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Thursday, March 04, 2004

Polls in Andhra Pradesh to cost Rs. 80 crores

By Our Special Correspondent

HYDERABAD : The Chief Electoral Officer, M. Narayana Rao, on Thursday said, Rs. 80 crores would be required for conducting simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and Assembly in the State, exclusive of expenditure on security.

In an informal meeting with media persons, Mr. Rao said a campaign, was now on to familiarize people throughout the State with the use of Electronic Voting Machines. As for officials, the training on its usage has already commenced.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has allotted 1,25,000 Electronic Voting Machines to the State for the coming elections.

Complaints on violation of the Model Code of Conduct were being referred to the District Election Officers concerned for appropriate action as per Election Commission of India guidelines.

He said cut outs, gates and arches were totally prohibited and District Election Officers were taking steps to remove all of them.

Display of advertisements and hoardings depicting the achievements of the Government at the cost of the public exchequer was also not permitted, he pointed out.

But there was no restriction on e-mail and SMS publicity.
Another NRI joins race for Nizamabad LS seat

NIZAMABAD : One more Non-Resident Indian has joined the race for the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat on behalf of the Congress for the ensuing election to Parliament. Madhu S.Yaskhi, a post-graduate in law from Osmania University and President of the International Legal and Trade Consultants, New York, USA, is the latest entrant into the political arena.

An established attorney in the US, Mr. Madhu has set his eyes on the Lok Sabha seat and is said to have zeroed in on Nizamabad parliamentary constituency as the likely destination.

Mr. Madhu's firm has offices in New York, Edison and Chicago cities besides one in Hyderabad.

Mr. Madhu is the second NRI to express his desire to contest the LS elections. A successful NRI businessman and former MP, G.Atmacharan Reddy, has already thrown his hat in the ring for the Nizamabad LS seat on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr. Atmacharan Reddy had represented the Nizamabad LS seat in 1996 and lost the 1998 election.

He is firm that the seat should be allotted to the BJP as part of the alliance.

Thereafter, he was away from active politics but came back on to the political arena recently and claimed that he is very much in the race for the MP ticket. Political parties are facing peculiar problem for finding suitable candidates.

The TDP is already in a confused state after the former MP in the just dissolved House, Gaddam Ganga Reddy, flatly refused to contest the polls and instead said that he is willing to contest the Assembly election.

Despite the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti alliance, the former might lobby hard to retain the seat with it instead of giving it to the latter.

The TRS is also keen on the ticket and the ZP chairman, S.Santosh Reddy, has evinced interest in contesting the Nizamabad seat.

An indication of Mr. Madhu's keen interest to enter the electoral fray was evident some time back when he participated in a meeting at Machareddy mandal headquarters to distribute financial assistance to widows of farmers who had committed suicide in the mandal.

More than 40 farmers are said to have ended their lives due to mounting debts. Mr. Madhu had then come forward and extended financial support to the tune of Rs. 4 lakhs.

Sources in the Congress maintained that Mr. Madhu has begun lobbying for the Nizamabad seat event though he does not hail from the district. He is said to have met the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president, D.Srinivas, and made a request to consider his plea for the LS seat. Curiously enough, he had not submitted his application form for the Nizamabad LS seat in the local District Congress Committee office.

A former Minister from the district is said to be strongly backing his case.

The party high command, which is in search of a suitable candidate for the Nizamabad seat, could well consider Mr. Madhu's candidature.

The talk of an NRI entering the fray has caused some uneasiness among senior Congress leaders.

Though they are not openly commenting on the development, nevertheless, they have started a campaign that only those who have served the party for some years should be considered.
`Hereditary politics' has come to stay

By S.Ramu

NALGONDA : `Hereditary politics' seems to continue in the Congress party as offsprings of two MLAs in the just-dissolved Assembly -- Palvai Govardhan Reddy (Munugode) and Ragya Bharthi (Devarakonda) -- and a former MP, late Mahammad Abdul Latif (Nalgonda), are testing their luck in electoral politics.

While Mr. Govardhan Reddy's only daughter, Sravanthi Reddy, and the late leader's son, M.A. Muneer, have applied for the Nalgonda parliamentary seat, Ragya Bharthi's son, Madhusudan Naik, is seeking his mother's seat. A degree holder, Mr. Naik's request for the Devarakonda seat on the final day of submission of applications here raised many eyebrows in the party. Though there are no signs of any feud in the family over the inheritance of Ragya Naik, who was killed by naxals, a section of party leaders here believe that Mr. Madhusudhan Naik is keen on taking a plunge into politics. "He might have filed application as a standby to his mother,'' a Congress leader commented.

Unlike Mr. Naik, Mr. Muneer, the District Congress Committee (DCC) secretary, has been serving the party for a long time. His father had won the Nalgonda parliamentary seat with a majority of 1,07,034 votes over his nearest rival M. Jaganmohan Reddy of the BLD in 1977.

Ms. Sravanthi, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and also a Bachelor of Law (LLB), made her intentions clear long ago. She was introduced to party cadres at a meeting convened by the District Congress Committee to highlight the problems being confronted by local bodies last year. In the presence of the then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, M. Satyanarayana Rao, a senior Congress leader had sought to know from Mr. Govardhan Reddy whether she was the "would-be MLA.'' She also completed hotel management course.

Speaking to Election Dhamaka about his daughter's entry into politics, Mr. Govardhan Reddy said: "In fact, I have asked her not to enter politics, but she has said that she wants to contest. Now, she is serious about the Nalgonda parliamentary seat.''

Asked if he would use his `Delhi connections' to ensure seat for his daughter, he responded in negative. "I need not do any thing for her since she has good connections at Delhi-level.'' He also maintained that she had accompanied him during the campaign trail in the last two elections as well at his tours during the local body elections. To a question on her abilities, the proud father said: ''I am sure she is able to deliver the goods and also she is a good orator.''

A base for revolutionary experiments : WARANGAL DISTRICT

By Election Dhamaka Bureau

Assembly constituencies: 13

Lok Sabha: 2

(Warangal &

Hanamkonda)

Voters: 22,41,208

Male: 11,16,126

Female: 11,25,082



KNOWN AS the capital of the erstwhile Kakatiya rulers, Warangal has always been a laboratory for revolutionary experiments. It was considered the stronghold of Communist parties who were the traditional rivals of the Congress until the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) came on the political scene.

An interesting feature of polling in this district is that the voting percentage has increased over the years in spite of the poll boycott call given by various naxalite groups. With the People's War vowing to prevent the TDP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from campaigning in rural areas, tension prevails in several areas.

The former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, represented the Hanamkonda Lok Sabha in 1977 and 1980 but was rejected by voters in 1984 in favour of Ch. Janga Reddy of the BJP. Mr. Reddy was one of only BJP candidates elected to the Lok Sabha when the Congress swept the polls in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination.

In the past, Warangal district elected several seasoned politicians like T. Hayagreevachari, Nukala Ramachandra Reddy, R. Surender Reddy and Kamaluddin Ahmed. Poet Kaloji Narayana Rao also contested the first Lok Sabha election on Congress ticket, but lost to Pendyala Raghava Rao of People Democratic Front (PDF). It was a twist of irony that Kaloji, who identified himself as a leftist, chose to contest against a communist candidate.

N. Yethiraja Rao had the unique distinction of being one among only four persons to be 11 seven times to the Legislative Assembly.

In fact, he and his family members have won the Chennur Assembly seat a record 11 times. D. S. Redya Naik too had the distinction of winning a general seat, Dornakal, for three times consecutively although he is a tribal.

The TDP could win only four Assembly seats in Warangal in 1983 even though it registered a landslide victory in the rest of the State. In the 1985 mid-term elections, the TDP and its allies won 10 seats but their tally plummeted to two in 1989.

In the last Assembly polls, the TDP and the Congress shared 12 seats while the lone BJP candidate won from Hanamkonda.

The ruling party suffered a setback in the local body elections in 2001 with the nascent Telangana Rasthra Samithi (TRS) making a deep dent in constituencies represented by TDP candidates. Out of 50 ZPTC seats, the TDP could win only 21 and its ally the BJP two. The Congress bagged 15 seats and the TRS 12 but, thanks to some horse-trading, the TDP managed to win the Zilla Parishad chairmanship.

In the wake of its recent alliance with the Congress, the TRS is planning to contest seven Assembly seats. BJP leaders have been demanding the TDP to concede five Assembly and one Parliament (Warangal) seat to them, but the ruling party is willing to part with only two Assembly seats.

Meanwhile, reports about possibility of cine star, Vijaya Shanthi, contesting for the Warangal parliamentary seat has added glamour to the forthcoming elections.
Where election results are trend-setting : EAST GODAVARI DISTRICT (AP)

By Election Dhamaka Bureau

Assembly constituencies: 21

Lok Sabha : 3 (Kakinada,

Rajahmundry

and

Amalpuram-SC)

Voters: 31,07,868

Male: 15,38,650

Female: 15,69,218

THE PADDY-RICH, politically sensitive, East Godavari district with highest number of Assembly seats in the State, besides three Lok Sabha seats has been known for its political `extremes' and is described as a `trend setter'.

Election results in this district are always a reflection of the trends in the entire State. This has been the phenomenon during the last two decades.

East Godavari is among those coastal districts, which have earned Andhra Pradesh the sobriquet of `rice bowl'. It has three distinct regions -- the paddy rich Konaseema with a huge net work of irrigation canals and tens of thousands of coconut trees, the water-starved upland area where women have to trek long distances to get a pot of water and the agency areas where Peoples War extremists have some pockets of influence. This diversity is not seen in the election results which are mostly one-sided.

Among the leaders from the district who made it big on the national scene were the Lok Sabha Speaker, G. M. C. Balayogi, who was killed in a copter crash. Among the three major political families which have been influencing public opinion `Thota', Mudragada', `Mallipudi' and `SBP' families.

Before the founding of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) by N. T. Rama Rao, the contest was always between the Congress and the Communists, the Praja Party and the Janata Party, But, the latter never posed any real challenge to the Congress.

The trend of one-sided result began in 1983 when the fledgling TDP made a clean sweep of all the 21 Assembly seats. It repeated this feat in the 1984 Lok Sabha election by bagging all the three parliamentary seats and again in the 1985 Assembly elections by winning 20 seats. In 1989, it was the turn of the Congress to sweep the polls. It gave a severe drubbing to the TDP by winning 17 seats.

However, its supremacy was short-lived. In the 1994 and 1999 Assembly elections, the TDP re-enacted its performance by winning 18 Assembly seats. The scenario changed quite dramatically in the elections to local bodies in 2001.

The Congress party polled 47.23 per cent votes winning 27 out of 57 ZPTCs in comparison to 29 won by the TDP with 46.54 per cent.

Caste plays an important role in selection of candidates by both the TDP and the Congress. While Kapus form the numerically dominant social group in the district, Settibalijas, fishermen and weavers besides SCs and STs are the other major caste groups.

