Rahul Gandhi’s colossal failure in Uttar Pradesh has left the Congress on the ropes, and begun the countdown for the UPA government. The BJP is filling only some of the gaps, leaving vast spaces for state chieftains. Will the next Lok Sabha, asks Ashok Malik, then be an aggregate of vidhan sabhas?
IN THE 1998 film The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays an everyday man who realises one morning that his entire life is a reality show, televised round-the-clock, watched and interpreted by millions — but the soap operatic identity of which has completely escaped him.
At some point in the Congress’ long and convoluted Uttar Pradesh campaign, Rahul Gandhi’s politics and appeal began to eerily resemble the script of The Truman Show. The disconnect between the Leader and the People — put another way, performer and audience — was so marked there could be no other explanation.
Rahul’s self-perception was that of a genuine, feet-on-the-ground politician, talking hard issues, smelling the earth, scowling at the right moment. The throngs before him, including the multitude of television cameras and the crush of reporters, saw him as the protagonist of the Hindi heartland’s very own Truman Show. It was the Rashomon effect. Those he thought were his voters appeared on closer inspection to be voyeurs.
It was almost as if the Congress’ chief campaigner and mascot were in a bubble, bizarrely sequestered from the harsh winds of reality. Even if he didn’t know it, his appeal was a continuum of the private and the public, the personal and the political, of the poignancy and pathos that enveloped every action of his, and that of his family.
A daughter pulling her mother’s cheeks, a sister’s joke about being a frog, with the implication perhaps that her brother was the handsome prince, a family descending for a campaign excursion, cute images of the next gen, a brother-in-law intervening and giving more sound bites than anybody wanted him to: these were the accoutrements and embellishments of Rahul’s politics. Somewhere, to vast sections, did they end up symbolising all that people saw or wanted to see of his politics?
It happened on 6 March as well, when he stepped out to acknowledge defeat and accept responsibility: a few lines delivered by an ashen-faced loser, no jokes, no touchy-feeling mingling with reporters and workers, just an obligation fulfilled and departure — walking off slowly as his younger sister reached out protectively, not realising, or perhaps realising and not caring, that this photo-op would overshadow any political content.
What Rahul understood on the day the results came in was not just that he had been defeated and that after five years of effort and a loud and expensive campaign, the Congress had won six seats more than the 22 it had taken home in 2007.
He understood a far harsher verity — that the crowds he thought he had converted didn’t take him seriously. For a politician, it can be a devastating moment. Rahul may win and lose elections — all politicians do — but this moment will forever be with him.
It could take years for Rahul to pick himself up from ground zero. He needs rest, recharge and rebooting. He needs to internalise that the 2009 General Election — when he led the Congress to 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh — was not a stepping stone as had been thought but perhaps a peak, at least for this phase in his career.
“He will come back,” says an MP from a regional party that is part of the UPA, “but it could take him five years, 10 years. This has set him back considerably.” Bereft of everything else, at 41, Rahul has the luxury of time.
TIME IS what the Congress does not have. The UPA government it leads is midway through its term and contemplating its second successive wasted year in office. If the 2G spectrum scandal and the Anna Hazare theatre took care of 2011, the quintet of state elections has more or less exhausted 2012.
The Budget Session of Parliament promises to be scorching. The Samajwadi Party (SP) will now join the ranks of powerful state parties — from West Bengal to Odisha, Tamil Nadu to Andhra Pradesh — that will make the government sweat for every step it advances. Every policy, every law, every Bill will be debated, drawn and redrawn, reduced to a bargain, as the unattached parties — Mulayam Singh Yadav’s now the largest among them — will make common cause with the BJP one day, the Left the next and both the third, and use filibustering as their legislative weapon of choice.
It will continue till July, when the presidential election takes place. The electoral college of legislators that decides on the President has votes weighted as per the population of an individual state. Uttar Pradesh — that 200 million people behemoth — has more legislators and more votes per legislator than any other state. Without the SP in its corner, the UPA is in a minority. A non-Congress presidential candidate, the sort of person who will make Sonia Gandhi uncomfortable and be the very antithesis of Pratibha Patil, is likely to be proposed.
