Sunday, 30 August 2015


A strong anti-incumbency wave not withstanding, the BJP managed to emerge as the largest party in the fifth largest civic body in the country as it finished with an impressive tally of 100, one more than the half way mark in spite of most poll pundits predicting an easy victory for the Congress. This was the saffron outfit's third consecutive win in local elections after it pipped the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan earlier this month. Under fire from all quarters over Lalit Gate and the Vyapam Scam, this hat trick of wins will be a big morale booster for the saffron camp and its supporters. For the Congress which romped to power in the state in 2013, all its hopes of wrestling control of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Pallike (BBMP) were dashed as it could muster just 76 seats. Meanwhile, for the JD-S which was expected to emerge as the King-Maker in case of a hung assembly, its future in the IT hub, like in the rest of the state seems to be bleak. Of course, with a complicated structure wherein the 13 MPs, 28 MLAs and 11 MLCs (total 250) too end up deciding the final outcome, it is still uncertain as to which party will form the next council in the city. Though the mandate seems to favor the BJP, it remains to be seen if backroom talks and negotiations between the former allies - the Congress and the JD-S can prevent the saffronists from retaining control of the BBMP.

Coming to the results, the BJP dropped eleven seats as compared to the last BBMP polls held in 2010 when it had finished with 111 seats. The Congress did well, increasing its tally from 65 to 76 but falling well short of the saffron outfit in the end. Fourteen nominees from the JD-S emerged victorious, a drop of one while 8 independents too made the cut. As far as the vote share is concerned, there was not much difference between the two parties. The BJP managed to get 40.45 % of the total votes polled, just a percent more than the INC; in a two sided contest like this, even a small difference in vote share can give a  big lead to one side in terms of numbers. From the perspective of the saffron camp, it was South Bengaluru that helped it in surging ahead in the Silicon city as it won a staggering 50 of the 76 wards from here. In the end, it was this massive lead that sealed the deal for the BJP. The Congress did relatively well in East Bengaluru, winning 20 of the 39 seats. In the other two ends of the city, the national parties were pretty much even-stevens.

The man of the moment for the BJP was R Ashoka, the MLA from Padmanabhanagar who had served as the deputy CM under the previous saffron regime in the state and was put in charge of the party's campaign in Bengaluru. In fact, the Vokkaliga leader was involved in every aspect of the polls and is believed to have hand picked the candidates. An experienced leader, he chalked out an effective strategy to retain control of the BBMP, employing the services of several incumbent MLAs and getting the city's three MPs and former CM B S Yeddyurappa to canvass for the party's nominees. The superlative performance of the BJP in wake of a rather mediocre report card of its previous council and the presence of a Congress government in the state is going to enhance the stature of the Padmanabhanagar MLA within the saffron ranks. Many are speculating that post the big win, he could be one of the front runners to lead the party in the state for the 2018 assembly elections. Unfortunately, for the party, it could still have to sit out in case of an unholy alliance between the Congress and JD-S with the support of independents, though such a scenario is highly unlikely. The big worry for the saffron outfit at the moment is that the tenure of 6 of its city MLCs ends in January 2016 and at present, it lacks the numbers in the state assembly to re-elect them.

For many, the victory for the BJP would have come in as a major surprise especially after the allegations of corruption and money laundering against several of its corporators. However, it is the Congress that needs to be blamed for cutting the strong anti-incumbency wave and handing over the BBMP to the saffron outfit on a platter. In spite of virtually governing the city for nearly an year, it failed to solve the problems that it had accused the BJP council of ignoring during its tenure including traffic woes and garbage disposition. Moreover, the Siddaramaiah government tried its best to postpone the civic polls for a long duration till the Supreme Court intervened and ordered it to hold the elections to the council within three months in a verdict delivered in May earlier this year. This was portrayed by the Opposition as Siddu's way of controlling the city while denying the citizens their right to chose their local governing body. While the delay tactics cut the saffron loses, the decision of the state government to trifurcate the BBMP seemed to have not pleased the electorate at all. In fact, the BJP had accused the INC of dividing Kempe Gowda's city for electoral gains.

While the results in the BBMP polls might make Ashoka one of the forerunners to lead BJP in the next state elections, for the incumbent CM Siddaramaiah, it was a clearly a major embarrassment. Firstly, he failed to keep up to his promise of improving the garbage situation in the city and the delay in holding the elections negatively impacted his image as one who did not care for the residents of the state's biggest city. Then, he committed the blunder of sidelining all other party leaders and heading the Congress' campaign in Bengaluru. Former CM S M Krishna, who continues to be very popular in the IT city for the various development schemes started during his tenure was kept away from campaigning. All party posters and banners carried the images of the CM along with nation leaders including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh. It was clear what the Varuna MLA was trying to portray; following the drubbing the Lok Sabha polls, he wanted to project a Congress win in the Silicon City as his own and answer his detractors within the INC. The move backfired, pretty badly. Though he refused to accept the results as a verdict against his government, there is no doubt that he will have a lot to answer in the coming days. Of course, all is not yet lost. An alliance with former partner the JD-S and the support of the 8 independents could push the coalition just over the line.