It is perceived that after Balayogi's death, the TDP is devoid of a leader who can associate himself with the `suppressed and the depressed' classes. Both the Cabinet Ministers -- Y. Ramakrishnudu and Chikkala Ramachandra Rao -- are unable to match the dynamism and enthusiasm of the late Speaker.

As a result, groupism has surfaced in several Assembly segments. The Congress is no exception to this squabbling with the DCC president, Jakkampudi Ram Mohan Rao, at one stage, threatening to resign from his position.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

No free power lunches
They must pay their bills like everyone else

By M H AHSAN

The Delhi High Court has just wagged an admonitory finger at a particularly recalcitrant lot. It has issued a curt direction to the Election Commission to take “effective steps” to highlight in at least two local dailies the monies MPs owe the government for having utilised its power, water, accommodation and other utilities and not bothered to pay for them. The court directive is in no way exceptional. What is exceptional is the gumption of those who have represented us in Parliament — and will in the forthcoming General Election seek to renew that mandate — to presume that the state owes them a “free” existence. Between them they owe the state Rs 11.18 crore in terms of uncleared telephone bills, and another handsome amount for the water and electricity they have consumed as well as the government accommodation they had availed of.

These amounts may appear relatively paltry when compared to the huge sums entailed in some of the political scams that have visited this country. But they nevertheless provide a snapshot of the amoral, unaccounted and opaque world of Aaj ka MP. If the ordinary citizen cannot get away with not paying his/her bills — on pain of having these conveniences withdrawn from them — why must an MP live by other rules? If — as often happens to the ordinary citizen — they have been unfairly billed, they must follow the prescribed route of paying their dues first and then demanding the required revision. In more mature democracies, so anxious is the legislator to be above board and to be seen above board, that there is a scrupulous adherence to the letter and form of the law. Implied in this is the clear separation between the politician as public servant and as private citizen so that official facilities are not misused for private ends.

The court, incidentally, has not chosen to make mandatory certification to the effect that the concerned MP has no outstanding dues. Instead it has chosen to let “daylight” into the process by making such information public, even as it has allowed collecting agencies like the MTNL and ITDC to take the required steps to recover the sums owing to them. The court believes that public knowledge — which could be politically damaging in the run up to a general election — would be sufficient to bring erring politicians to heel. There is virtue in this argument. For instance, adverse publicity generated by a Sunday Express report had — in a different context — persuaded the Union aviation minister to clear hotel bills outstanding against his name. As the court chose to put it: “An informed voter is the fountainhead of democracy”. We, on our part, would endorse that view.

Growing TRS demands put Congress in dilemma

By Kajol Singh

NEW DELHI: With the growing demands of Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS), doubts have arisen over the ground level implementation of its alliance with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh.

The latest demands of TRS have put the Congress in a dilemma. Though PCC president D Srinivas was present in a meeting where TRS leaders put forward fresh demands, he refused to join issue with them and said that it is being taken care of by the party high command.

TRS leaders made it clear that they would support the Congress to form a government in the state only when they are assured that a resolution for separate Telangana would be passed in the Assembly.

They have come out with the demand that the Congress should not field candidates who do not approve of a separate Telangana state.

They had already said that they want to wrest eight Assembly seats from the Congress in the Telangana region.

They on Tuesday submitted a fresh charter of demands to the Congress high command.

TRS vice-president A Narendra and Karimnagar zilla parishad chairman Rajeshwar Rao met Congress working committee member Pranab Mukherjee and asked for a written commitment on the Telangana issue.

After a patient hearing, Pranab Mukherjee is understood to have requested the TRS leaders to reconsider their demands.

BJP will get 272 seats in Lok Sabha: Venkaiah Naidu

By Hemlata Yogi

BHOPAL: India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will get 272 seats in the Lok Sabha and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it leads will get a two-thirds majority in the house, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu claimed Tuesday.

"It is our assessment that we will win over 272 seats in parliament," Naidu said at a press conference here.

The BJP had 179 members in the just dissolved Lok Sabha while the NDA had a simple majority in the 543-member house.

Naidu was in Madhya Pradesh to kick off BJP's campaign for the polls, scheduled in the state on May 5 and May 10.

"We are hopeful of winning the 112 seats in which BJP members were the first runners-up in (the last Lok Sabha elections in) 1999," he added.

He claimed the political situation in the country favoured the BJP.

"There is a pro-BJP wave even in the four southern states. For the first time, the party will form a government in Karnataka," said Naidu.

Simultaneous parliamentary and assembly polls are to be held in Karnataka.

Naidu said the very existence of the Congress would be in doubt after the Lok Sabha elections.

"The Congress will face a crisis after the elections. It's a sinking ship. Not only members of the Gandhi-Nehru family but even traditional Congress leaders are making a beeline for the BJP," he held.
The MPs who are the biggest defaulters

By M H AHSAN

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court asked the Election Commission to give ‘‘full publicity’’ to the names of MPs who haven’t cleared their telephone, electricity, water, accommodation and helicopter bills.

The MTNL informed the court that Rs 11.18 crore was due as telephone arrears from 656 MPs. The NDMC informed the court that the amount due from parliamentarians for electricity and water consumed totalled Rs 6.5 crore.

This website's newspaper spoke to some of the prominent names on the defaulters’ list:

Ram Vilas Paswan, Lok Janshakti Party (Phone bill: Rs 2,18,444, electricity bill: Rs 2,14,883)

I paid my MTNL bills yesterday. As for the electricity bill, we live in houses that have servant quarters too, inhabited by poor people who stay on regardless of MPs who have moved in. This order will ensure that future MPs will drive away the poor. But I am paying up the bill. Today was Muharram and the office was closed, but I will be paying the dues tomorrow. But I think the actual bill is Rs 1.54 lakh only.

Prabhunath Singh, Samata (Electricity bill: Rs 91,259)

When I reach Delhi, I will decide. I think the bill was shown in the name of servant quarters, but they neither have a fridge nor any fancy contraptions. I think the manner in which the lists have been made public is wrong. Parliament and the Government should interfere as this involves the rights and privileges of members of Parliament.

Sanjay Nirupam, Shiv Sena (Phone bill: Rs 47,630)

Our house is like a dharamshala where people don’t understand that one has to pay for electricity and phone. Kisi ka baap ka maal to nahin. Today I am in Mumbai, but there are people who, when they are in Delhi, stay at my MP quarters and use telephone and power. I was slapped with a Rs 4-lakh MTNL bill and I requested the authorities to cut it from my quota. They are doing it for the last three years now. I also feel they should do away with the concept of servant quarters.

Dilip Singh Judeo, BJP (Phone bill: Rs 1,19,416)

In a country like ours, between 10 and 12 lakh people vote one MP and it is the MP who represents their interests. I will definitely pay my dues but I need to check on a small thing. I checked with my office and found out a flat of mine was even allotted to a marriage party. I have to check it out. But I will pay up.

Nilotpal Basu, CPM (Phone bill: Rs 2,99,463)

This is deeply distressing because since 1994, when I became an MP, I’ve never got a bill from the authorities mentioning anything about dues. I was getting my regular bills that were always paid for. I thought I was well within the quota alloted to MPs. Then sometime around the end of 2001, I was sent two bills amounting to Rs 2 lakh. I protested but there was no way to find out the veracity of bills. I wrote to the Ministry of Communications and they were profusely apologetic. But I have decided to pay up in parts—that’s how the amount has come down to Rs 2,99,463. But I wish the court could take the views of MPs too.

Pritish Nandy, Shiv Sena (Electricity bill: Rs 65,222)

I have no idea what they are talking about. I paid up a little over Rs 60,000 three months ago. I did it under protest as I felt the bills were exaggerated. I don’t spend that much time in Delhi and I think I use what I am entitled to under the MP quota. In fact, the authorities have sent three notices in the past, with contradictory figures. I am sure if you talk to other MPs they too would be confused.

Deve Gowda, JD (Secular) (Electricity bill: Rs 76,772)

My God, I think it is the bill from the servant quarters. I never charged anything from people residing on the premises ever since I became an MP in 1991. I never collected any money from them, but I will pay up. I will ask my people to pay up.

The following is the list of names with ‘‘major arrears’’ furnished by the MTNL and NDMC to the Delhi High Court: ELECTRICITY DUES

Jai Narayan Prasad Nishad (Rs 12,18,743);Rajesh Ranjan (Rs 2,14,883);Ram Vilas Paswan (Rs 1,54,431); Vilas Muttemwar (Rs 4,07,033); Prabhu Nath Singh (Rs 91,259); T H Choba Singh (Rs 64,456); Pritish Nandy (Rs 65,222); Abdul Hamid (Rs 40,693); Chandrakant Khaire (Rs 58,645); A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury (Rs 30,58,499); Chandrashekhar (Rs 7,10,762); H D Deve Gowda (Rs 76,772); Ram Krishna Kusumaria (Rs 2,06,788); Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (Rs 1,15,237); Ramchandra Veerappa (Rs 65,55,685)

MTNL DUES

Lok Sabha MPs

M V V S Murthy (Rs 63,334); Gadde Ram Mohan (Rs 50,660); Y V Rao (Rs 2,19,631); K E Krishnamurthy (Rs 1,12,041); A P Jitendar Reddy (Rs 70,444); Ranee Narah (Rs 27,200); Prabhunath Singh (Rs 2,40,732); Ram Vilas Paswan (Rs 2,18,444); Mohammed Haque (Rs 1,09,591); Nikhil Choudhary (Rs 1,619); Kanti Singh (Rs 78,517); Vinay Kumar Sorke (Rs 1,68,714); K B Gouda Patil (Rs 22,584); Charan Das Mahant (Rs 60,881); Shyama Charan Shukla (Rs 16,129); Chandrakant Khaire (Rs 2,98,678); Tha Chouba Singh (Rs 89,068); Salkhan Murmu (Rs 53,689); Ananta Nayak (Rs 8,035); M Durai (Rs 17,882); M Chinnasamy (Rs 1,930); Jaibhadra Singh (Rs 3,84,691); Balchand Yadav (Rs 2,57,740); Devendra Singh Yadav (Rs 1,16,165); Ramjilal Suman (Rs 1,50,164); Satyabrat Mukherjee (Rs 39,842); Suresh Ramarao Jadhav (Rs 1,20,048); Ramdas Atawle (Rs 5,106); Jagmit Singh Brar (Rs 22,505); Ramsingh Keshwan (Rs 17,054); Sis Ram Ola (Rs 85,674); Ramakant Yadav (Rs 1,47,219); Raj Babbar (Rs 6,33,948); A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury (Rs 41,39,200); Vidyasagar Rao (Rs 32,400); Wancha Rajkumar (Rs 47,780); Mahendra Baitha (Rs 4,41,170); Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (Rs 1,50,021); Capt Jainarain Nishad (Rs 1,09,473); Nawal Kishore Rai (Rs 94,519); Sukhdev Paswan (Rs 2,22,534); Rajesh Ranjan/Pappu Yadav (Rs 7,18,164); Shibu Soren (Rs 10,31,125); Brahmanand Mandal (Rs 6,92,819); Muni Lal (Rs 3,28,957); G S Basavaraj (Rs 1,87,483); K H Muniyappa (Rs 2,49,914); K Karunakaran (Rs 5,96,894); Kodikunnil Suresh (Rs 48,419); Tara Chand Sahu (Rs 1,06,784); Faggan Singh Kulaste (Rs 39,171); Mohan Vishnu Rawale (Rs 18,93,423)

Rajya Sabha MPs

Yelliah Nandi (Rs 58,343); Laljan Basha (Rs 3,57,235); Vijay Singh Yadav (Rs 1,55,845); Dilip Singh Judeo (Rs 1,19,416); R S Gawai (Rs 1,39,381); Sanjay Nirupam (Rs 47,630); Man Mohan Samal (Rs 28,675); Dara Singh Chauhan (Rs 4,61,117); Akhtar Hasan Rizavi (Rs 1,74,296); Munawar Hassan (Rs 1,94,493); Uday Pratap Singh (Rs 1,66,771); Nilotpal Basu (Rs 2,99,463).