Already, and informally, two parties have discussed a second term for APJ Abdul Kalam, the President once proposed by Mulayam, backed by Mamata Banerjee and eventually anointed by the BJP-led NDA. In the end, the choice may not be Kalam, but a figure like him is the idea.
Unless he wins over Mulayam and significant sections of the electoral college, Manmohan Singh will have to swallow the ignominy of becoming the first prime minister in Indian history not to get the President of his choice.
It’s not Parliament but also the provinces that have the Congress worried. From Tamil Nadu to Bihar, there are several states where the party has more or less ceased to exist. In others, such as Gujarat and West Bengal in the years of the Left Front government, it has (or had) a committed 40-odd percent vote but has fallen into the low-level equilibrium trap. Without a suitable leader, bogged down by defeatism and against a formidable rival, the Congress has simply failed to convert its vote share into a proportionate number of seats.
In West Bengal, this eventually led to the party ceding opposition space to a breakaway force, the Trinamool Congress. Mamata, who heads the Trinamool Congress and won a massive electoral victory in Kolkata in 2011, is now not just even more powerful as the Congress’ chief ally in the UPA — she is even more determined to go it alone in the next General Election. Her goal, almost a blood feud with the party that harassed and hounded her for years, is to atomise the Congress in West Bengal and grab the entire non-Left terrain for herself. The Congress’ dismal performance in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere would have been Mamata’s dream.
What we are witnessing in West Bengal — with the Congress reduced from domination to permanent opposition to inconsequential opposition to possible extinction — is the final stage of a lengthy process. The danger is the Congress hasn’t learnt from the past and could have begun stage two of the very process in Punjab this week.
When the Akali Dal-BJP combine won an unprecedented second successive election in Punjab, it in effect ended the political career of Amarinder Singh. The former maharaja of Patiala turns 75 this coming weekend. By the next state election, he will be too old.
The point is if the Congress has not effected generational change by then — or if any new leader is besieged by the Amarinder and Rajinder Bhattal factions — it may find Sukhbir Badal very difficult to dislodge. By 2017, Sukhbir would have succeeded his father, Parkash Singh Badal, as chief minister, consolidated himself and with luck refined his rough edges.
If this worst-case scenario plays itself out, where would it leave the Congress in Punjab? Though they did badly this time, Manpreet Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab and its communist allies divided the so-called ‘progressive’ vote. Other factions may also emerge, especially since four of the six young MLA aspirants chosen by Rahul lost. It is entirely possible that the Congress could face a challenge for the non-Akali space in the years to come.
PUNJAB OFFERS a good framework in which to study the Congress party’s decline. First, there is the question of paratrooper leaders. Amarinder has been the Congress’ chosen man in Punjab for close to 15 years. He is polished and suave, he has a sense of personal space and is not a 24×7 politician. “After he’s finished work,” says a senior politician friend, “he doesn’t take calls and occasionally responds to SMSes. That’s his style. It doesn’t work in today’s politics.”
There is another trend: the Congress is losing its political positioning in state after state, as its rivals attempt to resemble what it once was
The story of Delhi-based plutocrats losing out to more nativist and accessible political animals in the states is, of course, not unique to Punjab in this set of elections. There is another trend too: the fact that the Congress is losing its political positioning in state after state, as its rivals attempt to resemble what it once was.
Historically, the Congress was the umbrella party and its rival was a caste or community entity, the one with all the angularities. Today, every party is mainstreaming itself and moving to the centre. Sukhbir’s Akalis are packaging themselves as a Punjabi regional party rather than the sword-arm of Sikh sub-nationalism. They gave almost a dozen tickets to Hindus.
In Goa, the BJP successfully wooed Christians and has ended up with seven Catholic MLAs as part of its rainbow coalition. In Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav is promising a kinder, gentler Lohiaism from the Samajwadi Party. Where does this leave the Congress?