The Congress state unit in Karnataka is a divided house, split primarily into two factions - one backing Siddu and the others comprising of old timers who are opposed to the CM. Those belonging to the opposite camp have time and again accused the CM of being 'arrogant' and not taking others in account while taking key decisions. They regularly point to his affiliations with the JD-S prior to joining the Congress and hit out at him for playing 'partisan' politics. Following the defeat in the BBMP elections, this lobby is expected to get stronger. However, the big question is whether CM Siddamramaiah will be forced to resign in the near future. The answer, in my opinion is 'No'. With Karnataka being the only state where the INC is in power on its own, it will certainly not wish to send the wrong signal by revamping its leadership. Secondly, the Kuruba leader is the party's most popular face here. With S M Krishna in the eighties and Mallikarjuna Kharge acting as the party's leader in the Lower House of the Parliament, there is no other state leader of equal stature to be appointed to the post of the CM. And most importantly, from the Congress' perspective, Siddu continues to enjoy the unwavering backing of the party president Sonia Gandhi whose word within the INC is final.

Finally, for the party that boasts of an ex-PM and two ex-CMs within its ranks, the results could not have been worse. Speaking to the media post the announcement, former CM H D Kumaraswamy expressed deep unhappiness over the outcome in spite of all that his party was supposedly doing for the city. He even threatened to ignore the capital completely and concentrate on other areas of the state. Ironically though, the regional outfit run by the father-son duo, much like personal fiefdom is fast losing most of its political appeal amongst the masses. Reduced to 2 seats in the parliamentary polls in 2014 and having lost much of its Vokkaliga vote bank to its rivals, it is but eminent that the Gowdas need to introspect and see why they are not able to win the trust of the voters. However, there is still a ray of hope for them. The BJP's victory is in no way decisive and the JD-S could hold the key to the formation of the next council in the city.

As I end this post, let us see what the results of the BBMP polls are telling us especially in the context of the Karnataka state polls 2018. Firstly, the BJP is on the rise. Two back to back victories, first in the Lok Sabha polls and the superb tally in Bengaluru has shown that its prospects are on the rise. The coming home of former CM Yeddyurappa and Bellary strongman Sriramalu have further strengthened the saffron camp in the southern state where it already has a broad cadre base comprising mainly of RSS members. R Ashoka is the leader to look out for and you may hear his name often in state politics. For the Congress, its task is cut out. It needs to put its house in order at the earliest and Siddu has to lead the way for this. Moreover, the party just cannot afford to take things lightly in the capital, which was once its stronghold. For the JD-S which is on the verge of merging into the Janata Parivaar in the coming months, its leadership has to retrospect on its ideology, if anything is left of it and work towards strengthening its support base, failing which it could sink into the oblivion.
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Sunday, 23 August 2015


Shivraj Singh Chouhan - Facebook
Move over the Opposition disrupting the entire monsoon session of the Parliament over the Vyapam Scam or the non-NDA political parties calling for the resignation of Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan for his alleged role, rather, his inability to prevent the scam and later protect the accused and the witnesses in the case. If the results of the ten municipal corporations that went to the polls this month are to go by, the Chief Minister who has won two straight terms in the state assembly continues to 'rule' the hearts of the people and the BJP remains to be the party of their choice. Of course, the municipal polls are in no way, a referendum on Chouhan and the victory in few cities and towns scattered across MP cannot be extrapolated to the entire state. As the saffron outfit's detractors will tell you, the BJP has traditionally done well in urban centers, the 2009 General Elections being a rare exception. However, the extent of BJP's win and the decimation of the Congress in the thick of media's relentless coverage of the Recruitment Scam has punctured the Opposition's stand. This coming at a time when the Congress wanted to use the episode as a tool to 'gherao' the Modi regime.

For a leader who was fighting fire on all fronts, the emphatic victory would have come as a much needed relief for Chouhan, especially after there were murmurs within the state unit of the party of a possible rift. The results have pretty much laid to rest all the clamor, at least from within the saffron ranks, for his ouster. The CM is an astute politician; aware that the results of the polls could to a large extent decide his political future, he actively took part in the campaigning, attending several road shows. There is no surprise then that he was quick to leverage political mileage once the news of BJP's impressive win were declared. On his twitter handle, Singh played the 'victim' card, accusing his detractors of trying to maligning his image and that of the Madhya Pradesh while promising to fight to uphold the prestige of the state.

Besides the CM, the victory is also a big shot in the arm for Narendra Modi. If you notice, the Congress' strategy primarily focused on puncturing Modi's poll promise of wiping out corruption from the country. By sweeping the civic polls, Chouhan has to some extent reposed the PM's faith in him. There is little doubt that the Congress now will have to re-think its move of blocking key reforms thereby allowing the NDA to table some of its pet Bills. Ditto for the BJP. The saffron outfit is likely to use the results of the local body elections to counter any further efforts by the Opposition to corner it.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the Congress camp is in a mess, a state that it has been in for long. In spite of all the hue and cry about the Vyapam Scam, it has failed miserably, managing to win just a single municipality while losing two to the BJP. Having been out of power for 12 years, the INC lacks any sort of organizational structure in the central state. This is perhaps the reason that it could just not capitalize on this golden opportunity. The party on its part, needs to retrospect as to why it has not been able to win the trust of the electorate here for so long. Another point to ponder about for the INC is that whenever it is pitted against the Modi-led BJP, its performance has been dismal. In fact, the party seems to have completely botched up the campaign. The protests against Vyapam were centered in Delhi and ironically, not in MP, where it is alleged to have taken place, a classic case of barking up the wrong tree. Surprisingly, none of its top leadership was seen at party rallies held in the state before the polls.