Monday, February 23, 2004




EC setting up monitoring cell to oversee poll process

By Dhamaka Election Bureau

JAIPUR: To further improve election management, the Election Commission is setting up a monitoring cell at its headquarters in New Delhi for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy said here on Monday.

Setting up of the monitoring cell is a new feature in election management in the country, Krishnamurthy told a training programme of electoral officers here.

The monitoring cell would help attend complaints of any violation of election laws or model code of conduct, he added.

"Although the Election Commission had evolved good techniques of holding free, fair and peaceful polls but we are constantly refining poll procedure to make it more perfect," he said.

"We have good past record but it is our duty too to improve our performance and credibility," he said.

Krishnamurthy said some US Senators had shown keen interest in electronic voting machines being used in India as the machines were far superior than the ones being used in the West.




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MASSIVE TDP RALLY IN HYDERABAD

50 LAKH PARTICIPATED, NAXAL VIOLENCE REPORTED,

TRAFFIC BECAME STANDSTILL, NORMAL LIFE DISRUPTED

CHANDRABABU NAIDU’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW


By SYED AHMED ALI

HYDERABAD : It was a sea of yellow as thousands of Telugu Desam Party workers from across Andhra Pradesh took the city by storm taking out a mammoth rally. The march was billed by the ruling party as 'Mother of all political rallies'. Party supremo and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu will address a massive public meeting, christened as 'Vijaya Bheri', at Parade Grounds later in the evening.

Naidu, on an electoral hatrick seeking a third term in office, is expected to set the tone for campaign for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and the state assembly. The city is virtually painted yellow, the party's colour, with party flags, festoons, ballons, welcome arches and huge cut-outs of Naidu appearing all over.

Thousands of vehicles carrying enthusiastic party workers were also seen arriving amidst drum-beats and bursting of crackers. Indicating the magnitude of crowd mobilisation, the party has requisitioned 22 special trains, 4,600 state roadways buses and over 25,000 private vehicles to bring in workers from all over the state for the meeting.

"This is going to be the biggest ever political rally in independent India. I do not want to make any guess about numbers, but we are looking at 30 lakh plus," the TDP Parliamentary Party leader in the dissolved Lok Sabha K Yerran Naidu said.

The city is bursting at its seams as rally commenced at Nizam College Grounds. It will converge into a massive public meeting later in the evening. Meanwhile, Naxals of the banned PWG (CPI-ML) damaged four state owned APSRTC buses carrying TDP workers to the Hyderabad rally.

About 50 armed Naxals stormed the Brahmanpalli railway station and damaged equipment at the premises. They also heavily mined the railway tracks near Nadikudi railway station leading to detention and diversion of many trains on the South-Central Railway (SCR).

The Narsapur-Hyderabad Express and Bhuvaneswar-Secunderabad Express were diverted via Vijayawada and Kazipet. And the Hyderbad-Narasapur Express was detained at Miryalaguda railway station on SCR as the track was mined.

Two other express trains, Chennai-Hyderabad Express and 7423 Tirupati-Secunderabad Narayanadri Express, were detained in Guntur and allowed to leave at 7.00 am. Utter confusion prevailed at the Guntur railway station with scrappy, laconic and often inconsistent information about passengers worrying the anxious relatives.

Earlier, Andhra Pradesh’s caretaker Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu on the eve of Telugu Desam’s Vijayabheri, giving out a series of interviews to the media to hold forth on his dreams and opinions.

During the course of a conversation with Dhamaka News, Naidu said his government would try its best to avoid increase in power tariff this year. "We have increased the power tariff only once in the five years. We will try our best not to hike the power tariff," he said, but did not rule it out categorically. Naidu did not foresee himself retiring early and expected to be in power for 16 years without interruption. The motivation: To finish the development he has started.

Asked directly how long he would like to be Chief Minister, Naidu hesitated before saying: "My aim is to develop the State like Singapore and it may take 10 to 15 years. If you ask me how many years I like to continue, I will say upto Vision 2020." Naidu does not want a break in his tenure. "I feel that at least 10 more years continuous tenure is required to change the face of the State," he remarked. On his foundation stone laying spree, he said: "Why should I stop developmental works for two months? There is nothing wrong as long as the model code of conduct does not come into force." Naidu refused to play the numbers game on Vijayabheri. "I do not want to reel out figures. Some overenthusiastic party leaders have reeled out figures of 30 lakhs and 50 lakhs. To avoid inconvenience to the people we have organised the rally on Sunday, a holiday and it will not affect the polio programme. The meet is primarily aimed at reviewing the party’s performance in government and set an agenda for the future."

Attacking his opponents, he said the British would make better administrators than the Italy-born Congress president Sonia Gandhi if the country favoured a foreigner. TRS president K Chandrasekhar Rao quit the Telugu Desam as he was refused a prominent position in the government and raised the bogey of Telangana, Naidu said. "The man enjoyed all the power in TD, abused the Congress and then joined hands with that party," he said. Asked when was Congress leader M V Mysoora Reddy joining the TD, he smiled and said, "you better ask him. If he joins TD I will tell you." On the issue of smaller states and the Ram mandir, he said the NDA had an agenda and all the parties associated with it would follow the same.

Naidu denied that the government decision to set up the Pay Revision Commission and sanction of Dearness Allowance were poll eve sops. Hitting out at the Congress campaign against the government, he said the Congressmen were behaving like puli (tigers) here and pilli (cats) before the party high command. "They abuse us in the fond hope that the party high command would appreciate them. But they are making fools of themselves before the public," he said. Naidu said the party would provide more seats to women and weaker sections in the coming polls.
CAMPAIGNING' THE POLITICAL WAY

A real boom time is in the line up for ad biggies as politicians increasingly say yes to systematic communication.

By Sreehari Nair

The world's most populous democracy is gearing up in full speed to cast its mandate. And the country is slowly getting into the election mood. Parties are already looking for recruits to add glitz and glamour to the existing list. We would like to update you that hyperbole commentator Sidhu, actor Suresh Oberoi, Hema Malini have joined the BJP while on the other side the Congress is trying its skills best to rope in a few industry names.


Political advertising in India has traditionally been more carnival and less campaign thus far — enormous rallies, garishly coloured posters and widely distributed audio tapes that twist the lyrics of popular songs into put-downs of opposing parties/candidates have all been par for the course. Political parties have been shy of embracing mainstream advertising in a big way — the Congress (I)’s failure in 1989 to ride on an elaborate campaign by Rediffusion is something that both politicians and industry observers have not forgotten. Another blow came from a survey in Britain by the Chartered Institute of Marketing in 2001, which indicated only eight per cent of people were actually influenced by political advertising.


Elections in India are the most exciting periods not only for the netas but also for the media and recently advertising them have becoming the part of the cake. Till now it was the media who used to spend sleepless nights but now the ad gurus and creative bingos are scratching their heads for neat placement of their clientele.


The elections in India are probably the largest getting-together of people with a single purpose. And anyone who talks about illiteracy here should see how Governments are voted in or out with total unpredictability. They could also notice the increasing role of communication in this mega jamboree.


This election has now seen it all. Parties have been looking out for agencies that can creatively tell what work they have been doing and making a feeling in the citizens of this country they are tech savvy and that they are in the lines of achieving what the west have been doing there for years now. Some parties are so creative that they have cashed in on the emoticons of the various aspects of an Indian like relating India to the recent stock boom, the economy going great guns and et cetera. And that’s were India is shining and inturn have the parties making ingredients that will make them shine.


In the recent elections, TAM’s AdEx study for November 2003 reveals BJP as the fourth largest advertiser in the North on press and 100th on TV, spreading itself across channels like Sahara MP, Zee News, NDTV India, Aaj Tak and Sahara Samay. The Congress pips BJP to the post in print, as the third largest advertiser, but TV was considerably a lower priority with the party using only Sahara MP, DD Jaipur and DD News.


A few back, communication meant cut-outs, banners, buttons, flags and all the in-stadia sound and light that could be mopped up when a leader comes to address a rally. Ramshackle jeeps fitted with loudspeakers roamed the countryside broadcasting little doggerels penned by aspiring poets to anyone who would listen to them. Distributing pamphlets and brochures announcing the visits and including the work that they have done have been the norm till now.


Technology has changed all this. Systematic advertising, with the help of professional advertising agencies, came into effect sometime in the '70s. Ulka was probably the first agency to handle a national political party's advertising campaign. R. K. Swamy Associates was also active, and so were other agencies at the regional level. Probably the only professional thing about that first campaign was the advertising. The experience of the aftermath would make the present multinational avatar of Ulka think twice before jumping in where angels fear to tread.


Meanwhile, the world was awakening to the joys of professional advertising in political campaigns. The US was miles ahead. Television made or marred the political fortunes of Presidential aspirants there. The Saatchi brothers were making history in the UK with their famous campaign for the Conservative party: `Labour isn't working.'


In India, a shy young man was stepping into the blood-stained shoes of his slain mother, and he seemed committed to a new professional way of functioning. For the first time, an Indian advertising agency had total access to the leader of a great national party. And his confidence! Rediffusion had firmly demonstrated what an advertising agency could do for a political party. However, the `once more with feeling' did not work. Post mortems are dirty work, but it seemed that the `professional' work of an Indian advertising agency had not worked, and it was back to the old days where local satraps pushed agencies of their choice, and meritocracy gave way to autocracy.


Yet, advertising agencies are now very much a part and parcel of the hurly burly of political campaigning. The media has stepped in wisely and insisted on advance payment for campaign advertising. This has proved to be a boon for the advertising agencies.


As the great Indian political circus gets set to roll, the stakes are high and the jury seems to be still out on who are the winners in the advertising sweepstakes. The `India Shining' campaign, which is seen as the Government-sponsored election advertising campaign, has set the tone for what lies ahead. No "government-looking" advertising. Big, bold, glossy, well-made advertising. It augurs well for the advertising agencies, and most certainly for the media.