The third message from Punjab is less sociological and more immediate. The BJP contested 23 seats in Punjab, largely in urban, Hindu-dominated areas where it competed for the same social constituency with the Congress. This was the closest the Punjab election came to being a referendum on national issues.
In 2007, the BJP had seen 19 MLAs elected in Punjab. Many of them were subsequently enmeshed in corruption charges and the party was in a mess. Yet it came away on 6 March with 12 victories, winning just over half the seats it contested. The record of its MLAs was tested, in a sense, against the Congress and the national image of the UPA government. This wasn’t the only factor but it was decidedly part of the mix — and the Congress came second best.
The Congress is losing, but who is winning? The idea of a BJP-led NDA triumphing in the Lok Sabha election is not persuasive for the moment
Is this a precursor to worse news? Between now and 2014 about every major state election — Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — is a direct Congress versus BJP confrontation.
THE CONGRESS’ inability to decipher the source code of regional politics and federative impulses was never more apparent than when it rejected any comparisons between Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav. Speaking on television on the evening of 6 March, Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh baldly said Rahul was “a national leader” while Akhilesh “was not much known outside the state”.
There is a certain condescension and patronising instinct apparent in that statement — and Digvijaya was not the only Congress functionary to suggest it. It led to a piquant question: just who is a national leader? Akhilesh wins a state with an overwhelming mandate but will forever, in this reckoning, be a provincial satrap. Rahul will fly in and out of state elections, and conduct his politics from Delhi. He will be unable to win even a single seat without the Congress and dynasty brand to back him — and yet he will be a once and forever national leader? It defies logic.
To be fair, it also traps Rahul. He cannot descend to the levels of a state leader and put his hand up for a term as chief minister because the party and its sycophantic culture will not allow him to see himself as anything but a pan-Indian figure, above all community and parochial identity. On the other hand, in the absence of major electoral victories — big or small, statewide or countrywide — any claim of Rahul as a national leader will inevitably ring hollow. It’s a vicious circle and Rahul cannot find his way out of it.
In the run-up to 2014, the Congress will convince itself — as it is already trying to convince others — that national and state elections are different. True, they are. True, the Congress won 22 seats in the 2007 Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh but picked up 21 seats (and led in 95 Assembly segments) in the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
The Samajwadi Party will now join the ranks of powerful state parties that will make the UPA government sweat for every step it advances
Even the BJP believes it will do better in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in UP and win more than its 47 Assembly seats translate to. “Caste identities break down in parliamentary elections,” explains a senior BJP leader, “our voters from different Assembly segments are merged together to give a bigger number.” Yet he acknowledges the BJP’s 10 seats (in 2009) can go up to maybe 12 or 14: “We can’t jump to 30.”
The Congress surge in Uttar Pradesh in 2009 was a black swan event. It was caused by a variety of factors, including a desire by segments of Brahmins, Muslims and urban voters to give the Congress and Rahul a chance after years of turning away from the party. It was not simply a return to pre-1989 Uttar Pradesh politics, as the Congress interpreted it.
As such, even if the Congress does better in the 2014 Lok Sabha election — and there are suggestions that more Muslims, for instance, could opt for it in a parliamentary contest than did in this year’s Assembly poll — it is open to debate whether it will be able to send 21 MPs from Uttar Pradesh. The Congress lost all five Assembly segments in Rae Bareli (Sonia Gandhi’s seat) and three of five in Amethi (Rahul’s seat). While mother and son will almost certainly recover ground and win their Lok Sabha battles, others can’t be as sure.
The BJP has no option but to work towards a larger coalition — an ‘NDA plus’ — and hope the party itself will have enough MPs to command it
In neighbouring Sultanpur (Sanjay Singh’s seat), the Congress lost all five Assembly segments; in Dhaurahra (Jiten Prasada) all five again; in Kushinagar (RPN Singh) five of seven; and in Barabanki (PL Punia) all six. They must be in panic mode.
