Monday, 21 October 2013

Why neither Narendra Modi nor Rahul Gandhi will be India’s next Prime Minister

As some of my readers will know, I write a regular column in THE INTERNATIONAL INDIAN magazine (published from Dubai). This is titled "Guptara Garmagaram" and has been willing to publish views that none of the major Indian publications has been prepared to countenance.

Here is the latest of my columns, which will appear in the next issue of THE INTERNATIONAL INDIAN:

Supporters of both Narendra Modi (NaMo) and Rahul Gandhi (RaGa) have started campaigning intensely with a view to seeing their favourite made India’s next Prime Minister (PM). Actress Mallika Sherawat produced a birthday video for NaMo, and my cousin has just sent me singer Krishnan Sugavanam's “youth anthem” which praises NaMo - the lyrics describe his humble beginning as a tea vendor and go on hypnotically to project NaMo’s candidacy.

As for RaGa, many people have predicted that Congress will win inspite of the NaMo factor – whether RaGa then gets a shot at being PM remains to be seen.

The facts are that while BJP will certainly win around 130 seats (it holds 117 seats at present), there is no way that BJP can win more than 200 seats of the 552 in the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha).

The Upper House is also important in terms of legislation, it has 238 representatives of the Indian States and 12 members nominated by India’s President for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social service – though the Upper House is not significant in terms of political control and rather balances the interests of India’s people as a whole by the interests of India’s States.

Congress supporters think that they will definitely win 140 seats and may win many more (they hold 206 seats at present) – and some seem to think that, given developments in the last few weeks and those that can be foreseen before the elections, Congress may even win enough seats to form a government on its own (and certainly with the support of other parties). No wonder a Congress victory has been asserted as certain by Congress functionaries, ranging from RaGa himself to various minions.

On the strength of present surveys what we can definitely say is that neither BJP nor Congress seems at all likely to have an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. After the elections, therefore, it will be a matter of which party can gather enough other parties around it to form a majority in Parliament. That party seems extremely unlikely to be BJP, since everyone knows that Modi’s strength as well as his weakness is his dictatorial tendency; with him it is “My way or the highway”.

As a result of that, the most likely result is that Modi may end up in Parliament at best as Leader of the Opposition.

RaGa too has many weaknesses so, in my view, a Congress-led alliance willl only be possible at the cost of a compromise candidate – someone other than RaGa.

However, there is a wild card in these elections: entirely new political parties have begun to make their presence felt.

Morever, this is the first election where voters will have the option of voting for “None of the above options” in order to reject all the candidates contesting the election in a constituency.

What good that does in terms of having a result in an election is not clear: what happens if the majority in a constituency votes “None of the above”? Do all the parties then put up fresh candidates for a fresh round of voting? No doubt, we will come to that pass sooner or later – when it will be interesting to watch what happens.

The dates of the elections for seats in the State Parliaments have now been announced for Delhi, Rajasthan, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh – and these will be between mid-November and early December, though the votes in all these will be counted on a single day: December 8. That will provide an early indication of which way the wind is blowing for the national elections, though the Indian voter has been consistently canny in sending candidates from different parties to the State Parliaments as against the National Parliament.

Don’t be surprised if the new Parties sweep the board. For example, in the elections for the Delhi Legislative Assembly, a Party that did not exist only a few months ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is expected to take 18 out of the 70 seats, according to a poll by ABP News and Nielsen a few days ago (the last poll, a few weeks ago, gave AAP only 8 seats!).

My view is that, as we get closer to the elections, AAP will actually overtake both BJP and Congress to become the single largest party in Delhi - and may even win outright, specially given that its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, is already the most popular candidate for Chief Minister of Delhi. Thirty two per cent of the respondents preferred Kejriwal as the Chief Minister, while 27 per cent preferred the Congress incumbent Sheila Dikshit, and only 27 per cent were for the BJP’s Vijay Goel. Merely in the few weeks between August and the beginning of October, Kejriwal gained a whopping eight per cent over the BJP and Congress candidates.

AAP is, at present, contesting seats only for the Delhi Assembly. However, if it does well here, I have no doubt that it will rapidly spread its wings nationwide. A large number of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who were totally disinterested in politics in view of the widespread corruption in both BJP and Congress, have become active supporters of AAP, many of them actually moving physically to Delhi to support the AAP campaign.

This is in addition to the increasing number of NRIs who, as can be seen on the AAP website, are supporting it financially – not to mention first-time Indian supporters of any party.

But the AAP is only one of the new parties. For example, there is the ARVP (Adarsh Rashtriya Vikas Party) which claims to bring together India’s OBCs, Dalits, Tribals, Muslims and other religious minorities. There is the Professionals’ Party of India (PPI) whose aim is to “improve the quality of life of every Indian”. In anticipation of the national elections, PPI has announced that it “has joined hands with like-minded eminent people, whose primary aim is Nation Building”. Its earlier “Core Group has been reconstituted to provide the party a nationwide support base and a National presence”. However, this is supposed to be “just phase 1” of its plan for more exciting development in the months ahead, during which it is “resolved to provide … the best possible list of candidates who, with your support, will make this nation proud”.

Though, for my taste, we have in our country far more talk of “pride” than is justified by our “work” and by our “achievement”, it is possible that such new, ethically- and nationally-oriented parties will come together to form a New Front in the months ahead, which would be a genuine national alternative to the two old and tired parties.

AAP has already said that it will support neither BJP nor Congress.

If this New Front persists in ethically-based behaviour, it has the best chance of taking the country forward – provided it is not merely ethically-based but also capable of actually delivering better infrastructure, better education, and a better quality of life.

One final fact: we have a new generation of voters that have become eligible to vote – 75 million of them. These young people have no necessary ties with either of the two old parties, and are unlikely to be influenced by their parents.

That is why I, who don’t usually bet, am prepared to bet that neither NaMo nor RaGa who will be the next Prime Minister of India, but an entirely fresh face.