The TV campaign has been hailed as the second most frequently telecast brand on TV during December '03 and January '04. An Adex analysis claims there were about 9,472 advertisements telecast on about 100 channels monitored. In terms of advertising duration, the campaign, with its preponderance of generous 60-second advertisements, took the numero uno position. An interesting feature that has emerged in the analysis is that about 75 per cent of the duration share went to Doordarshan channels. Firstly, it means that good old DD gets the thumbs up when it comes to sheer reach and viewership. Secondly, in a lighter vein, the huge amount of Government money that has been spent on this campaign, which has made a lot of people upset, has largely flowed back into Government coffers after all. So why complain?


The die is being cast before the votes are cast. Very soon the names of the advertising agencies who will be the spin doctors of these elections will be announced. The Maharashtra Government has already fired the first tentative salvo at the India Shining campaign with its own `Maharashtra Leading' campaign. Other States will follow. Then the major political parties will open up with the heavy artillery. The last quarter of this financial year will certainly end with a flourish for the media houses. Whoever wins, they do.


And this time around, the jury will be the great Indian electorate. Lets see what they feel about all this noise.
NAME OF THE GAME: PEDIGREE POLITICS

What’s in a name? Everything. Why else was Feroze Varun, a fourth-generation Gandhi, wooed by the BJP? Sunday Times examines whether dynasty makes a difference in the hurly-burly of Indian politics

By Sakina Yusuf Khan


Call them dynastic democrats. That’s the most generous way of describing politicians who just can’t let go the reins of power and wield it through their progeny. The temptation seems too great to resist. It’s a universal phenomena. Few can keep themselves above parental partiality.


Even the US, the mother of all democracies, has its Kennedys and Bushs. Need we complain? No, says sociologist Yogendra Singh. ‘‘At a time when politics is seeing such a downturn, the entry of bright young men and women from premier political families is a positive development. Brought up in a political environment and with the idealism of youth, they’ll infuse fresh vigour in our polity. Besides, isn’t democracy all about choosing? Is there a law that bans children of politicians from entering politics?’’


Kinship, says political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan, is crucial in our society. ‘‘The fact that the BJP has recruited two Gandhis is an acknowledgement that even a cadrebased, ideologically-coherent formation needs to recognise the strength of kinship ties. But they are not a magic talisman for success.’’ We take a look at India’s topnotch political blood-lines....

To the manor born

The Gandhis : Today, we have three Gandhi progeny orbiting our political firmament. Impeccable lineage, topclass education and good looks. Feroze Varun is the BJP’s answer to Congress’ Priyanka and Rahul. The brother-sister duo were part of the first family that swept the people of Amethi and Rae Bareilly off their feet. Will they stoop to conquer? No one is sure. But Congressmen are emphatic. ‘‘They must contest. If not now, then when? The family has made huge sacrifices, they cannot let that go,’’ says Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma.


But do these young Gandhis — Rahul, Priyanka and Varun — have the spark to ignite the electorate? ‘‘There’s no denying that of the three, it’s Priyanka who has inherited the charisma chromosome. She has her grandmother’s poise, attractiveness and spontaneous response to people. Unlike elder brother Rahul, she has always shown a keen interest in her family’s propensity for politics,’’ says a CWC member. Insiders say that some years ago, she even had extensive interactions on the state of the nation with historians, economists and social scientists at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. She even learnt Urdu from a Jamia Millia professor. And Rahul? For this Harvard alumni, the sweat and grime of politics has just begun.


Varun stepped into the spotlight for the first time a few years ago when his book of poems was launched. This law graduate from LSE learnt his first lessons in politics during the last general elections when he campaigned for his mother. Today, he’s the BJP’s Gandhi mascot and exudes confidence. Maneka had once said he was ‘‘as boring as Al Gore’’. If he does as well as Gore, she would be only too happy.

Jyotiraditya : The lineage, truly blue-blood, and the inheritance, natural. This Harvard graduate won the bypoll for the Guna constituency after the death of his father Madhavrao Scindia in 2001. He’s been working hard to keep his legacy alive. Since the time he took over, the constituency has seen development work worth Rs 500-600 crore, claims Scindia Jr.

Performance is the key

There are others for whom politics was not the logical choice.

Omar Abdullah : Farooq Abdullah may have helped son Omar inch his way up in politics, but he was a reluctant guru. ‘‘It was only after I had tried my hand at other things including a stint at ITC and Oberoi that I decided I could do much more with life if I joined politics.’’ He did pretty well for himself — Union minister of state for commerce and industry at 30 and minister of state, MEA, at 32. Did his surname help? ‘‘It definitely gave me a foot-hold. But eventually, it’s the work one does that matters.’’ Finally, even the presidency of the National Conference was foisted on him. But the smooth-going didn’t last long. Omar led the party to electoral defeat in Oct. 2002. Since then, he’s been shunting between Delhi and Srinagar, concentrating on issues such as health and education.

Mehbooba Mufti : Eight years ago when Mehbooba Mufti entered Kashmiri politics, nobody gave her chance. She literally started from scratch. Her background as Mufti’s daughter — a Congress leader and home minister in VP Singh’s government — was more of a drawback. But she carved her family’s identity -- from pro-Delhi to pro-Kashmir. She didn’t make it as CM — the PDP in the best traditions of stodgy Indian politics chose her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to head the coalition. But Mehbooba has won a place for herself in the hearts of Kashmiris.

SONS OF THE SOIL

Akhilesh Yadav : For a man who never tired of admonishing dynastic politics, Mulayam Singh realises that blood is thicker than vitriol. Four years ago, he vacated the Kannauj parliamentary seat for son Akhilesh. The Samajwadi supremo contends, ‘‘My son is only an ordinary worker of the party.’’ But then how many ordinary workers have been handed a ticket to Parliament at such an early age? Akhilesh has no qualms admitting that most of his time is spent signing recommendations for his supporters. ‘‘They come to me with such hopes. How can I let them down?’’ asks the two-term MP.

Sachin Pilot : No drawing-room politics for this Wharton graduate. ‘‘Unless you connect with the grassroots, there’s no point being there. If politics is dirty, the only way to change it is to get into it,’’ says the 26-year-old who joined his late father, Rajesh Pilot’s party two years ago. Why did this MNC executive chuck up his job to join politics? Debt of gratitude towards his father’s constituency? ‘‘No. I felt my talents would be better utilised in politics,’’ he says.
AP PARTIES SWEAR BY IT

They may be left, right or centre, but computers have become the mainstay of political parties.

Election Dhamaka takes a look at the backyards of parties before they hit the road.



From Election Dhamaka Bureau - Hyderabad


TDP : eOffice
The TDP headquarters is virtually a paper less office. With an array of electronic gadgets, the swanky NTR Trust Bhavan keeps party president posted on even minute details — be it profiles of aspirants or a member’s career graph. All information is just a few clicks away.


The TDP office boasts of about 30 computers, fax machines, hot lines, a digital camera, scanners, ultra modern sound system, an EPABX network with eight exclusive lines to officebearers and a full-time photographer. In addition, the party has tied-up with cell phone companies to provide mobiles to over 1,000 workers under the closed user group.


According to P N V Prasad, technology coordinator at the NTR Bhavan, they have a database on party workers — profiles, membership information, position in party hierarchy and details of participation in various party meetings and functions.


As part of its routine feedback, the party recently dispatched ‘optical mark reader’ (OMR) sheets to all district units. Used primarily for competitive exams, these sheets were used to do a survey on the performance of the chief minister, ministers, MLAs, district in charges, etc. Similarly, resumes of over 3,000 ticket aspirants are available at the click of a button. Along with the profiles, the intelligence input from various surveys have been tagged for a quick reference by the big boss.


The TDP, which dubs itself as a hitech party, is also the only political entity to issue bio-metric identity cards to all its members. The party gizmos also store photographs of all TDP leaders and workers allegedly killed by naxalites. To make a point and add fire power to the party’s election campaign, the TDP plans to use these images in the form of ad films to drive home its argument on the extremist violence.


It also hosts an official website www.telugudesam.com. The site provides a brief history of the party, various programmes, details of MPs, MLAs, decisions taken at various Mahanadus and party programme calender.

Cong : No Cray , only grey
Gandhi Bhavan, the Congress headquarters in the state, relies heavily on grey cells than silicon chips. The Congress nerve centre has no qualms about being in the stone age for there are many ‘walking computers’ in the corridors of Gandhi Bhavan. They can reel off numbers — constituency statistics, vote margins, poll percentage — faster than a computer! Yet, they are a few PCs on standby at Gandhi Bhavan to do routine office chores.


Though the party headquarters does not boast of an IT network, there are a handful of PCs in the offices of senior leaders. PCC president D Srinivas, former CLP leader Y S Rajasekhara Reddy also maintain personal database of aspirants.


The Gandhi Bhavan computers do the routine chores of an office — issue and update party circulars. Apart from that, inputs on candidates and district-wise membership details are also stored on the systems.


The personal database of Srinivas and Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, updated constantly by their secretarial staff at their respective homes, have background information on candidates, voting pattern in previous elections, etc. Such vital information will come in handy for leaders to bargain hard for seats to their respective ‘chelas’ during the ticket distribution process.


"Our brains outperform computers. We have at least a dozen leaders who have poll-related statistics on their fingertips,’’ a senior leader said, summing up the Congress rationale in not going for hi-tech gadgetry.


Besides Ghulam Nabi Azad, a clutch of party enthusiasts like Lanco chief L Rajagopal and Vaartha owner Girish Sanghi use laptops to get updates on various matters relating to the Congress.

TRS : Keeping tabs via fax
The TRS headquarters looks akin to any residence in the posh Jubilee Hills area. The two-storeyed building, without party buntings, flags and hustle and bustle of party cadre, could pass off as someone’s private villa.


Five personal computers, two laptops, seven fax machines and a digital camera. Enough to chart a campaign course for the TRS for the forthcoming elections. Surprisingly, no computer can be seen in the TRS office at Jubilee Hills. "It is upstairs. How can you run a poll campaign without a computer these days?" retorts Prof M Sreenivas Reddy, office secretary.


But the TRS does not have an e-mail ID. "Our people must be having personal e-mails IDs," Sreenivas Reddy adds. The backroom boys, led by Harish Rao, nephew of TRS chief K Chandrasekhara Rao, also operate from another office at Somajiguda. The ‘allimportant’ data is stored on computers at the Somajiguda office.


Though Chandrasekhara Rao uses a laptop, he seldom flaunts it. The digital camera and laptop are carried to all public meetings so that photographs can be transmitted to media offices from the venue itself. The TRS office will add another six fax machines to its repertoire. The TRS leader will monitor districts on a daily basis and receive reports by fax.

Left : Nothing official about IT
The left-wing parties may kick up a storm over the government’s fetish for information technology, but computers provide them the vital statistics to corner the regime of the day.