THE CONGRESS is losing, but who is winning? The idea of a BJP-led NDA triumphing in the Lok Sabha election is not persuasive for the moment. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj called the results a “mixed bag”. The party ended up with 47 seats in Uttar Pradesh, four fewer than 2007. It was expecting 70-75.
Some things have been settled for the BJP. President Nitin Gadkari’s backing of Manohar Parrikar in Goa and BC Khanduri in Uttarakhand has paid off. Khanduri almost salvaged a lost cause, finishing just one seat behind the Congress in a hung Assembly. Brought back as chief minister in September 2011, he, however, lost his own Assembly seat. It is believed he was a victim of internal sabotage, with suspicion on his predecessor, the controversial and conspiratorial Ramesh Pokhriyal.
Khanduri, seen as a man of integrity and highways minister in the NDA government, was removed as Uttarakhand chief minister in 2009, allegedly because of the defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. This was astonishing reasoning, given the top brass in Delhi, from the then party president downwards, didn’t give up their posts. The real story, and a particularly shaming one, was that Khanduri had refused to facilitate corrupt business deals for a senior national- level BJP’s leader’s family members.
While Gadkari restored Khanduri, it was too late. In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP chief brought in Uma Bharti with no real impact in the Bundelkhand region, the news was less exciting. As in Assam in 2011, Gadkari’s in-house psephologists completely misread the BJP’s popularity and promised a much better performance than delivered.
The recall of Sanjay Joshi, the former RSS man Gadkari put in charge of the Uttar Pradesh campaign, also resulted in a dud. Many hope it will put an end to the delusional belief that Sangh full-timers can be parachuted into politics and become excellent caste specialists and adept campaign and logistical managers overnight.
Joshi’s failure will please his old opponent — they have had a war on since their Sangh days — Narendra Modi. The Gujarat CM will also be smirking at the Congress whisper, heard prior to 6 March, that after UP, Rahul was set to revive the Congress in Gujarat, which votes this December.
Having said that, there is nothing in this set of results to argue that the national mood is turning in favour of ideologically- sharp (or divisive, depending on how you see it) election campaigns. For the moment, the BJP has no option but to work towards a larger coalition — an ‘NDA plus’, as the shorthand goes — and hope the party itself will have enough MPs to command it.
The wager in Delhi, however, is on the strengthening of the newest version of the third front — with Mulayam joining Mamata, Naveen Patnaik, N Chandrababu Naidu, J Jayalalithaa and, who knows, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar in a grand alliance of state chieftains.
The fact is such a front in unviable without one or the other national party backing it or, more likely, partnering it in government, but that’s another story, to be tackled after another election. It would make for a reality show of quite another kind.
Ashok Malik is Contributing editor, Tehelka.
1. Uttar Pradesh
How Maya Lost The Plot
Rampant corruption and Mayawati’s disconnect with the masses deflate the elephant that once looked invincible, says Brijesh Pandey
A DAY after the poll debacle, it was a vintage Mayawati who addressed the media. In her usual robotic style, she criticised the Congress for raising the issue of Muslim reservation and the BJP for trying to capitalise on it, which she said ended up pushing the minorities to vote en bloc for the SP. In a rare departure from the past, she took questions from the media. On the first question on corruption, the mask slipped. She added that along with the Congress and the BJP, the media was also responsible for SP’s triumph.
From absolute majority in 2007 to 80 seats in 2012, life has come full circle for Mayawati. So how did she lose the plot so badly? Political observers say that the writing on the wall was clear after the first year into power. In 2007, Mayawati’s slogan was “Chad gundo ki chaati pe, mohar lagoo hanthi pe (Don’t be afraid of goons and vote for the BSP). Within six months, her government started resembling the very same goons she had promised to replace,” says senior journalist Ambrish Kumar. “In Auraiya, an engineer was beaten to death by BSP MLA Shekhar Tiwar, when he refused to pay for Mayawati’s birthday celebrations. The murder brought out in the open the fact that BSP men were extorting money from even bureaucrats.” Party insiders admit that incidents like these created an image in the eyes of the people that the BSP was no different than SP.