It is now for the Congress to decide whether it wants to continue holding the nation and the Parliament hostage over the issue or abandon it and move on. Frankly speaking, there is nothing wrong in fighting the saffron camp over the Recruitment Scam; I mean, the number of deaths and the money involved is too high for the Congress to let this 'opportunity' to pass by. But then, there are other, more mature ways of fighting the government. Hope, Rahul Gandhi is listening.

Speaking of the junior Gandhi, since he was the one leading the Congress protests in the Parliament, he has a lot to answer. Though he is trying to break the mould and meet more people, he was missing from action in Madhya Pradesh. Think about it, for a cadre which has been demoralized and directionless after a spate of losses, the very presence of the Vice President could have fused in a lot of confidence. And then, how can one absolve leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijay Singh of the blame? Though he has been at the helm of party affairs for sometime now, the junior Scindia has just not produced any results. Certainly, the party high commands needs to rethink its decision of placing such an important state unit in the hands of such a young and politically immature leader.
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Friday, 21 August 2015


In the nineties and the early 2000s, he was the undisputed 'king' of Bihar's political landscape; apart from being the leader of the electorally influential Yadav community in the state, he also won the hearts of the Muslims by halting Lal Krishna Advani's Rath Yatra in Samastipur in 1990. It was precisely due to the backing of this formidable M-Y combination that Lalu Prasad Yadav won an unprecedented three consecutive state elections during that period. In fact, he was also a force to reckon with in national politics too during this time when the Congress hegemony on the post of the Prime Minister of India was being challenged on the one side by the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the loose coalition of regional satraps in various avatars on the other. After all, he was the one who blocked the elevation of another strong Yadav leader - Mulayum Singh Yadav from Samajwadi Party (SP) to the post of the PM in 1996. Moreover, when he had to resign following his conviction in the multi-crore Fodder Scam, he 'abdicated the CM's chair' in favor of his wife Rabri Devi and later went on to become the Railway Minister in the first innings of the Congress led UPA in 2004.

Though he was at the height of his political power at around this time, he seemed to have completely miscalculated the mood of the people on the ground. The days of caste ridden and representative politics were numbered and the masses wanted their political leaders to deliver on issues that mattered the most including good roads, water supply, electricity, employment, education, law and order and poverty elevation. And this was certainly not the RJD chief's forte. In what can be described as the biggest political surprise of 2005, the Nitish led NDA comprising of the JD-U and the BJP comfortably beat the Yadav led UPA to finally end the 'Lalu era' or what his detractors refer to as the 'Jungle Raj' in Bihar. Unfortunately for him, this was just the beginning for what would be a decade of electoral losses and political setbacks. As Nitish Kumar ushered in a wave of development in the north state, Lalu's vote base and political fortunes began to decline exponentially. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the NDA won 32 parliamentary seats while the RJD-LJP combine could muster just four. In the state polls held in the next year, further humiliation followed; the RJD was reduced to 22 seats and many were left wondering if Lalu would ever emerge from this spate of electoral defeats and resurrect his political career. As if this was not enough, the Supreme Court in 2015 upheld his conviction in the Fodder Scam by a CBI Court, making him ineligible to contest any polls for five years.

Lalu Prasad Yadav - Facebook
When all doors seem to be closing on the former CM, an opportunity came knocking post the split in the NDA after Nitish broke off all ties with the saffron outfit following the elevation of Narendra Modi as the BJP's nominee for the post of PM in 2014 General Election. The RJD chief seemed to be ready to cash in. Apart from 'rectifying' his mistake of having dumped the Congress in 2009, he also flaunted his 'secular' credentials to counter the NaMo mania. In the triangular contest that followed, the NDA painted Bihar in saffron, winning a staggering 31 seats while leaving the warring regional parties - the RJD and the JD-U with four and two seats respectively. In what seemed to be a scene right out of a Bollywood blockbuster, friends turned foes - Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar who had fought each other for nearly two decades 'kissed and made up' in an attempt to remain relevant in the 'Modi Era'. As the various constituents of the erstwhile Janata Parivaar (JP) initiated proceeding to merge into a single entity to counter the rise of the BJP, the new found allies won a sweet victory over the NDA in the August 2014 Bihar by-polls where they were assisted by the Congress and the NCP. Besides, the two parties have managed to put the differences of the past behind them and are gearing up to face the NDA in the high stakes 2015 state polls which in many ways could decide the fate of one of the most popular yet controversial leaders of our times - Lalu Prasad Yadav.

