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January 23, 1998


Arun Nehru

Confusion worse confounded

Forecasting events a week in advance is becoming increasingly difficult as things change like quicksilver every hour! As the time for the election process to commence draws near, things appear to be settling down. The past six weeks have seen many changes and new alliances, and value-based politics has become valueless; corruption and criminality have taken a back seat as issues as every party prepares for power play, where the winner is almost always right. Naturally, there will be many winners and losers, and I think it would be relevant to look at the past actions to predict future trends.

The BJP is the major gainer, and whether it gets a majority or not in the current election it is posed for an outright majority in the future. Alliances in the North East, Assam, West Bengal. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar promise to give them the links for the future.

In the immediate future, however, we may be in for turmoil as the next government may well be another combination of 14 parties led by the BJP, or a team of 15 led by the United Front or the Congress party, since the political longevity of these combinations will always be of limited duration.

The leadership issue is also vital, and in the BJP, besides seniors like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Bhairon Singh Shekawat, there are many in the younger category like Pramod Mahajan, Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Yashwant Sinha from among many others who are waiting in the wings.

The BJP will be assisted by the Congress who will project the Gandhi dynasty and where leaders of natural ability will be forced to look elsewhere. While the Sonia factor will revive worker enthusiasm and floor the ageing Sitaram Kesri, it will do little else. Sonia Gandhi is, of course, Indian, having married Rajiv and as per the law of the land has every right to exercise her rights. The fact also is that while she was married in 1968, she acquired Indian citizenship only in 1981 when Rajiv had decided to contest from Amethi.

There will be constant questions over her foreign birth and linkages, and if she comes into governance then it will become an issue in the mind of every Indian. Sonia Gandhi may be good for the Congress, but she turn into a boon for the BJP only if it refrains from personal attacks and slander. The people of India are quite competent to decide these issues and will do so with great understanding.

Sonia Gandhi will address 70 to 100 meetings and with every speech her confidence will grow and she will communicate better, and if the Congress improves upon the 1996 performance it will be due to Sonia; if it fares poorly then Sitaram Kesri is always there to be blamed for the "failure". P V Narasimha Rao will be axed and so will many others whose loyalty to 'Madam' is suspect.

It is now time to take stock of the present scenario, after the past week has witnessed changes: minor changes to the charts as fresh alliances take place in the 'auction'. In Karnataka, the BJP and R K Hegde got together, and I had taken this into consideration. The Janata Dal was expected to crack but no MLAs have gone with Hedge and Lok Shakthi, although they have left the government, and this is a good indicator that the JD in Karnataka is not a total write-off. The BJP's quota of 16 is now divided between the BJP 10, Lok Shakthi 3. The Janata Dal goes up from two to five seats. R K Hegde can have another value-based somersault if the numbers game after the election changes!

The electoral fortunes in the state of Haryana show a shift away from the Haryana Vikas Party while in Jalandhar the Akali Dal quota is reduced and given to the JD and I K Gujral for his selective generosity. The Uttar Pradesh scene will change marginally as Ajit Singh rights his survival battle and looks for a BJP alliance in the Jat belt. But the BJP takes no chances and may well eject those taken earlier. There are always Rajya Sabha seats to offer and all those who have passed through arrival and departure lounges have limited choices.

The Uttar Pradesh scenario is heading towards polarisation between the BJP and Samajwadi Party. The BJP alliances show a great deal of nervousness and the charts are amended. Council elections give ample evidence of future trends. The exodus from the Congress will continue and I can safely predict that the party will lose its deposit in 75 out of 85 seats!

Bihar tilts towards Laloo Yadav and he may win a few more seats. The Maharashtra situation and the Congress-RPI alliance may mean marginal gains for the Congress. The Tamil Nadu situation also needs closer scrutiny and the election charts take into account a limited favourable swing towards the BJP in preference to others. The firing on farmers in Betul will affect Congress poll prospects in Madhya Pradesh and Digvijay Singh is clearly on the defensive.

The BJP has its own internal conflicts but the Congress seems to be missing an opportunity to win additional seats. The BJP alliance seems to be working in Haryana with O P Chautala and in Punjab with the Congress, and I wonder if the Congress is doing the right thing by not working on an arrangement in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Current chart dated January 23

StateSeatsBJP AlliesCongressRegional Others
Andhra Pradesh422 _2712 (TDP) 1MM
Assam131 _73 (AGP) 2
Arunachal2_ __2 (AR Cong) _
Bihar5420 10 (Samta)5
19 (RDJ+All)
Delhi76 _1_ _
Goa2_ _11 _
Gujarat2618 _8_ _
Haryana103 2(HVP)32(OPC) _
Himachal41 _3_ _
J&K61 _14(NC) _
Karnataka2810 3(LK)105(JD) BJP-LK
Kerala20_ _13 (Allies INC)7 (LF) _
MP4028 _11_1 BSP
Maharashtra4820 16 (SS)12_ _
Manipur2_ _1_ 1
Mizoram1_ _1_ _
Nagaland1_ _1_ _
Meghalaya2_ _2_ _
Punjab132 7 (AD)31 (JD) _
Orissa213 2
(rebel JD)
16 __
Rajasthan2515 _10_ _
Sikkim1_ ___ 1
Tamil Nadu391 10 (AIDMK)_28 DMK-TMC _
Tripura2_ __2 (Left) _
UP8555 3317 (Samajwadi) 5 BSP 2 Ind
West Bengal42_ _636 (LF) -
Union Try62 _31 (DMK-TMC) -
Total542188 53144+23121 13

BJP and partners comes to 188 + 53 = 241

Congress and allies = 167 + United Front (121) = 288

Others = 13

Why does the BJP need alliances if it has the capacity to win a stable majority on its own strength? Look at the picture in the states where the BJP's presence is marginal and success is dependent on others: Tamil Nadu 39 seats, Andhra 42 seats, West Bengal 42 seats, NE and Assam 20 seats, Kerala 20 seats, Orissa 21 seats, J&K 6 seats, Himachal 4 seats. In nearly 200 seats the effect is marginal as indicated earlier. The value of these associations may not be fruitful now but their future value cannot be written off. The stability slogan and the advantage on the vital issue of leadership will not answer all the questions that arise and the BJP will have a great deal to explain.

Is the BJP really serious about khaki shorts, black caps and bamboo staff and militant displays complete with Nazi type drums and salutes? Is the BJP serious about Article 370 and the uniform civil code? Is the BJP serious about the Swadeshi confusion? Is the BJP serious about governance?

The BJP, like every party, has talent but does this talent have matching powers of political longevity based on tolerance rather than fear? A two-thirds majority in Gujarat was thrown away by internal dissent and eventually a senior minister was beaten and disrobed for straying from the fold! The BJP is in the public eye and naturally there will be questions and questions!

What will happen after the election? The arithmetic is clear and may not vary in excess of 5 per cent -- what will happen to the Jain Commission report and will there be some more leads before the election results? Will the Congress refuse the DMK-TMC combine to form a government and will the DMK-TMC go to the BJP and form the government? The Congress and the United Front may have the numbers but will diverse interests agree on a common leaer? Will comrade Surjeet agree to Sonia Gandhi or to Manmohan Singh? Will the Congress agree on Jyoti Basu, G K Moopanar, Laloo Yadav or Mulayam Singh Yadav? We look for stability but seem to be heading for stable confusion.

Arun Nehru

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