One of the main reasons attributed to the BSP’s loss is rampant corruption. The fact that lands of farmers across Noida and Greater Noida were procured using emergency clauses and then given to builders for huge sums reinforced the corrupt image. The National Rural Health Mission scam, which saw five employees being killed in mysterious circumstances, made matters worse.
Just before the election, Mayawati sacked 25 ministers, including Babu Ram Kushwaha, to show that she doesn’t tolerate corruption. But by that time it was too little too late. Despite the fact that Bundelkhand was in the grip of a drought and was desperate for help, ministers and bureaucrats were busy filling the coffers from the money meant to help the poor farmers. The resentment in that region was so deep that they were willing to vote for anybody who could defeat the BSP. The firing on farmers in Tappal and Bhatta- Parsaul also led to the deterioration of the BSP’s image. Though she tried to clean the image by not giving tickets to more than 100 sitting MLAs, the damage had been done.
Her famed rainbow coalition also disintegrated soon after the government formation. In the first couple of years, upper castes were the flavour of the season but the 2009 Lok Sabha result changed all that. A drop in the Dalit vote percentage forced Mayawati to woo her caste base more assiduously, thereby antagonising the upper castes. There was also talk of the Dalit Act being misused against upper castes.
BSP insiders say that 2009 was a turning point. While a loss in Ferozabad propelled Akhilesh Yadav into action, the BSP, despite faring badly in the Lok Sabha election, took no concrete steps to build bridges with the people.
Mayawati’s image as an aloof and arrogant leader gained currency as she started depending on a group of select bureaucrats. What made matters worse was her over dependence on them to take political decisions. As the results showed, it proved disastrous as there was a complete disconnect between the party and the people.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
What the Badals got Right
Rebels were a problem for both the Akali Dal and the Congress, but Sukhbir Badal prevailed by choosing the right ones to sideline, says Sai Manish
THAT A California State University MBA could use his SWOT analysis better than the heavy-handed skills of an exarmyman in quelling rebellion defines Punjab’s poll results. When it came to securing the election, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal has been bang on target with those he expelled from the Akali Dal just weeks before the polls.
While the Congress led by Amarinder Singh managed 46 seats, 10 short of what the Akalis got, the BJP saw its tally slipping to 12, which still gave the ruling SAD-BJP alliance a comfortable majority with 68 seats out of 117 in the Assembly.
When Badal expelled all the rebels who refused to withdraw their nominations, he was quick to gauge that the cost of keeping them in the party would outweigh the benefits. Amarinder also expelled 12 rebels. But a look at what those expelled rebels polled shows how Badal strategised well in an election he knew would boil down to coalition mathematics and hairline victory margins.
Take the case of three expelled SAD men — Gurpratap Singh Tikka (Amritsar South), Davinder Lalli (Tarn Taran) and Jarnail Aulakh (Ropar). While two of them managed just four-figure votes, Lalli’s popularity wasn’t enough to ensure him even a third of the votes polled by the winning SAD candidate.
Contrast that with the rebels packed off by Amarinder. In Pathankot, Ashok Sharma, who was expelled and denied a ticket, got just 700 votes short of the 24,362 votes polled by the Congress candidate. Combine their votes and the party would have beaten the SAD by a margin of nearly 4,000 votes. It gets worse in Majitha where rebel Sukhjinder Lalli polled 14,000 votes more than the Congress candidate to finish second. And, Amarinder’s brother Malvinder is claiming credit for ensuring the defeat of the former’s son in Samana.