An Uneasy Calm: Though they have put up a united front while addressing rallies or press conferences, it is clear that all is not well between the Lalu and Nitish who were at the opposing end of the political spectrum for over 15 years during which they have fought several bitter battles and accused each other of various wrong-doings. From the perspective of the RJD chief, it was Kumar who broke his iron grip over Bihar in 2005, thereby relegating him to the sidelines both in the state and central politics. Though Lalu may have joined hands with the JD-U for now, there is no doubt that the bitterness from the past is still strong and the deep distrust between the chieftains refuses to die down in spite of the two parties being together for nearly an year now. Perhaps, what hurts the RJD chief all the more is the fact that he plays 'second fiddle' to the incumbent CM in the fight against the BJP. As we know, it is Nitish Kumar who was anointed by the JP to lead the 'Secular' Front in Bihar and the two regional outfits got equal number of seats in spite of the RJD's demands for more considering their relatively better performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But then, does Yadav have any choice? The answer is a 'No'. At this critical juncture when many are raising doubts over his future, Lalu has no choice but to stick with the mega coalition and focus on beating the NDA. All that the former Railway Minister can do to vent out is frustration is make sarcastic remarks like the one he made when asked about the appointment of Kumar as the alliance's CM candidate, "I am ready to drink all kinds of poison to crush the cobra of communalism".

A much needed victory: The one leader whose fate virtually hangs in the balance in the upcoming Bihar state polls is the RJD chief. At 67 years of age and having undergone a heart operation, he is certainly not getting any younger. As election results in the past nine years have shown, his once formidable M-Y combination seems to be gravitating towards his political rivals. The charges of corruption against him and his family as well as the horrific tales of lawlessness in Bihar under the RJD have completely tarnished his image. The charisma that won him many admirers in the past is vanning away whereas Yadav and the RJD have failed to re-inventing themselves or their ideologies so as to stay relevant in the minds of the state's youth. Moreover, his outfit just does not have any second rung mass leaders who are capable of getting the votes while his own children are yet to make their mark. With so many factors working against him, it is easy to understand why a victory is what Lalu Yadav needs at this juncture. Not only will it help him heal some of the scars of the past but will give him time, influence and power to put his party in order and pass on the baton to his sons and political successors - Tejaswi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav who have taken the lead as far as the campaign is concerned.

While winning the 2015 state polls is Lalu's primary agenda, the ideal scenario for him is if he manages to win more seats than the JD-U. Consider this scenario wherein the JP manages to go past the halfway mark but the RJD gets a higher tally than the JD-U, making it indispensable as far as the formation of a non-NDA government in the state is concerned. In this case, there is no doubt that Lalu will use his numbers to make sure that Nitish does not get the CM's chair. Even if he does allow the JD-U supremo to continue in the post, expect him to keep the Kurmi leader on the tenterhooks all the time.

A defeat = The End: A defeat for the 'Secular' Front will possibly be the final nail in the spectacular political career of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Following that sting of political losses, the conviction in the Fodder Scam and the image of a 'power-drunk and corrupt' politician that seems to have stuck with him for long, it will be pretty much safe to dip our pen in black ink and write Lalu's political obituary. Yadav's outfit - the RJD is in tatters and another defeat may prompt a mass exodus of most of the cadre towards other parties, further destroying whatever little is left of it. Lalu's eldest daughter Misa who was beaten by former aide Rajkripal Yadav from Patliputra parliamentary seat by a margin of 40,000 votes has been maintaining a low profile ever since. Meanwhile, his two sons are too young and politically naive to lead an immediate resurgence. While speaking to some journalist years agao, Lalu had famously remarked "Jab tak rahega samose mein aloo, jab tak rahega Bihar mein Lalu". Unfortunately for him, a flop show in 2015 may mean that the once powerful Bihari satrap is relegated to the fringes in state politics forever even as potatoes continue to embellish one of India's favorite snack.
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Thursday, 20 August 2015


Months before the all important state of Bihar goes to the polls, the BJP is literally 'spoilt for choices' as far as the candidature of the Chief Minister is concerned, something that it would have definitely liked to avoid at this critical juncture. While the mega coalition of non-NDA parties has reached a consensus on the candidature of the incumbent CM Nitish Kumar, much to the surprise of most analyst and observers, the saffron outfit led Front has decided to stick to the stand it has taken ever since the rise of Narenda Modi of fighting the state elections under the leadership of the Prime Minister. Of course, this is completely in contrast to the BJP of the past which would declare its leader much before the polls. Meanwhile, it is easy to comprehend why the saffron leadership is keeping all the cards close to its chest on this rather contentious issue. With the state unit of the party split into various factions, each rallying behind its own leader, it makes a lot of sense to the BJP not to 'displease' any of its influential 'netas' in the state and risk being 'abandoned' by their supporters. In this high stakes battle where the entire political spectrum has put behind its weight firmly behind the Nitish led Janata Parivaar (JP), it is extremely crucial for the saffron camp to maintain unity and discipline to pull off a memorable win.

