursheed is not a popular face amongst the Muslim community and is not a mass leader. Azhar had jumped into politics and won form Moradabad, but has not been active ever since. Zafar Ali Naqvi is not a well known face amongst muslims and he was not able to get his son elected in one of the recently held bye-elections in Lakhimpur district.

One key entrant to the political landscape in UP has been the Peace Party. Led by Dr. Ayub, this party had started out from  Purvanchal and has now spread considerably. This is widely percieved to be led by well educated and professional muslims and are not seen as extremists. They have done well in a few bye-elections, where their candidates have come ahead of the Congress and BJP candidates. They also claim to be able to transfer their core votes to the parties in alliance, claiming to be similar to BSP in this aspect. They have formed a coalition with Ajit Singh's RLD, Indian Justice Party, Bhartiya Samaj Party and others and are planning to contest on all 403 seats. People across party lines are waking up to their potential of spoilers, if not winners. It is still early days but they might hurt the likes of SP and Congress and hence there are speculations about the financial backing of the party. Some sections of the political class claim  Peace Party to be a front set up to divide the muslim votes intended to help BJP. A name of a certain Hindu hardline MP from eastern UP surfaces in many such conversations.

With so much drama unfolding day by day, it is difficult to ascertain the facts from rumours, but one thing assured is a keenly contested election and lots of interesting plots and sub-plots. Keep your eyes and ears open till May 2012.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Just Another Cynic's Take on the Current Brouhaha Over Corruption and Politics in India

With Baba and his fast to mobilize masses in the fight against corruption, Anna and gang trying to bring PM under Lokpal's gambit and government taking stands/actions which to be fair it can definitely take legally, but then they make government look like a bunch of arrogant powerful folks. We have all shades of arguments being thrown in the debates we watch on TV or read in newspapers. Whatever these arguments are, at least everyone says that they want to solve the corruption problem, so let's go through some of their stands and arguments briefly.

First, we have Anna Hazare, whose fast did energize many intellectuals and enough in the middle class to support him because they were frustrated with the corruption scandals which have surfaced in the recent past. He and his colleagues believe that creating another giant power center cum government institution of Lokpal will solve the problem. Without getting into the debate on what should be the right size of government, let's accept that having a Lokpal with adequate powers to keep a check on the government and politicians definitely sounds like a good idea in the current times and in the Indian context. But team Anna's adamant stand on having PM under the Lokpal's gambit makes me wonder that if they would end up compromising on some other more critical aspects of the Lokpal bill in their attempt to have this symbolic victory over PM.

Next is Baba Ramdev, who has been making his speeches against the government on the corruption issue since past few years (I don't want to get into his claims about curing AIDS or medicines like Putravati or any other similarly ridiculous ideas). Disregarding some of the intellectuals who feel that Babaji felt jealous Anna's rise on this agenda and did all this, we can say that some times he even makes sense to the intellectuals. On the whole, probably he is creating some amount of positive energy in India through his yoga and speeches. But finally, with all the drama, a short lived fast and his flip-slops, he has definitely lost some of his credibility.

BJP/opposition: VP Singh took on the corruption issue of a Rs 64 crore scam and snatched the power from Rajiv Gandhi, who had led the Congress to get highest ever MP seats in the previous election (404 MPs). Contrast this with the current situation, BJP and other opposition parties have had the opportunity to take on the current coalition government on the scams worth humongously larger amounts of money than Bofors. Their inability to mobilize public support from the already frustrated citizens of India, clearly raises a lot of doubts about their capability (or the quality of their leaders) to come into power in the center in 2014 or maybe even 2019. Whether it is their lack of capacity or fear of getting trapped later because they also are equally corrupt can also be debated. In any case, opposition's showing has been pretty weak on an issue which is by nature a political issue.

Coming to Media, it is a group which definitely feels that they are the watchdogs for the government and convey that they are morally more responsible than us lesser mortals. Some of them have may have earned this feeling, but it is a shame for the media that the starting source of most good stories in the recent past has been civil society organizations (a topic for another post). Probably the economic pressures keep them from becoming anything but business of sensational infotainment. Whatever it is, they have been trying to take sides with Anna's team, or government. Ones taking side with Anna blindly are probably doing so because they can get more eyeballs, whereas the others lambasting Anna's team (and also NAC) for trying to hijack the role of politically elected lawmakers maybe doing so because feel they are smarter than others because they know the constitution.

Finally, we have the maibaaps in government i.e. Congress, which (along with opposition parties) seem to be totally ignoring the fact that politicians as a class have lost credibility in the eyes of us commoners. It doesn't mean that they won't win the next election, because to their advantage corruption and the amounts of money involved in an election make the electoral politics out of bound for rest of the mortals and the leaders of civil society organizations. And such is the audacity is our leaders in the government that they want to crush any of the efforts of civil society or public to even protest. In Baba Ramdev's case, his naivete in politics was leading him to a path of destruction only, but then government has to crush the movement, which made him gain empathy from even the intellectuals who disliked Baba for some of his ridiculous ideas. To add to this self-inflicted injury, they went ahead totally rejecting the idea of bringing PM into the gambit of Lokpal and made the statements which came along with their strict stand. It is a negotiation which definitely could have been handled much better, and thankfully they have now come to the idea of having more options on the table like keeping PM out till he/she demits, but it's so late that it just makes them look like bending a bit after they realized they can't do without it.