Sukhbir Badal’s political acumen is backed firmly by his development credentials- innumerable governance reforms that he fast tracked after becoming the deputy CM in 2009. Empowering Punjab’s citizens with the Right to Services Act was a masterstroke. Record of land rights, water supply connections, birth/death certificates, registration certificate of vehicles, driving licences, arms licences, passport verification, caste certificates, pension benefits — government officers are now bound by law to provide all these and much more within days failing which the babu needs to pay a penalty for inaction. Amarinder promised to amend this law and bring a better one. That too seemed to have backfired, with people unwilling to let anyone tamper with a law that had made their miserable lives easy.
In the past year, the Badals distributed free cycles to girl students in rural areas and appointed more than 15,000 school teachers. Badal marketed these schemes well and by the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh touched down in the state to remind the voters that all these were bankrolled by Central grants, the damage had been done. And free laptops and gas cylinders to families below the poverty line promised by SAD just sweetened the deal for the people.
Badal’s schemes ensured that he split the Dalit vote. His pro-poor schemes endeared him to the followers of Dera Sachkhand, which neutralised the ‘hate votes’ of the Dera Sacha Sauda.
The SAD won most of the 34 reserved constituencies and a look at the figures show just how important the Dalit votes were for both the main parties. All contests were intense with the Congress candidate losing to his Akali rival by a margin of 162 votes in Ferozepur Rural.
It is perhaps Sukhbir’s destiny that he should survive such a close election to be leading the party for the next five years till his father Parkash Badal announces the obvious. For a man who knows his Peter Drucker as well as the machinations inside the secretive corridors of a Dera, another shot at power is what the deputy needs to propel himself as the future of the Akali Dal for years to come. And Parkash Badal couldn’t have got a better time to bid adieu and pass on the baton to his son.
Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
How the General Made a Battle of it
BC Khanduri revived the flagging fortunes of the BJP but ended up sacrificing his seat in a race that went to the wire, reports Manoj Rawat
THE HERO of the slogan ‘Khanduri hai zaroori (Khanduri is necessary)’ may have lost from his own Assembly seat but his party, the BJP, won 31 seats, far exceeding expectations. If you look at it this way, Chief Minister BC Khanduri has triumphed even after losing his own seat.
Ever since Uttarakhand was created in 2000, this is the first time there has been such a fractured mandate. This is also for the first time that the state had the two national parties neck-and-neck, just one seat away from a tie. The Congress might have emerged as the largest party by winning 32 seats out of 70, but it is still four seats short of the magic figure. The BSP, with eight seats in the previous Assembly, is now confined to three seats in Haridwar district. Out of the dozen-odd independents who looked strong before the polls, only three have got a berth. The regional party, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, which has undergone many splits since the state was formed, has just one MLA now. So the verdict of the state is clearly in favour of national parties.
A strong contender for power, the Congress suddenly found the going difficult. Khanduri’s clean image proved a formidable force to beat and it was so torn by internal division that ticket distribution became a vexed issue. Out of the six who came from the Youth Congress quota, only one won. Those who got tickets at the behest of ND Tiwari — like his nephew Manish Tiwari and his personal assistant Aryendra Sharma — both lost. On all these seats, if ground realities had been taken into account during ticket distribution, the Congress would not have to appeal to anybody for support. The reins of the campaign were in the hands of an unknown woman, who runs an ad agency and an NGO, who was promoting herself more than the party.
The independents who triumphed, Mantri Prasad Naithani, and the veteran Harish Chandra Durgpal, both could not get Congress tickets due to factionalism. Rebels damaged its prospects in four seats. Among the stalwarts who lost were Mahendra Singh Mahra, Hira Singh Bisht and Shurvir Sajvan.
The BJP fell victim to similar weaknesses. The campaign may have been led by Khanduri but those who got tickets from him by denying a chance to sitting MLAs seem to have lost out in the race.