Sushil Kumar Modi, the deputy CM in the erstwhile JD-U and BJP government in Patna for eight years is considered to be the numero uno contender for top post if the party manages to trounce the JP and win a comfortable majority. A product of the Emergency that gave the state some of its tallest leaders including Nitish and Lalu, he as the Finance Minister is credited along with the JD-U supremo of transforming Bihar from Lalu's 'Jungle Raj' to one of the fastest growing big states in the country. Perhaps the most well known face from the saffron camp in the state, Modi also has the firm backing of the RSS, an organization that he has been a member of for nearly five decades. Two Bihari minister in the Union government - Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan and Minister of State for Skill Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy have already put their weight behind him whereas sources suggest that party's in-charge of Bihar unit Ananth Kumar too is in favor of him. On the other hand though, there is a strong anti-Sushil Modi camp within the saffron ranks led by the likes of four time MLA Rameshwar Chaurasia, C P Thakur and Prem Kumar which is trying its best to undermine his growing influence. Moreover, the defeat of the NDA in the 2014 state by-polls is cited by many as an example of him failing to inspire the cadre in tackling a formidable Opposition. Lastly, in a state where 'caste' factors dominate electoral calculations, Modi as the leader of the Vaishya community which constitutes 5% of the electorate may not be acceptable to the more dominant Yadavs or Maha-Dalits.

Nand Kishore Yadav, the Leader of Opposition in the state legislative assembly belongs to the influential Yadav community and has been with the BJP for long to be made the CM. However, he lacks the kind of popularity that someone like Sushil Modi enjoys. In the times of Narendra Modi when there seems to be a deliberate attempt within the party to thwart 'strong' saffron state leaders, this could be a positive. Another likely option from the Yadav community is former RJD strongman Ramkripal Yadav. Having moved to the BJP after being denied a ticket from the Patliputra parliamentary seat in 2014, he is presently serving as the Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation. Projecting a non-Upper Caste leader as its CM candidate though is likely to backfire on the party as its 'loyal' vote bank that constitutes 11% of the votes may feel 'let down'.

Speaking of Cabinet Ministers, the names of Ravi Shankar Prasad and Giriraj Singh too are believed to be doing the rounds in the party circles. The former who is managing the ministries of Communications and Information Technology is well-known in political spectrum and may emerge as a consensus candidate to keep the warring factions at bay; sadly, he lacks mass appeal. On the other hand, Giriraj Singh is a prominent face of the Bhumihars, a sub-caste within the Upper Castes that have been with the party since the Mandal era. Apart from the RSS background, another thing that works in his favor is his unflinching loyalty to Narendra Modi. At a time when the PM had very few friends in BJP's Bihar state unit, Singh had always stood behind him. Unfortunately for him though, Giriraj has a off late embarrassed the party and the government by his 'radical' views. Handing the reins of such an important state to a 'loose' canon like him may be the perfect recipe for disaster in the long run. Also, such a move could polarize the elections, further strengthening the Muslim support for the JP alliance.

A few old timers too are said to be lobbying for the post of the Chief Minister sensing a saffron victory in the state polls. C P Thakur, a Bhumihar and senior party leader at a press conference has announced his availability to lead the state if called upon to do so though his elevation is highly unlikely. When one of Bihar BJP's most prominent face Shatrughan Sinha was not given a berth in the Union government, it was believed that he could be declared the party's CM candidate for the state polls. However, over the months, the movie star who is seen close to Advani has been given the cold shoulder and there are speculations that he may even quit the saffron outfit in the near future. Gaya strongman and Extremely Backward Class leader Prem Kumar is said to be the 'dark horse' in the race for the top post. The seven time MLA who was close to Sushil Modi earlier has come out of the shadows and is making a strong pitch for his own candidature.

As if the numerable choices for the CM within the saffron camps were not enough, its allies within the NDA too have voiced their opinion on the issue. The Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) passed a resolution on 21 June asking for its supremo and Lok Sabha MP Upendra Kushwaha to be named as the NDA's CM candidate. Jitan Ram Manjhi whose Hindustan Awaam Manch (HAM) is also a part of the BJP led alliance is said to be nursing Chief Ministerial ambitions. After being at the helm of affairs for a few months, Manjhi is said to be the foremost Maha-Dalit leader in the state at present. Like Manjhi, another saffron ally - Ramvilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) too is playing it 'safe' for the time being. Like Manjhi, he has said that he will accept whatever decision the PM takes on this matter. Sources close to the Hajipur strongman know that he is just waiting for the right time before he thinks of pitching in. Certainly, the race for 1 Anne Marg in Patna within the NDA is heating up even before the state polls.
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Sunday, 16 August 2015

GET... SET... GO!

Source: News 18
"Why just 143 seats? The RJD should contest from all 243 assembly seats". This was Bihar CM Nitish Kumar's reaction in May to a question posed by a journalist after RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's comment that his party should contest 143 seats as part of the 'Secular' Front since it had got more votes compared to the JD-U in the 2014 General Elections. With the top leadership of both parties taking pot shots at each other in the last three months, many in the media as well as the BJP were expecting the candidature of the Chief Minister as well as the seat sharing arrangement between the partners to be major road blocks in the future of this mega coalition. Considering the bitter rivalry that existed between the JD-U and the RJD in the past, they were definitely not off the mark; although going alone was out of question, speculations were rife that these two issues could potentially damage the camaraderie that exists between the former Socialist leaders for now, re-igniting past differences and sowing the seeds of 'disharmony' within the grand alliance.