With their strongholds reduced to a few pockets here and there, the left-wing parties see no reason to spend zillions to corporatise their offices. They operate from MB Bhavan (CPM) and Makdoom Bhavan (CPI) in the city.


In spite of their dwindling Assembly seats in the past elections, the CPI and CPM are second to none in using computers for organisational activities and scouring the Internet for information. Interestingly, the computers CPM and its affiliate organisations use are the ones provided to MLAs by the government. True to their principles, all capital goods are owned by the party.


"We keep our membership data on the computers, including data pertaining to our full-time party workers. We analyse the data to see how many have been enrolled from various social backgrounds and professional categories," says CPM state committee member Y Venkateswara Rao. He does not see this as an anti-thesis of his party’s trenchant criticism of Chandrababu Naidu’s IT talk. "We never opposed IT per se. We only argue it can’t be a solution to every problem," Rao adds.


CPM state secretary BV Raghavulu uses a laptop to regularly access the Net to to cull out information on the World Bank and globalisation.


The only problem is, while he could get rid of the "hold of US imperialism" by installing Linux freeware instead of MS Windows, the same thing has not been done on other ‘government computers’ which came with Windows.

MIM : A blend of old and new
This otherwise ‘closed-door’ party is computer-savvy in its own way. Dar-us-Salaam, the party headquarters, has a computer which has all data pertaining to 1994, 1999 Assembly polls, 1998, 1999 Lok Sabha elections, specifically the party’s performance in every segment. The vote share secured by the MIM in each ward in the MCH elections in 2000 is an important information bank for this city-based party.


"We also store data relating to our committees in every polling booth on the systems," MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi says. As for his own use of computer, this UK-educated barrister is modest. "I am not very good at that. But I manage to check email, do a bit of word processing," he adds. The party relies on Mushtaq, a product of dotcom boom phase, for all its computer use by offering him a seat in MCA in one of the colleges owned by the Owaisi family.
WHO WILL JOIN NATIONAL ALLIANCE ?

By Alok Tomar

Nine constituents of ruling National Democratic alliance have left, one is shown the door and three joined. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, has developed the hobby of hosting leaders who were not even on talking terms with her or her party. Communists ate making an desperate appeal to form a left front, which shall oppose BJP for sure but would not join any Congress led front. Mayawati is waiting for best bargain, no question asked and Ram Vilas Paswan is waiting in wings to play his master stroke, after Mayawati is through. Both the major players Congress and BJP is dreaming an impossible Scene, the absolute overwhelming majority.

Each of the three parties with whom the Congress is negotiating with, are have vote-getting potential, and each want a heavy price from the Congress. The BSP is the most wanted to the Congress for two reasons since it may transfer votes to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the home of seven out of 11 Prime Ministers. It can help the Congress in some other States too. The BSP chief Mayawati has consistently argued that her party stands to benefit the least by aligning with the Congress for the simple reason that the Congress is in no position to transfer votes to the BSP. But then, who can predict Maya's next whisper? Mayawati had joined hands with both congress and BJP in UP sice their common enemy was the Samajwadi Party. If the BSP decides to support the Congress in the coming elections, it will be only to harm the Samajwadi Party, the BJP and its returned big man Kalyan Singh. The once-mighty Congress is now a seeker at Mayawati’s door. The Party which ruled over Andhra Pradesh without a break for three post-independence decades is knocking on the doors of many of it's former friends. Congress is in the newly created state of Jharkhand is talking-read pleading- with Jharkhand Mukti Morchatill recently a pariah .

Politics like a passenger train journey can be a great leveller. After the current negotiations the Congress is engaged in with each of three parties endand then only will end this pathatic suspense.. Alliances is the truth of the day in this era of coalition. While the Congress cannot yet claim substantial gains from its quest for allies other than roping in on its side the DMK and the NCP, the BJP has lost some crucial allies which propped up its clout and image in the NDA. Karunanidhi is gone but Jayalalitha walked in. Chautala have or have been ditched the But Bansi lal is walking backwords and Kalyan Singh have come on its side. The BJP has had to snap its links with the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand and Sukh Ram’s Himachal Vikas Party in Himachal Pradesh. Maharashtra remains the only odd-State out, now that Sikkim and Karnataka have made up their minds to face the polls for both the Assembly and the Lok Sabha. However, the pressure on the Maharashtra Congress to throw its lot with other States is growing. It will be interesting to see how long the central leadership of the Congress holds out. However, the final decision will rest not so much on Sonia Gandhi as on Sharad Pawar. It will be upto the Pawar to assess the prospects of the NCP-Congress alliance and also the hypothesis that he would erase sonia by joining her and her party by default.

In the first three post-independence decades, the Congress was the winning party. Once regionalism asserted itself on the body politic, the Congress began losing out to regional parties, and its overall decline and the ascent of the regional parties began. The entire election scenario changed dramatically in India.Election issues will really evolve and develop once the poll schedule is announced by the Election Commission. Till now, the Congress has not been able to project any issue which are really embarrassing the BJP.The Congress’ self defeated inclination to field Priyanka and Rahul as candidates in UP. is no more a issue as The BJP is also exploiting the Gandhi-Nehru name for electoral gains. If the BJP can gloat over the induction of Menaka Gandhi and her Poet son Varun. Maneka and Emergency? Menaka ji yes but Emergency? forget about this, the forgiving forsight of Bjp seems to have declaring.But that still does not give a overwhelming majority to the NDA. As far as Congress is concerned, it has miles to go before it weeps.
KARGIL GETTING READY FOR ‘ACTION’

By ALOK TOMAR

There is one place in the country where Kargil is a non issue in elections. It never was one. Kargil : The sleepy shia town near frightning Jo - Zila pass and it's neighbor Drass, more famous for fabled Tiger hill, on Srinagar - Leh highway, which was devastated by Pakistani shelling so recently, are again not concerned with what the BJP or the Congress are claiming to do. All the want is roads, employment and hospitals. Autonomy and if possible- separate statehood and security are going to be a big and decisive issue are going to be the real and clinching issues in this Parliament Election. Again.

Leh Parliamentary constituency with 1,43,492 strong electorate is the land of Khomeinee worshippers Muslim Shias and Buddhist Lama's.Hilly, chilly and citting on the banks of Indus, the area is yet to comeback on the goarge filled track. The National Confrence, founded by Sheikh Abdullah, cultivated by Farooq Abdullah and now led by Omar Abdullah, has been winning this sprawling constituency in the northern-most part of the country and comprising the districts of Leh and Kargil since its candidate Ghulam Hassan Commander won it in 1989.

The NC won in 1989 mainly as a result of the hostilities that marred relations between the Buddhists of Leh and Muslims of Kargil." The Buddhists who agitated and got the Ladakh Hill Development Council, have traditionally supported whichever party rules at the Center. On the other hand the predominantly Shia Muslim orthodox community of Kargil has identified itself with the Muslim community of the Kashmir Valley and its politics. The residents of Drass, Pandrass, Matayan (All frontier boarder posts)and other villages will be provided food, fuel and other essentials till next summer. Some residents in adjoining Pandrass, however, complain that the state government did little to support them during their stay at Kulan and Gagangeer in Kashmir. "When it comes to voting we have no choice but to vote for the NC candidate. We cannot vote for BJP or the Congress. These two parties have done nothing for us," adds Mutaq, a local phone booth owner.

In the 1998 Parliamentary election, the number of voters in Jammu region was 24,63,906 whereas the number of voters from Kashmir valley was 24,10,223. But Parliamentary seats for Jammu were two but there were three seats for Kashmir valley. Same partiality can be seen in Assembly seats too. Jammu region has 37 constituency of Legislative assembly, but Kashmir valley has 46. On an average for every MLA constituency the number of voters in Jammu region is 66,000 but for Kashmir valley the number of 52,000.

This partiality pervades the economic and administrative areas also. While Jammu gives 70% of the revenue and Kashmir valley 30%, the provision for expenditure on them is exactly invert proportion i.e. 30% for Jammu and 70% for Kashmir Valley. The funds received from Centre are also spent in this proportion. Kashmir valley has 95% Muslims and had Hindus 5%. Now they are not even 1 per cent there. That means, Muslims have become 99%.

Thais why chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council, Thupstan Chhawang is a prominent proponent of trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. He wants his area to be helped by making it a Union territory.

The people of Ladakh have suffered discrimination in every field. Although part of J&K, They continue to be treated as remote poor cousins. It was only when the Chinese invaded Ladakh that our region shot into prominence. Till that time, there have not been even a proper road link with the rest of J&K. People from Leh – Laddakh, like BJP, want Article 370 to be revoked. They even want a separate assembly. The ground situation has changed very little. Population size has been made the criterion for the allocation of funds. The area is a population of only 2.5 lakh Buddhists but Ladakh comprises two-thirds of J&K state. Unfortunately no government at the Centre has the guts to trifurcate this state because the J&K assembly continues to be dominated by the Kashmiri population

What kind of plan allocation have you been receiving?

Last year, while the state of J&K received Rs 17,000 crore, Leh area received only Rs 84 crore. Ninety per cent of plan allocation comes as a grant from the Centre. The Congress set up the Ladakh Council in September 1975. This appointment was subsequently ratified by the assembly From that time till today, the financial rules of the council have not been framed. The Darjeeling Council, In West Bengal, on Bhutan-Nepal boarder, enjoys cabinet status and its chairman has been given the rank of a minister of state.

The Ladakh, Kargil area remains snow-bound for six months in a year. People have to stock food and other provisions for this period. The snow begins to melt in March-April but the funds reach only in August-September by which time the working year is practically over. Ladakh can be kept open for 11 months in a year if an all-weather road were to be built at Puramulla. Instead, the state government wants to build a tunnel at Zogila which is being shelled every day by Pakistan, the locals complain.


There is more. No attempt has been made to reassure the Buddhists living here, who are feeling very insecure following the influx of Afghani Jehadis into J&K. We cannot forget that they destroyed the Bamiyan statues. After their destruction in Afghanistan, These Jehadis may start attacking our monasteries as well. Since 1999, Ladakhi Buddhists have launched an agitation asking for Union territory status. In 1998, the Pakistanis, assisted by these Jehadis, were determined to capture the national highway resulting in the Kargil war. During the war-'war like situation' according to the Central government-most of the local farmers, living close to Line of Control were starving, shivering and begging-in that order. They even went to The Prime Minister Vajpayee with the logistics help of OXFAM and were promised the moon but are facing the six year long eclipse. BJP of India shining has no takers here. The cultural fiesta like Sindhu Utsav has made no impact in this stony icy terrain.
ANOTHER BANDIT ‘SEEMA’ FOR POLITICS

By Alok Tomar

Seema, Lovely, Nandi, Kusuma, and Sheila. Names would not ring a bell unless one is told that they are generation next of Bandit Queen breed. These ladies uses automatic guns, actually kills and now decides the poll outcome in 12 districts of Chambal Valley.

