Monday, November 21, 2005

2004 Election Reporting: Who To Vote For?

March 31: Dinesh Shukla thinks Atal Behari Vajpayee is a good man but says he will not vote for him.

“I like him, but I don't like his party,” says Shukla, 35, who runs a phone booth on Lucknow's Ashok Marg. “At times they talk of building the (Ram) temple and at times they talk of wooing the Muslims. What do they really want?” He adds: “Maybe I won't vote at all. Who is there to vote for?”

Who is there to vote for? -- that's a question staring at the face of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh which goes to the polls in late April. They, however, have more choices than people in other states. There is the BJP, which is desperately trying to see a feel-good atmosphere in the heat and dust of the Gangetic plains where people face power and water crisis more than ever before. There is the Congress, whose spirits have lifted after Rajul Gandhi decided to fight from Amethi. And then there are the local parties -- the Samajwadi Party, the ruling party, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which till recently was the ruling party -- confident of winning the support of the castes they represent.

Each is out to impress the voter with slogans and the charm of its leaders, celebrities and filmstars. Amitabh Bachchan will campaign for Mulayam Singh Yadav, Jaya Prada is Mulayam's party's candidate from Rampur, and the list of stars to come in support of the BJP and Congress is along. Union minister Murali Manohar Joshi, BJP's candidate from Allahabad, even wanted cricketer Mohammad Kaif to campaign for him (Kaif belongs to Allahabad), but Kaif refused. The only exception is the Bahujan Samaj Party which, true to the character of its election symbol, the elephant, is wading through the election jungle alone without banking on hired charisma.

But if the mood in Lucknow, at least for the moment, is anything to go by, the voter isn't feeling good about the election. He isn't feeling bad either. He is just indifferent. It's the parties who are taking turns in feeling good or bad -- at least the two parties which aim to rule India by picking up as many seats as possible from Uttar Pradesh. After all, maximum seats can be picked up from this state -- there are 80 in all.

In the outgoing Lok Sabha, from Uttar Pradesh, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party have 26 seats each, theBSP 14 and the Congress 10. But last week's AC Nielsen survey has projected the 2004 tally as BJP 32, Samajwadi Party 32, BSP 11 and Congress only five.

That should make the BJP feel good, and the Congress, whose very existence in the cowbelt will be wiped off if it wins only five seats, feel bad. But the survey, it seems, was done before the BJP had given out its tickets and before Rahul Gandhi decided to take the plunge.

The BJP's ticket distribution has completely exposed the infighting in the party -- something that never comes to light in the national papers where the party still projects itself as disciplined. The case of Kanpur is the ideal example. The party's high command was considering Satish Mahana, a youthful Punjabi leader who has been an MLA for long and also a minister in the successive BJP-BSP governments, for the ticket from Kanpur. But the Brahmins stood up in revolt, saying only a Brahmin should be given a ticket. Meanwhile, Jagatvir Singh Dron, a three-time MP from Kanpur who lost to the Congress in 1999, also staked hia claim. Finally, the high command bowed to the Brahmins' demand and gave the ticket to Satyadev Pachauri, a Brahmin. Result? Mahana is angry, Dron is angry. And the Congress is happy -- it is going to get Kanpur on a platter. Resentments of such nature were witnessed in several constituencies across the state.

For the Congress, which has almost touched the bottom in Uttar Pradesh, things can only get better. At least they seem so with the entry of Rahul Gandhi. In an opinion poll conducted by a Kanpur paper, 57 percent of the respondents said they thought Congress will benefit from Rahul's entry. They think the “f oreigner” issue dogging the Congress will now be put to rest.

And in Allahabad, the birthplace of Jawaharlal Nehru and which is now being represented by Murali Manohar Joshi, rumours are that Priyanka Gandhi will be fielded from there. The Congress still hasn't announced its candidates for Allahabad as well as Lucknow, Vajpayee's seat, where speculation is that it will field Ram Jethmalani. Lucknow shouldn't bother BJP, but if Priyanka decides to stand from Allahabad, the scene in Uttar Pradesh could change drastically. Joshi's popularity, if figures are any indication, has slipped over the years. In 1996 he got 42.7 percent of the votes and in 1999, it had come down to 33.7 percent. Unlike in other states such as Karnataka, where it has S M Krishna, or Punjab, where it has Amrinder Singh, the Congress lacks a charismatic leader in Uttar Pradesh. And who could be more charismatic than the children of Rajiv Gandhi?

But something heartening seems to be happening for the BJP as well. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, till recently a bitter critic of the BJP, is now singling out Congress for his attacks. There is a war of words going on between Congress veteran Arjun Singh and Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh. On Tuesday, Samajwadi Party's savvy face, Amar Singh, called Arjun Singh “old and senile.” Mulayam, meanwhile, has considerably softened his criticism of the BJP. In fact, he is almost behaving like an ally of Vajpayee. Recently, he allocated Rs 20 crore for the development of Lucknow -- Vajpayee's constituency. And last week, when Vajpayee came to address a rally in the state, Mulayam was at the Lucknow airport to receive him. Papers showed him holding a bouquet and bowing before Vajpayee.

Political observers in Lucknow say this could be the beginning of a new friendship. All in Indian politics, everything is possible. Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav were bitter enemies of the BJP, but they joined the NDA government. Telugu Desam's Chandrababu Naidu also once treated the BJP as an untouchable, but today the two parties are great friends. So one can't rule out -- according to observers -- Mulayam bailing out Vajpayee in case he falls short of majority. Though Vajpayee won't need his support, if the AC Nielsen survey is to be believed. But battlelines have just begun to be drawn and voters are yet to decide whose side to take.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The post was very interesting to read. now in 2006.

3:08 PM  

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