The first of these two contentious issue - the choice of the Chief Ministerial candidate was sorted in June earlier this year as the incumbent CM Nitish Kumar was given the charge of leading the Janata Parivaar and its allies for the Bihar polls. His former rival - Lalu Prasad who is not eligible to contest any elections after his conviction in the Fodder Scam did try his best to play 'spoil sport'. However, the backing of the Congress and JP's supremo-in-waiting Mulayum Singh Yadav, the lack of any other credible face within the RJD to lead the Front and the image of Nitish as a pro-development leader meant that he was the numero uno choice for the post. In the media conference where the incumbent CM was declared as the leader of the non-NDA coalition, Lalu did make a 'veiled' attack at Kumar when he said that he was even ready to drink 'poison' just to keep the 'communal' forces at bay. In spite of all the drama, the bottom line was clear; the question of leadership of the new Front was a settled one and after throwing some tantrums, the RJD supremo did fall in line in the end, much to the relief of the coalition and its supporters. But then, the other concern was still there: Would the non-NDA parties be able to reach at a consensus on the number of seats to contest and put up a strong defence against the BJP led Front or would the alliance splinter owing to the 'bruised' egos of their leaders?

Many political analysts believed that the seat sharing arrangement could be the mega alliance's 'Achilles Heel'. The Janata Dal - United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) were at loggerheads for long as to what would be the basis for reaching at the final figures; while the former wanted it to be based on the 2010 state polls, the latter was pressing for the General Polls 2014. Moreover, history too was not on their side. One would remember that in 2009, the Congress had walked out of the alliance with Lalu Yadav and LJP's Ramvilas Paswan after it was given just two seats to contest in the then General Elections. There were speculations that the Yadav strongman would demand more seats for his party as 'compensation' for supporting the candidature of Nitish Kumar. The JD-U, on the other hand, having contested as many as 140 odd seats in alliance with the BJP in 2010, was not very keen to accommodate his new found allies.

No wonder then, the news of the coalition partners reaching consensus last Wednesday came in as a surprise to most. As per the pact, the two main regional outfits are set to contest 100 seats each while leaving 40 seats for the Congress which seems to have benefited the most out of the rivalry between the regional parties. Meanwhile, in the conference that was attended by the top leaders of the coalition namely, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and INC's C P Joshi, the mega coalition blew the electoral bugle. Of course, it was not a smooth sailing all throughout. NCP leader and Katihar MP Tarique Anwar was left fuming after his outfit was allocated just three seats, questioning the very 'secular' ideals that the coalition claims to uphold while accusing them of marginalizing the Muslims over the years for electoral gains. The Samajwadi Party (SP) whose supremo Mulayum Singh played a key role in bringing the coalition together is also said to be disappointed after it was left out of the talks. In fact, even RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh while speaking to the media expressed his disappointment over the formula and further went on to say that entire exercise was conducted in a 'hurry'.

All the infighting apart, the leaders of the 'Secular' Front must be congratulated for sorting out the two major issues facing its very existence. The pressure is now on the NDA in general and the BJP in particular. With the polls about three months away, the saffron party and its allies are yet to finalize the seat sharing formula. With Paswan, Manjhi and Kushwaha demanding over 60 seats each, it remains to be seen how Amit Shah manages to use his political acumen in reaching a compromise. Forget seat sharing, the BJP has not yet managed to project its CM candidate for the Bihar polls. With the 'Secular' alliance now getting ready for the battle, it is high time that the NDA puts its house in order if it wants to win the prestigious state of Bihar.
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The JD-U supremo Nitish Kumar who is dubbed by several political analysts as the modern day 'Chanakya' of the Indian political spectrum, pulled off another major political coup few weeks ago when his name was declared as the official chief ministerial nominee of the newly formed and 'loosely knit' Janata Parivaar (JP) for the upcoming Bihar polls. With the war of words between the leaders of the state's top two regional parties - the JD-U and the RJD escalating over the past two months, the announcement made by the Janata Parivaar's de-facto chief Mulayum Singh Yadav ended weeks of speculations of a possible break down in the anti-BJP plank even before the elections. In what seemed to be a well choreographed affair, the name of Nitish as the face of the alliance was proposed by none other than his friend turned foe turned friend - Lalu Yadav.

Check Mating Lalu: Like Kautaliya who crafted the downfall of the much powerful Nanda Empire by training his protégé Chandragupta Maurya in the fourth century BC, the incumbent CM too played his cards well in the race to be the 'face' of the grand alliance. Having deposed his self-appointed successor Jitam Ram Manjhi from the helm of affairs after the latter refused to be a mere puppet, Nitish knew very well that the move could hurt him electorally with a section of the influential Maha-Dalit community refusing to back him for having mistreated their leader. Moreover, the lessons of the September 2014 by-polls were not lost on him; for halting the Modi juggernaut it was essential to keep the mega coalition together. At the same time though, to salvage lost pride and to maintain political relevance, it was equally important for him to lead it. With Lalu in the equation and the bitter animosity between the two leaders since the mid 90s being a stuff of legends, this was not going to be easy. Though the RJD chief has been barred from contesting elections after being convicted in the Fodder Scam, he was, or rather he still is, not very keen to fight the polls under the leadership of his one time rival. The Yadav strong man is a master in the art of dirty politics and side lining him was going to be a herculean task within itself.