Kusuma, the eldest at 42 years is a contemporary of Phoolan Devi, the original bandit queen. She was ambushed twice last week while roaming in Chambal ravines and attending gram sabhas, the village councils meetings to 'help' people decide about their parliament candidate and which party to vote. Survived and the reward of Rs 100,000 on her head remained unclaimed.

She is eldest but certainly not most brazen or business savvy for that matter. Police in Etawah District claims, with worldly wise disgust, that Kusuma's fee for the poll management for an entire village is as low as Rs. 500. That was for 13th Loksabha. This year's rates are a close secret-at least for outsiders. Kusuma leads a gang of 15 professional killers.

Lovely Pandey is a study in contrast. Married as a second wife to bandit Nirbhay Gujjar, the most wanted, her school mate Asha was the third and now Sheila is fourth, Lovely is a first timer in election business. She was a homely bride during last one, but the lack of experience is not her weakness. She, according to local police is offering a package deal. Nomination till oath taking. How she would swing it, no one knows except fot the fact she belongs to the home constituency of the chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Seema Parihar is different. She, after a ten year 'career' in ravines, now wants to go to state legislative assembly and if possible, wants to become minister and if possible home minister, ordering the police. She is 32, has a six-year-old son and has 37 cases against her, including murders and kidnappings. And if all goes well, she could run for elections. Seema Parihar surrendered before police and now visits courtrooms. She is the only Rajput Bandit woman and even if she could not became the "Queen" she wishes to follow Phoolan as politician. She almost got a nomination from Shiv Sena for the assembly election but was denied the chance at last moment.

Politicians in Uttar Pradesh, are eyeing the tall and slim Seema, who is comfortable with all kinds of weapons to become another bandit queen. The Mulayam Singh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh is believed to be favorably disposed towards her. The local BJP , CPI and The Congress, too have, showing interest. A Congress leader from Etawah, Samresh Singh, and Rama Shankar Singh from Bhind are believed to be busy negotiating with Seema or her massengers.

Abducted at 13 by a dacoit called Lalaram, of Phoolan fame, raped her too and then left to fend off the advances of ruthless men in the maze of undulating landscape ruled by multiple gangs, the Thakur girl was married off to a 50 year-old gang leader, Fakkad. The marriage was ' fixed' by Kusma Nain, a contemporary of Phoolan Devi. Lalaram was killed in an encounter with police in the mid-nineties and Fakkad died in 1997. It was left to Seema to head the gang. She was only 25 then. Five years later, in 2002, she surrendered witnesses.

Seema, who is now in Etawah jail and has obtained bail in almost all the cases, wants to start, political life. The interests of the political parties have come out in the open. The Samajwadi Party was the first off the block. Party chief Mulayam Singh is learnt to have agreed to inaugurate the mahurat of a film to be made on Seema.. One of Mulayam Singh’s political secretaries recently visited Etawah and spoke to Seema. Party sources said Seema might be fielded from the rural Kanpur constituency in which there is a large Thakur presence. "Seema is not Phoolan. However, we believe in the reformation of dacoits, whichever caste they may be hailing from.

For this Bandit queens in wonderland--that is politics- training ground Nirbhay Gujjar is the chief trainer. Nirbhay, obsessed with marriages and lavish suhaagraats, had 'campaigned' for a Congress candidate, a former home minister and the candidate Govind Singh is one of the 37 victorious candidates in 270 member assembly. In the bloody land of Chambal, more often then not, the bullet decides the ballet.
BIG FIGHT IN MUMBAI BJP?

By SREEHARI NAIR

The date for the big fight is fast approaching near and party leaders are on a spree to woo in voters into their kitty bags. Election rallies are slowly gaining momentum in various parts of the country. Leaders of the various parties are busy recruiting people for party endorsements. Till now the comparative analysis reveals that BJP is leading the pack with the most number of known faces agreeing to campaign for their party. Some are busy planning chalking out venues for the rallies to begin while some are busy writing dialogues for their leaders and dialogues that catch bystander’s attention.

Mumbai is always is the debutant place for every political party to kick start its campaign. For generations leaders have made it a point to be here not because Mumbai has the educated lot but since it is the only place in India where one can find people of different regions and thus in short they appeal to the whole of India while addressing here right in the middle of mayhem.

The first to pay visit was the congress president Sonia Gandhi with her list of allegations against the current ruling party, nothing official about it. Attended by large numbers from sections across the society, the rally didn’t give much insights to the media as well it turned out be a just another political gimmick. There was nothing interesting that the media found it make the front page but now the season is making its beginning and the already most biggies are here to woo the voters, there has been much apprehension over the media. While two days before it was BSP leader Mayawati and then it was the turn of the BJP who came in with the first Gandhi blood who has made a brave heart to join the BJP.

On the first rally by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati, she kept the public guessing over her party's possible alliance with national parties prior to the Lok Sabha elections.

Ms Mayawati while addressing a rally at the historic Shivaji Park in Central Mumbai this evening hurled a googly when she said her party could do wonders if it could bag around 50 Lok Sabha seats. An optimistic sounding BSP leader said in such a scenario, the BSP could even get the post of the Prime Minister to which the crowd burst into cheers while the opposition laughed on its way. .

The former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, in her characteristic style, lashed out at the Congress describing it as ''Manuwadi'' and charged it with inaction on the plight of the farmers and the unemployed youths. At the same time, she also spewed venom on her former ally, the BJP, over its ''feel good factor'' campaign.

In a true politicians way keeping her options open, Ms Mayawati did not drop the slightest hint at the direction the BSP was planning to take in its quest of siding with either the Congress or the BJP. She remained content in saying that she would decide on a possible tie-up after receiving reports from all her state units. The party, which claims to champion the cause of the Dalits, or the socially underprivileged, has so far confined itself to north India.

Ms Mayawati said the interests of the BSP would be uppermost whenever she decided on an alliance to ensure that the alliance partner's votes were transferred to BSP if they(BSP) had to vote for them. Mayawati hit out at both the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Congress, which are actively wooing the BSP for a political alliance. She told the audience, comprising mainly poor people from the backward classes, that the two were against her main constituency.

’Though votes are transferred to alliance partners, I have to decide whether an alliance with them (the Congress) will help in transferring their votes to us’ Mayawati was quoted saying.

Mayawati, who has had several meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is keeping the party guessing. She had not taken a final decision on allying with the Congress, Mayawati said.

The BSP, according to her, would prefer to keep its distance from both the BJP and the Congress, a move that political observers view as a case of bargaining with both sides.

In yet another election drive, Varun Gandhi, probably the first from the Gandhian family to join BJP flew down to Mumbai alongwith party bigwigs like Promod Mahajan, the Information and Technology mininster, Petroleum minister Ram Naik, Gopinath Munde and with the bahu of Kyunki ki Saas Bhi Bahu Thi fame Smruti Irani.

While every party is questioning about the ‘feel good factor’ that is BJP is emphasizing from its controversial India Shining campaign, Ram Naik took the centrestage and asked:

today almost every home has a 2 cylinder connection
four years back there was just phone connections in thousands today we have 3 crore telephone connections…
today gas is available on the turn of a nob. Few years back it was just available for 30000 lucky ones, today more than 1,90,000 connections have already been made.
The sensex has jumped high in the last few years….
The fiscal deficit has come down in the last few years…
Isn’t this all a ‘feel good factor’ for us, the citizens of this country? He asks. Then why is the other parties so confused about this term. When asked about how the BJP is going to use the young and vibrant Varun, he said, "We have put him in the youth wing because there he will be able to relate the most. He is a promising politician."

Varun who hasn’t much made public appearance could be well judged the way he speaks. He is shaky, conscious and mannered. When the media tried to catch in upon Varun, Promod Mahajan who acting as a guardian asked him strictly not to speak to media to which he politely agreed.


This is what the media gets in return from the parties.

A reporter from Sahara Samay Mumbai, a local TV channel, was assaulted by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers at a rally addressed by BSP leader Mayawati at Shivaji Park on Friday.

The reporter, Shailesh Mohite, suffered injuries on the head and back. A spokesperson from Sahara said a complaint has been lodged at Shivaji Park police station.

The channel was covering the rally live. According to Mr Mohite, the BSP workers took offence when he reported that 30,000 people attended the rally.

"They wanted me to say before the camera that lakhs of workers had assembled for the rally." When he refused to oblige, the BSP activists assaulted him.
CRIMINAL POLITICS IS THERE!

By ALOK TOMAR

What does a former bootlegger and local musclemen turned multi millionaire Dharma Pal Yadav and his son, the main accused of two most high profile murders in India has to do with the Party with difference--BJP? Well they are the members, leaders and private army of the saffron Party and a possible antidote to high handed UP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Bringing them in to party and presenting to the media, without frayed tempers was no easy task but then Promod Mahajan, the general secretary of the party is known for delivering impossible. This scene however was not easy for Mahajan either. Here was Dharma Pal Yadav, wanted in 31 cases by Indian law and thev case list has killings, kidnappings, extortion an riot. His son Vikas hit the headlines when he shot a pretty society girl dead just for being refused a whisky peg. He was arressted and while on bail, he decided to become the culture police for her sister Bharti. Vikas 'sentenced' Bharti's friend Nitish Katara to death and executed him after kidnapping. Bharti is now in London doing some course and Vikas is on bail again. Two 'honourable' pioneers of India shining! Indeed.

After starting as a courier for hooch manufacturers near Delhi-UP border, D. P. some 35 years back, graduated to become Uttar Pradesh'h liquor king, after deceptively eliminating rivals. Money came, rather showered on Yadavs and then next destination--or harborage- was Politics. DP's first mentor was the socialist Mulayam Singh Yadav, now the Chief Minister, and with senior Yadav's help, DP not only became the Member of the state assembly but a minister too. Then, both the yadavs quarreled and DP contested against Mulayam and lost. It was booth power versus hooch power. Soon, DP contested Lok Sabha elections, as an independent helped by BJP, who else. He contested next Parliament Election, lost and was 'loaned' (some insider claims 'sold) BJP votes to help him become the member of Parliament's upper house, Rajya Sabha---equivalent to the hose of lords. During his this term as 'Indian Lord', DP was found sheltering one dreaded Mafia don from Bihar. The morning his exploits were in head lines, he was enjoying an at home with then President of India.

BJP is Upbeat. Flash bulbs shines almost daily as photographers craned over one another’s head to catch BJP’s new star-acquisitions — a filmstar, a TV star and a cricket star — on their cameras. But DP and Vikas has no match. They came with their loaded revolvers to be the party to a different party.Alittle earlier, the stars, Suresh Oberoi, Mahabharata’s Yudhishthir Gajendra Chauhan and Navjot Singh Sidhu, the cricket wordsmith were hijacked by the TV crew hungry for more sound bytes.