Now that the Congress has emerged as the largest party and will be called on to form a government, it should not have much difficulty getting the independents on board. The claimants for chief ministership are Harish Rawat, Satpal Maharaj and Vijay Bahuguna. State Congress chief Yashpal Arya is also a probable, as in 2009, the party won all five Lok Sabha seats from the state. Among the dark horses are Surendra Singh Negi, who defeated Khanduri. Then there is Pritam Singh, son of Nehru- Gandhi family loyalist Gulab Singh, who has been elected MLA eight times. Satpal Maharaj’s wife Amrita Rawat is in the reckoning if the party decides to go for a woman chief minister.
Of course, the BJP is also going all out to see if it can form the government. The impact of Team Anna and Baba Ramdev’s campaign and corruption seems to have been minimal. Anna Hazare’s campaigners whole-heartedly backed Khanduri, but he lost. Now ousted Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is claiming that if he had been allowed to lead the campaign, the BJP would have bagged more than 40 seats.
Whatever ‘Nishank’ might say, Khanduri made a personal sacrifice to bring the party from a position of strength to one where it can hold its head high. At the end of the day, the General was certainly victorious even in defeat.
Why The Catholics Blessed Parrikar’s Gambit
Tired of mining scandals and the growing power of a few business families, the minority Catholics swung the verdict in favour of the BJP, reports Revati Laul
UNTIL THIS election, it was unthinkable to expect Goa’s church-going, jazz-loving Catholics to even contemplate voting for the BJP. “When you are a minority, you are insecure. We haven’t forgotten the Babri Masjid demolition,” says Armando Gonsalves, CEO of Heritage Jazz and a supporter of BJP’s Chief Minister-designate Manohar Parrikar.
Gonsalves goes further, saying that when Parrikar was CM in 2002, he had proposed that Good Friday be removed from the calendar as a holiday. This never got off the ground but the proposal still rankles with many Catholics. And the community has always voted against the BJP, until a couple of years ago. That is when the cookie began to crumble.
Goans had been watching as one mining scandal after another implicated members of the Congress-NCP regime. Activists pointed out how a clutch of powerful families were massacring the coast for profit. But Goans wondered — especially when mining scandals in Karnataka implicated the BJP — what would be so different about the party in Goa?
However, the last straw was when the Congress-NCP combine gave tickets to a group of oligarchs. Five powerful families — the Alemaos, Ranes, Monserattes, Madkaikars and home minister Ravi Naik and his son — were contesting the bulk of the 40 seats. This is what rankled most with Goans. Many decided they had had enough. On Facebook, Twitter and sites like Goa News and blogs, the anger spilled. “You cannot vote for this Congress-NCP again and still talk about saving Goa” and “We do not need these ruthless oligarchs masquerading as social workers” began doing the rounds.
Glen Ticlo, Michael Lobo and Carlos Almeida decided to contest on BJP tickets, pitting themselves against the oligarchs. And won. Ticlo stood against Congress stalwart and former finance minister Dayanand Narvekar from Aldona. “I worked very hard for the past one year,” says Ticlo. “Now people have understood that the Congress takes the Catholics for granted all the time, saying the BJP is a communal party.”
In sharp contrast to the Congress’ selection, the BJP chose not to field candidates from the big five families. Instead, it put up many fresh faces or at least people with clean track records. Parrikar’s own record is that of a clean man. An IITian with the mind of a technocrat. A ‘secular’ man, his Catholic supporters are quick to point out.
Goa BJP Vice-President Keshav Prabhu says the party has “learnt from its past mistakes” and this time, not only did they put up Catholic candidates — five of whom eventually won — but Parrikar campaigned for the first time in Christian homes. “We realised that we need to have all communities with us to win. In 2002, we didn’t go to them. This time, we approached them directly.”
Parrikar was no dark horse — he had won his stripes in 2000, when he first became CM, and in 2002 when he repeated the feat. Yes, said many Catholics, he is the chief ministerial candidate from a Hindutva party. Will this mean, if elected, there may be a cramping of the bohemian, eclectic, westernised lifestyle that Goans are so proud of? Will the Catholics have to become defensive about their Portuguese antecedents and culture? These fears were articulated on social networking sites. Maybe, said the sceptics, “It’s possible that we are jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
But even so, the oligarchs had incensed the Goans enough for them to put these fears aside. And Parrikar, sensing this discomfiture, did his best to allay these fears. It was effective enough for Parrikar’s Catholic supporters like Gonsalves to suggest to him, “Why don’t you come out of the BJP? You can rule Goa for the next 15 years.”