This is exactly where Nitish displayed his political acumen; fully aware that the Congress, in spite of its moribund state of affairs in Bihar would still play a decisive role in deciding the CM candidate of the coalition, the JD-U chief had a special audience with Rahul Gandhi on a visit to Delhi. It is believed that the Congress Vice President, unlike his mother does not have a good opinion of the RJD chief. On the other hand, he has been vocal about his admiration of Nitish. One can recollect several instances wherein the junior Gandhi had praised the Bihar CM for his secular credentials even while he was an integral part of the NDA. In fact, this move was a master stroke; soon after the meeting, reports from the Congress camp suggested that INC would align with the JD-U irrespective of whether Lalu was with it or not. With the Gandhis turning their back on Lalu, the path was more or less clear for Kumar to head the anti-BJP plank. Moreover, Nitish's image as the man who transformed Bihar from Lalu's 'Jungle Raj' to one of the fastest growing states in India only further strengthened his prospects for the top post. As such, as the leaders of the Janata Parivaar met to discuss the course of action for the polls, the odds were comprehensively stacked in the favor of Nitish, forcing the wily Lalu to eat the humble pie.

The Nitish v/s Modi saga continues: With Kumar leading the mega coalition, the second part of the Modi - Nitish rivalry is all set to be played in the state of Bihar this winter. After walking out of the NDA over the candidature of the then Gujarat CM as the NDA candidate for the post of the Prime Minister, the Bihar CM was left with a bloody nose as Modi mania swept Bihar in May 2014, relegating the JD-U to a ignominious tally of two parliamentary seats. In a bid to save his face, Kumar resigned and handed power to his hand picked successor Jitin Ram Manjhi to appease the Maha Dalit community which voted for the BJP in the General Elections. In the mean time, following the realignment of the political forces in Bihar, Nitish and his new found allies - the RJD and the Congress managed to edge past the BJP by winning 6 of the 10 seats that went to the by-polls, a consolation victory of sorts. Ironically though, months later, as Manjhi transformed from a 'docile' leader into a 'clever' politician refusing to be 'controlled' by his party boss, Nitish expelled him from the JD-U and was himself back as the Bihar CM for the third time. With back to back political blunders, many were wondering if Nitish's astute acumen has deserted him and if his reign as Bihar's most powerful leader were numbered. And the man behind Nitish's unraveling was none other than his bete noire - Narendra Modi.

The Bihar polls is the perfect platform for Bihar CM to settle scores with the PM. A victory for the Janata Parivaar would be a jolt to the Modi bandwagon which hit a major road block when the AAP decimated the saffron party in Delhi earlier this year. A win would help Nitish regain most of the political pride that he had lost in the last two years and would re-establish him as a force to reckon with besides being a major fillip to the merger of the factions of the JP. However, there is a much bigger prize to be won, something that most political analysts have over looked thus far; after the General Polls, there is no 'credible' face to represent the anti-Modi or the non-NDA parties in the political sphere. The most obvious and legitimate choice to fill in this vacancy - Sonia Gandhi is not keeping well whereas the negativity still surrounding Rahul means that most believe that he is not yet 'mature' enough for the job. Regional satraps like Jayalalithaa and Patnaik who managed to fend off the Modi wave in their respective home turfs have been on cordial terms with the new government. Mamata Bannerjee has of late mellowed her anti-Modi rhetoric. The mess around AAP in the recent months has hit Arvind Kejriwal's popularity; the party's influence has not moved beyond the NCR in spite of that fabulous victory in February. A victory for the JP under Nitish would automatically catapult him to being the new anti-Modi face in Indian politics.

The Ground Realities: Though the coalition may have been announced, it remains to be seen how the talks regarding the seat sharing arrangements between the many constituents of this grand alliance progress in the coming weeks. Though the issue of the CM candidate has been settled for now, the basis for seat allocation has become another pain point for the two parties. The RJD wants the 2014 General Elections to be the basis to arrive at the seat sharing formula whereas the JD-U wants it to be the 2010 state polls. A bigger worry for the leaders of the alliance is whether their cadre and workers at the ground level are able to forget all the past differences and work together as a team. Considering the 'hatred' that the JD-U and the RJD have shared in the past, that seems to be a near impossible task. And lastly, will the alliance be able to break the caste barrier? For example, will a Yadav who has a loyal voter of the RJD for decades now vote for a JD-U nominee contesting as a candidate of the JP from his seat? Considering that the Yadavs harbour a special dislike for Kumar for ending their political dominance in Bihar, will they be comfortable with him as the CM candidate? Moreover, it remains to be seen how much damage will the Manjhi mishap cost in terms of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) votes. Surely, the modern day 'Chanakya' will have to put in all the 'Neeti' and perhaps, even some 'Kutneeti' to score a memorable hat-trick! 