Showing you can crush when you have the power do so, is not considered being responsible. Compare the center's handling of Baba Ramdev with how Ashok Gehlot handled the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan. Nobody would doubt the integrity of some leaders in the Congress but still their strong reactions to these protests are just creating more reasons for the public to not trust them.

An odd thought here is that VP Singh was a rebel from Congress, and given that no one in the opposition has shown potential to lead the country in this fight against corruption, could it be possible that someone from the Congress would capture this opportunity. A rebel would definitely make a really interesting political drama, but it could tried someone staying within the system too e.g. Rahul Gandhi. Again it's an opportunity for him and someone else too, but we would have to wait if these men of power would just stay risk averse as they been mostly or take their chances.

Anyway, maybe because I am ignorant, I feel that this whole problem is much more complex than any of these stakeholders try to portray it to be through the solutions they propose. The near universal acceptance of corruption in the Indian society can make one say that within limits corruption has become a part of the culture for most Indians. Elites and some civil society’s members may be able to take a higher ground and claim that they have neither given nor taken a bribe ever, but rest of the mortals have their benchmarks of how much corruption is tolerable and what is a cancer for the society.

People are certainly looking for the options to place their trust upon, at least the voter turnouts at all the recent state elections suggest so, but there aren’t any options. That’s why they find it easy to trust some crusaders for their cause from the civil society when that role should ideally have been played by the politicians. It’s not just the people, but even the real centers of power like our PM, Mrs. Gandhi and the likes also find it easy to trust these NGOish leaders and thinkers than the politicians from their own party, and that is why we have a NAC.

My take on the situation is that it is all mesh of many vicious circles. Our polity has failed to provide us with the competitive leaders, primarily because it is nowhere close to equal opportunity world because the money required to be considered as a serious player is very high. This unfair competition then enhances to incentives to be corrupt, and then these corrupt leaders find themselves lacking any authority to stop others (bureaucrats, judiciary, govt employees) from being corrupt. Adding to all this the rising aspirations of citizens of our democracy living in an increasingly connected world where they can easily see that the possibilities of growth could be beyond imagination, and the result we get is what we see today: an economy quite entrenched in corruption (even in the private sector) with people have become very pragmatic and care more for their goals.

Another institution like Lokpal could also probably follow the same path and become corrupt over time if corruption problem is not targeted holistically. We need to clean up our judiciary, administration, politics all together while maintaining a right balance of power among these players and also managing the economic growth in a inclusive manner at the a good rate of growth. From where the change can start is a dicey question especially with so many entangled vicious circles, but more or less we can agree that politicians are the most likely candidates who could lead India through this transition, though not alone. We can just hope that either our existing political leaders will transform into such responsible and visionary leaders, or we will soon see another crop of leaders which is highly competitive and capable to deliver up to the expectations of public.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Safeguarding against Corruption in Elections

With all the hue and cry over corruption and systemic changes required in this country, I was wondering what would be the one thing that I would want to change. Having great interest in the political systems and processes of this country, and having tracked elections closely for the last six years, my mind wandered around for a bit with issues like funding of elections, cleaner candidates, right to reject etc. However, one fundamental issue that struck me as very critical yet ignored, was the issue of trusting the whole electoral process when you cast your vote. It is not unknown for political parties to claim mass rigging of the electoral process even after the advent of EVM's. Some argue that with EVM's mass rigging has become faster and more difficult to detect.

So what can be done to restore faith or increase the faith of voters, and the participants in the electoral process? The Aadhaar program (UID) is undertaking a massive drive to make a biometric database of all residents of the country and is expected to complete this process sooner than later. We should use this great tool by incorporating this into the current electoral process in addition to the Voter ID cards and photo electoral rolls. What I propose, and many others may already have proposed, is the use of biometrics as authentication before a vote is cast. The EVM can match the biometric information from a physical thumb (or finger) impression placed directly over the EVM, with a database of the biometric information on the EVM itself. Relevant biometric information can be downloaded onto the EVM for the voters of the booth beforehand in an encrypted format by the election commission officials.

The election officer will release a vote (like he does now) and if the biometric information matches that in the database of the EVM the vote will be cast. The EVM should also be programmed to allow only one vote to be cast for one match. 

This process will not need the EVM to be on a network, hence not impractical in far flung areas. Obviously, the election officers will verify the photo id card as well. In certain cases, where there is a problem with the match, a voter can cast his vote as a "Contested Vote", along the same lines, as in case someone has already cast your vote in today's scenario.

This is by no means thoroughly whetted solution to this problem, but a solution, that was difficult to implement earlier, but now with plans for UID already in place, seems feasible.