Other sceptics (about 25 percent of the Catholic votes reportedly went to the BJP) have cautiously maintained that their vote was not so much a positive one for the BJP as it was a strongly negative one against the Congress.
It made Goans like Oscar Rebello post on his blog, “Goodbye Congress and thank you for nothing.” A post the BJP now proudly displays on its Goa site. As proof of its very new pudding and on the face of it, a sharply altered ego.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
What Ibobi did To silence His critics
The lack of a viable alternative and the stability offered by Ibobi Singh sealed the deal for the Congress, says Kunal Majumder
THE TALK of the town in Imphal had been tie-ups, as the return of the Congress, which had 30 seats in the last Assembly, was a fait accompli. The Trinamool Congress (TMC), which was predicted to emerge as a force to reckon with in the state and consists of many former Congressmen, spoke about the price it would extract from the Congress for its support. “We want a new man as chief minister,” they said. Other Opposition parties, including the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), spoke about a grand alliance to overthrow the Congress. The Naga People’s Front (NPF) spoke about consolidating the Naga vote bank in the hill areas. Militant groups spoke about boycotting the elections.
But the results baffled them all. The people of Manipur gave the Congress a record mandate — 42 seats in the 60-member Assembly.
Ever since the formation of the state in 1972, the Congress had never crossed the 30-seat mark. This was despite Okram Ibobi Singh, the two-term chief minister, fighting a strong anti-incumbency wave. Issues like fake encounters, Armed Forces Special Powers Act and economic blockades marked Ibobi’s tenure. When over 80 percent of the electorate came out to vote, many in the state had expected a possible rout for him. But Ibobi had the last laugh.
The answer lies in a clutch of factors, primary being the question of stability. The Ibobi era came on the heels of a series of hung Assemblies. “Before the anti-defection law was passed, MLAs in the state would change sides like foxes,” says Irenbam Arun, resident editor of Imphal Free Press. Ibobi’s governments in 2002 and ’07 brought a sense of stability. Arun adds, “It is not that they like the Congress, but there is no alternative.” The Opposition simply failed to make any political capital out of the issues affecting the state. The parties were themselves divided.
When the grand alliance between parties opposed to the Congress was being planned, key players like the TMC and BJP were kept out. The TMC managed to make a debut and win seven seats, the second highest in this election, but the alliance called People’s Democratic Front did miserably. Members of the alliance, who had 10 seats in the previous election, won only one this time. Even former chief minister and NCP leader Radha Binod Khoijam, who brought the opposition parties together, lost his seat. So did some other senior opposition leaders such as O Joy Singh, the chief minister’s relative and ‘Minister of Opposition’ as called by the local press, and former Union sports minister Th Chaoba Singh.
The entry of NPF in Manipur also helped the Congress consolidate its votes. “The results clearly show polarisation in Nagadominated hill areas,” says a senior TMC leader. In Thuingaleng Muivah’s home district of Ukhrul, the Congress won two out of three seats. NPF’s winning candidate Samuel Raisom had a margin of just 70.
“In spite of his image as a corrupt chief minister, Ibobi has managed to gain respect due to his strong stand on the issue of state’s territorial integrity,” says Arun.
However, Congress leaders refuse to give all the credit to Ibobi Singh. They point out that Pradesh Congress chief Gangmei Gaikhangam had played a major role in selecting candidates and distributing tickets. He was also responsible for the party’s win last time when he held the same post. In spite of that, he had refused to be part of Ibobi Singh’s government. Both belong to two opposite camps within the party.
The interesting question is will the Congress High Command now reward Gaikhangam for his patience? Or will it retain Ibobi Singh for a record third term?
Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.