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Sunday, 2 August 2015


Ram Vilas Paswan - Facebook
In an interview to the Economic Times, the Union Food Minister and the LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan called the upcoming Bihar state assembly polls as a matter of 'life and death'. The wily politician who has the distinction of being associated with all three major national formations in the country, namely the NDA, the UPA and the United Front in the last two decades was bang on; having taken the risk of 'compromising' on his secular credentials by jumping on the Modi bandwagon just months before the May 2014 elections, a move that reaped rich dividends in the form of four parliamentary seats, the Hajipur strong man clearly understands the importance of Bihar 2015 from the perspective of national politics in general and the future of his political outfit in particular which has been languishing on the fringes for quite some time. Apart from the fact that a good showing by his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will help him in regaining some lost ground on the political turf, it will also be the perfect stage for the senior Dalit leader to pass on the baton to his son and political successor - Chirag Paswan.

The last ten years have largely been disappointing from the perspective of the former Socialist leader. His lust for power got the better of him in February 2005 when a greedy Paswan with 28 MLAs refused to align either with Lalu or Nitish Kumar, leading to a stalemate that lasted for over six months. The move would cost him dearly; not only did 12 MLAs of his party defect to the saffron combine, the LJP's tally in the state assembly held later that year plummeted from 28 to 10, relegating him to a marginal force in Bihar as the Nitish Era began taking shape. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, he was a part of the Fourth Front comprising of regional satraps including Mulayum Singh and Lalu Yadav; this tactic to build up some pressure on the ruling Congress which was anyway expected to win a consecutive term proved to be a complete disaster as Paswan's LJP was completely wiped out with the party supremo even losing from his own pocket borough of Hajipur to former CM Ram Sundar Das of the JD-U. As if this humiliation was not enough, the RJD-LJP alliance was decimated by the ruling NDA in the state polls held in the following year. Months before the last General Elections, it was believed that Paswan would stick with the Congress, having burnt his fingers by abandoning the INC in favor of the RJD last time around. However, in a move that took many by surprise, the LJP chief, sensing the national mood in favor of Narendra Modi did the 'unimaginable' by joining the very NDA that he had left, way back in 2002, ironically citing the BJP's inability to prevent the Gujarat Riots.

Paswan is in many ways, the 'Joker' of Bihar politics, having allied with and then ditched almost all major political parties and leaders in the state at various points in a career spanning over four decades. However, the spate of political set backs in the last nine years have put a big question mark on his future. Even the most ardent of his supporters will agree that the four Lok Sabha seats won by the LJP in 2014 were only because of its association with the BJP led by Narendra Modi. With people rejecting caste-based politics in favor of inclusive development, the heroes of the Mandal Era including Paswan have been seeing a substantial percentage of their voter base slowly gravitating towards his rivals. And to make matters worse, the party which was formed way back in 2000 has been unable to spread its organizational structure outside Hajipur making it a sub-regional outfit nor does it have any core ideology; in fact, owing to a dearth of second rung leaders, the LJP is solely dependent on the persona of its supremo to win votes and that unfortunately, is fading at an alarming rate. No wonder then, Paswan's party is expected to get at most 40 seats when the four parties constituting the NDA meet for seat sharing talks in the coming weeks.

Chirag Paswan - Facebook
However, Paswan should have no reason for complaining. In the battle between the BJP led NDA and the Nitish Kumar led Janata Parivaar combine, the LJP would have been wiped out had it taken the risk of going to the polls on its own. The move to piggy bank on the NaMo wave in the General Elections paid off but it is the state polls that will truly decide the fate of the Dalit leader and his party. A tally of over 20 seats could just be the opening that Paswan so desperately needs to revive his political fortunes. Suppose the LJP finishes with a 20 plus tally and the BJP falls short of a majority on its own, the senior politician will leverage his political support to the saffron government to make sure he gets all what he wants. Moreover, if both the coalitions fall short of a simple majority on their own, the Hajipur strongman, leading a contingent of 20 odd MLAs could emerge as the 'King-Maker'. In that scenario, he will have no problems whatsoever in dumping his Union Ministry and the alliance with the BJP to cross over to the JP if he manages to get a good bargain. With the Bihar polls becoming a clash of egos, Nitish & Co. would perhaps not mind offering the CM post to the LJP chief just to keep the BJP out of power in case of a hung assembly later this year. On the other hand, a clear majority to the BJP on its own or the Janta Parivaar will force Paswan to stick with the NDA at least for the time being. Finally, if the LJP fails to go past the two digit mark, like in 2010 then irrespective of the final outcome, it would be safe to assume that henceforth, Paswan will no longer be considered as one of the top political heavyweights of Bihar.

The Bihar state polls 2015 will also be the litmus test for Paswan's 33 year old son Chirag Paswan who made his political debut by winning the 2014 parliamentary elections from Jamui. The former Bollywood actor who was seen as the man behind the BJP-LJP alliance in the state will be keen on repeating his party's superb performance from last May. With the senior Paswan nearing 70, the upcoming elections will be a test for the young leader to horn his leadership skills and make a connect with the masses. It is but natural that he will play a key role in most matters relating to the party including seat sharing talks with the BJP, candidate selection and campaigning. A good show by the LJP would herald the coming of age of another 'son' on Bihar's political landscape whereas a defeat could potentially mark the end of the party as well as the father and son duo that are at the helm of its affairs.
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