In the feel-good season, party’s oven-fresh stuff, rather than party chief Venkaiah Naidu and party general secretary Pramod Mahajan, was a better proposition for the instant-media. Sidhu was far more articulate though they all parroted the same theme of how the BJP is the only party, which can take the nation forward. He said: ‘‘Vajpayee can convert weakness into strength, destruction into triumph and obstacles into stepping stones". The BJP has an outstanding leadership.’’ Oberoi talked of Vajpayee’s leadership, but reporters were more interested his actor-son Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai. ‘‘Are they also joining BJP?’’ someone asked. ‘‘It is for them to decide,’’ Oberoi said. Jeetendra, who had campaigned for Congress three months back in the assembly elections, joined BJP separately at Naidu’s residence in the evening. All said good thing abot Party, it's Dharma and Vias Purush Vajpayee. But Dharm Pal and Vikas were whisked away candidly. The don was tired and carrying a loaded gun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

In These Elections, India Will Lose

DHAMAKA DISCUSSION FORUM

So, which side are you on at the General Election? Who will you be voting for? Which party will you support?

I’ll tell you my own view: the general election will only be a success — no matter which party forms the next government — if the election is actually fought on ideas and issues, if a single party gets an overall majority and if the government that emerges is stable and performance-focused.

My views are not new. I’ve held them for nearly 20 years now. In 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi won his historic mandate, an intellectual journal asked me to write an assessment of the victory. I was then a Bombay journalist in my 20s, so I was somewhat startled to be taken so seriously by so high-brow a publication.

But I knew what I wanted to say. Throughout the 1980s, I had been perturbed by what I saw as the development of a parallel politics (just as we had a parallel economy). We had a functioning democracy, an impressive parliament and a full-fledged party system but increasingly, or so it seemed to me, a new kind of politics was taking place outside the formal structure. In Bombay alone you had the example of Dr Datta Samant, a trade union leader who had taken lakhs of workers away from the traditional party-affiliated unions. You had Bal Thackeray whose Shiv Sena (which was then still considered beyond the pale; nobody thought that it could ever form a government in Maharashtra) could shut Bombay down. Elsewhere in Maharashtra there was Sharad Joshi whose Shetkari Sanghatna had appealed to farmers over the heads of political parties.

In other parts of India, there was a tendency toward violent agitation. Punjab was in flames. The political system had failed completely to address the demands of the Sikhs. In Assam, students were agitating against foreigners.

Few of these movements, I believed, had the stamina to last very long so they were not, in themselves, necessarily significant. But they were symptoms of a deeper malaise.

My view was that more and more Indians believed that the political system, embodied by men like Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s, had failed to deliver. Oh yes, we had all the formal trappings of democracy but the system was simply not responding to the needs of people. Cynicism about politicians and their integrity was at an all-time high (or so I thought: it is actually much higher today). Because politicians were perceived as shysters, elections had actually become exercises in throwing out governments to punish them for their broken promises. (Later, this came to be called the anti-incumbency factor).

In the first half of the 1980s, this dissatisfaction with the system had manifested itself as a parallel politics. But such was the nature of India that, in the long run, parallel politics could only go so far. Bal Thackeray could organise as many bandhs as he liked but whoever ruled Maharashtra would always have the upper hand. The Indian state would not allow any violent agitation to succeed so a combination of military might and political blandishments would eventually end the Punjab/Assam-type agitations. So parallel politics would either enter the mainstream (as the AASU agitators and Bal Thackeray did) or it would die out.

But even if the parallel politics failed — and this, I said, would happen in the 1990s — the basic dissatisfaction with the system would remain.

History has demonstrated that when political systems based on ideas fail, then people go back to the loyalties that preceded the emergence of those systems.

In the Indian context this meant that if ideology was seen as having failed then people would return to religion, caste, and ethnicity. To some extent, Punjab and Assam represented the beginning of that trend. But if it continued, I said, then we were in deep trouble.

One of the fundamental achievements of our democracy was that India was moving towards a society where caste mattered less and less and where Hindus and Muslims could work together. If people returned to religious and caste loyalties then this trend would mimic the 1980s parallel politics. First there would be extra-parliamentary movements based on religion and caste and then, these movements would move towards the political mainstream and hijack the parliamentary system. Ideology would count for less and less; caste and religion would count for more and more.

The significance of the 1985 election was that the victory was founded on hope. This had not happened since 1971. In 1977, people had voted against the Emergency not for anything in particular. In 1980, the electorate had brought Mrs Gandhi back out of frustration. She represented the only alternative to the squabbling old men of Janata.

But in 1985, involvement with the political process was total. People actually dared to hope that electoral politics, based on ideology, could make a difference. There was an air of optimism, a willingness to suspend cynicism. It was, I suggested, the last chance for the party political system envisioned by our founding fathers.

Therefore, I wrote, it was in everybody’s interests to hope that the Rajiv Gandhi government succeeded. It did not matter which side you were on. What mattered was that the system, as a whole, survived.

If the Rajiv experiment failed, I said, it would be the end of electoral politics as we knew it. No party would get an overall majority for years to come — public disillusionment would be so high. And as the government’s failures became evident, people would return to religion and caste loyalties.

As a thesis it was — I can see in retrospect — against the intellectual orthodoxy of the time. Delhi’s intellectual class does not like to be reminded of this now, but in the late 1970s and the 1980s, so visceral was its hatred of Indira Gandhi that it was unable to see any good in the Congress at all. Instead it patronised the Janata-wallahs, a motley collection of caste leaders, Kulaks and wooly-minded socialists who had come together once to form the disastrous Janata party and still hoped to recapture power in Delhi. (In 1985, the BJP was not a major player).

Given all this, I should not have been too surprised when my piece was rejected. Of course, it was all very civilised. One of the editors wrote me a slightly patronising note to say that it had reached them too late (which it hadn’t) but could not resist adding, “In any case, whatever your views on the Congress, we know that there can never be any social justice in India till the men responsible for the Delhi riots are arrested...”

Of course, I was as agitated about the Delhi riots as anybody else (just as I was later to be agitated about the massacre of kar sevaks in Godhra and the riots that followed) but it seemed to me that Delhi’s intellectual class had missed the point.

Sure enough, throughout the Rajiv-era, the steady clatter of sneering abuse continued. Rajiv’s men were ‘baba-log’, they were idiots who thought that computers were the answer, they were too pro-American, they didn’t realise that the real India lives in the villages and has no interest in the free-market etc etc.

And, what do you suppose happened?

Pretty much what I had feared. Rajiv’s government failed for a variety of reasons (inexperience, sabotage from within, ineptitude etc) and caste-based, religion-based movements mushroomed. The most notable was, of course, Ayodhya. In 1985, only a handful of Hindus had even heard of the Babri Majid. By 1989, it had become ‘the most important spot in Hinduism’. But DS4 — a forerunner of the BSP — also emerged during this period. The Muslims began defecting to the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The intellectuals, of course, saw none of this. They cheered V.P. Singh on. Many accepted posts in his Planning Commission and few protested when Singh moved caste to the mainstream by implementing Mandal. The BJP responded with a rath yatra over Ayodhya. And Indian politics was never the same again.

Since then, no party has won a majority at a General Election. Politics is now all about religion and caste; unprincipled alliances are a pre-requisite to electoral success; and ideology has vanished from Indian politics.

This reality is slightly obscured by the nature of leadership. Because Sonia Gandhi leads the Congress we still perceive a historical link to the Congress of yore. But try and think of the anti-BJP forces without the cover of Sonia’s Congress. Basically, you have the forces of ethnicity and caste fighting the forces of religion.

Similarly, Vajpayee’s stature blinds us to the reality of the BJP. Take him out of the equation and what do you have: a party composed of people who condone mass murder, rewrite history books, seek political advice from sadhus and leave electoral strategy to tent-wallahs and fixers.

Which is why I don’t think it is important to back any one side in this election. What India needs is a party system that goes beyond caste and religion, that focuses on performance, on ideas and on stability.

Whoever forms the government, I don’t think we’ll get that at this election. Regardless of who wins, India will lose.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Countdown To Elections 2004

By P Chidambaram

As 2003 drew to a close, and people were making wishes for the New Year, I was struggling with two questions. First, why did the DMK pull out of the NDA government so soon after the BJP’s victory in three state elections? Second, when and why did Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decide that he should opt for early elections? I have no definitive answers, but I intend to try.
The DMK’s principal adversary is the AIADMK. Both have their core vote banks intact— at about 25 per cent each of the actual turnout. Value addition, and the winning margin, come from allies. The DMK had three allies: BJP, MDMK and PMK. Of these, the MDMK may be able to add about 1-2 per cent, and the PMK would bring about 15 per cent but only in about 10 parliamentary constituencies (out of 39). As for the BJP, certainly, Mr Vajpayee would be able to pull in an additional 5 per cent of the votes. Mr Karunanidhi’s dilemma was, for whom will he pull in the votes? Where there was a BJP candidate, the votes will surely be polled for that candidate, but where there was a DMK candidate (against an AIADMK candidate), will the votes be polled for the DMK candidate? I suspect that Karunanidhi may have concluded that those votes would, in any event, go in favour of the AIDMK.

The AIADMK is, after all, the favoured party (more than even the local BJP) of the RSS, VHP, Hindu Munnani and the Kanchi Shankaracharya. I think Mr Karunanidhi’s calculations are correct. He saw no value in carrying the BJP on his shoulders, and so he pulled out on the eve of elections.

Coincidentally, Mr Maran also passed away, and there was no need to keep two ministers with inconsequential portfolios in Delhi. From the DMK’s point of view, Mr Karunanidhi’s decision is a very sensible one.

Now, the second question. For several weeks Mr Vajpayee had refused to fall for the bait of an early election. There were good reasons for him to be cautious. Suppose the results of the election in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were due to the anti-incumbency factor? Suppose there were communal conflicts around December 6 or terrorist attacks around December 13? Suppose the peace initiatives towards Pakistan ended in a whimper?

I think these imponderables turned less uncertain in the first half of December. It is now clear that what did the Congress in was not only anti-incumbency but also the absence of allies to fight an election. Mr Vajpayee may have concluded that he could get over anti-incumbency if he was able to put together a fresh alliance. December 6 and December 13 also passed quite peacefully. The peace initiatives towards Pakistan seemed to have gathered some mass and momentum and the Saarc summit, even if it did not produce dramatic results, was not likely to turn into a diplomatic disaster.

But there were other f actors that may have finally influenced the Prime Minister to take the plunge. The foremost was the withdrawal of the DMK from the NDA and, as expected, it marked the beginning of the unravelling of the alliance. It was imperative that a new and secure alliance was put in place quickly.

Another factor was, I suspect, the rising inflation. At 5.63 per cent, it is at a 29-week high. It is obvious that there are differences between the government and the Reserve Bank of India on how to handle the influx of foreign exchange and the unchecked borrowing by the government. The government expenditure is also out of control. Hence, there is no assurance that the rising trend in inflation will be reversed. A third factor may have been the critical attention that the government has drawn to itself— thanks to the India Shining campaign. More and more people are asking if India is really shining? There are more questions about the fall in employment in the organised sector, the fall in employment in agricultural and the jobless growth that appears to be taking place.

The Prime Minister may have concluded that it would be best to “book his profits” now than put his faith in the bull run. If so, he deserves our congratulations on being an astute punter! Both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Karunanidhi have reached practical and sensible conclusions. The irony is that they will be in opposite camps!

Where does it leave the Congress? The Congress has taken one and one-half steps forward. It has started a search for allies. It has also announced that while its leader will be Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the candidate for Prime Minister will be decided by the allies. The Congress is assured of at least two allies—RJD and DMK— but both are strong players in their respective states and strong-willed negotiators who will bargain with the Congress from a position of strength. The Congress’ strength is that neither of the two can win without the Congress.

The next thing the Congress needs is an election plank. Some Congress leaders seem to think that “secularism” — and secularism alone— will do nicely. “Secularism vs the Communal BJP” is a worn-out battle-cry and, given the churning that has taken place in Indian politics, is hardly likely to lead the troops to victory. That does not mean that the Congress should abandon the secular platform and choose a variant of soft-Hindutva.

In my view secularism is a necessary political position, but not sufficient. The aspirations of every class of people have travelled beyond secular politics. Every class and every section demands a government that delivers.

The BJP’s current position on governance is that it will deliver on matters that concern the urban population and the middle-class. Hence, the golden quadrilateral is more important than village connectivity. Hence, the cellular mobile telephone will reach every village before water and electricity do. Hence, tax collection from 25 million income tax assesses is more important than job creation for 80 million unemployed youth.

Elections 2004 throw up a rare opportunity for the Congress and other parties to present an alternative vision of economic reforms. The Congress’ vision in 1991— for heaven’s sake, please read that manifesto again— was a dramatic break with the past. That was the starting point of a fresh adventure that has taken India — not all Indians— to new heights. The next path-breaking vision must be aimed at taking all Indians to new heights. Who will be the author of the script for a brave, new India — Mr Vajpayee or Ms Gandhi?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

India in the mood for elections

By Sultan Shahin

NEW DELHI - With Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee recommending to the president that the 13th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) be dissolved this Friday, the scene is set for general elections almost nine months before schedule. The final decision for the timing of the election rests with the Election Commission, most likely some time in mid-April.

An early election has been in the cards since the ruling Bharatiaya Janata Party (BJP) that leads a coalition of 24 parties in the central government won largely unexpected victories in three out of four state elections in northern India a couple of months ago in straight contests with the largest opposition party, Congress, which ruled the country for the first 45 years after independence in 1947. Vajpayee's is the first non-Congress government to have completed five years in power.

Vajpayee has declared that he expects the elections to be a tough fight, but he is confident that his party will win. Other BJP leaders are setting a more optimistic goal for the party and the coalition. They expect the party to acquire a simple majority on its own, and a two-thirds majority for the ruling coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The high expectations of the BJP rest largely on two factors: the rising stature of the octogenarian prime minister as an elder statesman; and a feel-good factor generated by the good monsoon rains and the boom in the economy over the past few months after four indifferent years, as well as the prospects of peace with Pakistan resulting in relative peace in the Kashmir Valley. The BJP is feeling so good that it has discarded its stock-in-trade greeting of Jai Shri Ram (Victory to Lord Ram) and adopted "Feel Good" as the official greeting. When BJP workers meet or send telephone messages to each other or to members of the public, the rallying cry is "Feel Good", "Feel Great" or "India is on the move". But the hurry to cash in on feel-good factors obviously means that the party does not expect to continue to feel good for more than a few months.

Indeed, the BJP's assessment cannot be faulted. The mere appearance of Italian-born Congress leader Sonia Gandhi's siblings, Priyanka and Rahul, has so rattled the ruling party that it has now started demanding that top posts in the government be banned for even those who do not have both their parents born in India (see Dynastic succession dogs democracy .) One can't help but speculate that if the BJP's most experienced leader and a statesman of international stature, 80-year-old Vajpayee, cannot stand against the charisma of the completely inexperienced Sonia siblings in their early 30s, then the BJP indeed has reasons to hold elections as early as possible lest these new entrants learn to speak in public with some effect.

The same is true of the feel-good factors. The economy may not perform as well in the next quarter. Even as it is, many people doubt that the good performance is anything more than statistical jugglery and media hype. After all, farmers have continued to commit suicide, not to speak of the privations of the one-third of the population that lives on less than a US dollar a day. Also, the experience of most democracies is that while indifferent economic performance always loses elections, good economic performances seldom win elections.

And now the government is beginning to get bad news that it does not want to hear in the run-up to the elections. In its "Report on Currency and Finance" for 2002-03, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has sounded alarm bells over the shabby state of the country's finances. Comments the largest-circulated newspaper The Times of India, a consistent supporter of the government: "This is doubly significant. First, because it knocks the bottom out of Finance Minister Jaswant Singh's recent reassurances on the fiscal front, including the claim that the final numbers for the current year will come as a pleasant 'surprise' to many. The RBI, to put it mildly, does not endorse the FM's optimism. If anything, it believes that our fiscal health, judging at least by the symptoms in the first eight months of the current year, is becoming progressively worse. But second, and more importantly, the central bank has warned that the real fiscal problem facing the country is no longer one of magnitude or quantity alone, but of composition and quality. In simple terms, the RBI is worried not so much about the government living beyond its means as by the fact that it is increasingly spending money on the wrong kind of things: staff salaries, subsidies, interest payments and the like.

"This kind of spending neither adds to the productive capacity of the economy nor creates assets which will yield economic returns in the future. All it does is to create an even bigger hole in the government's pocket, leaving less and less money for current as well as future productive investment. Referred to as revenue deficit in financial jargon, it now accounts for 81.9 percent of the government's gross fiscal deficit, a figure which is higher even than the projected budgetary estimate of 73.1 percent. The extent of the problem can be gauged by a simple comparison. As late as a decade ago, the government's revenue deficit was only a third of its total fiscal deficit. The implications are obvious. In the immediate analysis, the shortfall raises questions about the economic rationale behind some of the recent pre-poll sops announced by the FM. Over the medium term, it poses a hugely difficult challenge. Not only because revenue deficit, once allowed to escalate, is the most difficult form of deficit to contain - the government can neither cut down on staff salaries nor renege on interest payments - but also because it pushes up the cost of borrowing, or interest rates. This inevitably hurts the productive sectors of the economy both in terms of profits and competitiveness."

Similarly transitory may prove to be the good feeling generated by the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, prospects of peace with Pakistan, reduced militancy in the Valley and ongoing talks with separatist leaders. Indeed, one has no way of knowing whether Pakistan has actually learned any lessons from sponsoring militancy in Kashmir for the past 13 years. If it has come to the negotiating table thinking it can win here what it failed to win on the battlefield during its long proxy war, then obviously the talks are bound to fail. India doesn't really have much of anything to offer to Pakistan except some cosmetic face-saving devices.

If Vajpayee's early optimism is any guide, though, he is going to make a great play on his role as a peacemaker and ask the electorate to re-elect his party in order to allow him to finish the peace process he has started with Pakistan. He could obviously not have been able to do so if nine months from now the peace process had already foundered. He can also legitimately claim to have improved India's relations with the United States, China, Israel, Iran, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a number of Central Asian and Muslim countries.

There can be no doubt that Vajpayee has gained enormously in stature as well as acceptability among the so-called secular parties that constitute the bulk of the NDA. He even went to Gujarat recently and apologized for the massacres and rapes of Muslims orchestrated by his party's government there a couple of years ago. But a politician in power is known by what he does, not by what he says. He is the one BJP politician who used to get even Muslim votes on account of his carefully cultivated image of being different from his colleagues in the party and the extended family of Hindu fundamentalists called the Sangh Parivar. But it is doubtful now, post-Gujarat and his flip-flop and lack of action on the issue, whether Muslims will vote for him, not to speak of his party.

The BJP has thus given the Congress a gift of 15 percent of the votes across the country wherever there is a straight contest between the two. Before Gujarat, Muslims were disenchanted with the Congress and were becoming more or less neutral in their choice between the two, realizing that the only difference was that Congress was hypocritical in its profession of secularism, while the BJP was honest in its profession of communalism and Hindutva (Hindu supremacist philosophy). Many were coming around to the view that it is best to start a dialogue with the party in relation to which they knew where they stood, rather than continuing to trust a party that took them for granted just because it claimed to be secular.

Vajpayee knows that the feel-good factor is limited to the urban middle class, many of whom are potential BJP voters. He has tried to enhance this support through giving them a number of sops in the past few weeks. But the electorate has enough experience of politicians and their pre-poll sops to ask where the billions of dollars promised to all sectors of economy will come from. It also knows that these poll-eve promises will be repeated ad nauseam during the elections, but forgotten the moment polls are over.

In any case, few urban middle-class people actually go out to vote, unless they desperately want to get rid of a government. The rural voters still celebrate democracy and the humbling of the neta (leader) at election time, but they largely vote on the basis of their caste affiliation. So caste manipulation that one now-disgraced BJP leader used to describe as social engineering has once again come to the fore. The idea was first to align with the Dalits (untouchables), and by propping up the Dalit-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in Uttar Pradesh (UP), appear to be their champion and get their substantial votes (25 percent) across the country. So the BJP's tried and tested leader in UP, Kalyan Singh, a Backward-caste leader who had spent his entire life with the Sangh Parivar, was given the boot. (Backwards and Dalits do not see eye to eye with each other and can hardly co-exist.) But as this formula did not work and the alliance with the BSP broke down, Singh, who had meanwhile become a sworn enemy of the BJP and had even been certified as secular by the secularist camp, is being wooed back. He will no doubt win back his certificate as Hindu fundamentalist, which he probably is - the medieval Babri mosque was demolished by Hindu zealots while he was the BJP's chief minister of UP.

Pursuing this policy, the BJP has made another Backward leader, Uma Bharti, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. (Backwards constitute the majority of Hindus.) In large parts of India, however, Backwards, like the Dalits, are busy developing their own leadership and not willing to work, except on a short-term basis, under a Hindu supremacist leadership, whether that of Congress or BJP. Already two of the largest states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are run by Backward chief ministers.

With the opposition divided and largely leaderless, it should not be difficult for the BJP-led coalition to retain power, as a recent India Today poll has predicted. But elections have a way of proving even the best-laid plans and most credible predictions wrong. Already, the mere acquisition of primary membership of the Congress party by the Sonia siblings has upset the BJP to an extent that its top leadership seems divided on how to respond.

In reality, the Vajpayee government has been a failure on most counts of good governance, except perhaps in managing foreign relations. If it wins, however, as seems likely, it will be because the opposition failed to project these failures adequately and inspire confidence in an alternative leadership. Indian voters are not known to bring down governments without being sure of the availability of a credible alternative leadership.

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