Lok Sabha Elections

CWC meet to decide alliance strategy

Party keen on shifting political discourse from air strikes.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) will send out an important message from Ahmedabad on Tuesday on the need for all democratic forces to come together to defeat the NDA led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Media Sources told the Congress wants to send a strong political signal that the party is ready to take on Mr. Modi on his home turf.

Apart from stressing on the ‘Congress’ legacy’ of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhai Patel — two of the tallest icons from Gujarat — March 12 also marks the launch of the historic Dandi March in 1930.

Before the CWC formally starts its deliberations at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel memorial centre, party leaders would hold a prayer meeting at Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram.

The CWC, which is meeting in Gujarat after a gap of 58 years, is expected to give final shape to the party’s political strategy including the tricky issue of alliances.

After the CWC meet, Congress president Rahul Gandhi will address a public rally at Gandhinagar. His sister and newly appointed general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra is expected to address the rally.

Hardik’s entry

Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who led a quota agitation for the Patel community, will formally join the party at the rally and is likely to be a Lok Sabha candidate.

The Congress is keen on resetting the national political narrative to the “failures of the Modi government” from the dominant “ultra nationalism” of the post-Pulwama discourse.

“Once the next government takes charge, there must be a White Paper on

  1. Decision-making & impact of demonetisation
  2. Unemployment situation since 2014
  3. GDP statistics
  4. Utilisation of fuel taxes & cess
  5. Use of public funds for political campaigning.

India needs answers,” tweeted senior leader Ahmed Patel.

“There are serious livelihood issues; there is the issue of farm distress; there is an issue of demonetisation, there is the issue of how badly GST has been implemented to destroy small enterprises. How Mahatma Gandhi NREGA programmes have been completely subverted. So, these are the real issues in the election,”said senior leader Jairam Ramesh.

How Congress can damage both BJP and BSP-SP Ghatbandhan

As it becomes increasingly clear that Uttar Pradesh, the state with the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats, heads for a triangular fight in the upcoming general elections, the focus has shifted to the ‘Congress factor’. 

How will this factor work in the state where 80 seats are at stake? Will it be an advantage for the BJP as it gears up for its biggest electoral challenge against the united opposition of SP-BSP-RLD, or will it benefit the ‘Gathbandhan’? Is the original calculation of a weak Congress just chipping into the BJP’s votebank still relevant or has it changed post Priyanka Gandhi’s mega entry in UP’s political arena and the party’s intention of going big in the state’s electoral battle?

According to political experts, the ‘Congress factor’ could be a double-edged sword. While it may inflict larger damage on the BJP, the party’s resurgence can also be a cause of concern for the ‘Gathbandhan’ on several seats.

To start with, have a look at the 11 seats of the state on which candidates have recently been announced by the Congress. Unnao and Dhaurara make for an interesting study. The Congress has fielded Anu Tandon and Jitin Prasad from the two constituencies. Both won from the same seats in 2009 but lost badly to the BJP in 2014.

An analysis of the 2009 and 2014 election results shows that there was a major vote transfer from the Congress to the BJP in 2014. In 2009, the Congress got over 4.75 lakh votes in Unnao, while the BJP got only 57,000. In 2014, there was a swing and the BJP got 5.18 lakh votes, while the Congress slipped to 1.97 lakh. Similarly in Dhaurara, the Congress got 3.91 lakh votes in 2009, while the BJP managed just 25,000. In 2014, riding on the ‘Modi wave’, the BJP got over 3.60 lakh votes and the Congress lost more than 2 lakh.

However, first in 2009 and then again in 2014, the SP-BSP’s combined vote share in both these constituencies remained almost stable. Keeping in mind the increase in number of voters from 2009 to 2014, in Unnao the SP-BSP together got 3.28 lakh votes in 2009 and the number increased to 4.8 lakh in 2014. Similarly, the alliance as a bloc got 3.9 lakh votes in 2009 and this increased to 4.68 lakh in 2014 even during the ‘Modi wave’.

With this data in consideration, the ‘Congress factor’ can well be a bigger cause of concern for the BJP, in these two constituencies and many others, where voting has been on a similar pattern.

In constituencies such as Farukhabad, Akbarpur, Jalaun and Kushinaga, where the Congress has also announced its candidates, a study of 2009 and 2014 elections shows that there has been a major shift of votes between the Congress and the BJP. In all these constituencies, the SP-BSP combined vote has almost been similar in percentage.

Naturally, it is this voting pattern that gives both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati a reason to believe that the Congress will largely play a “vote katua” for the BJP. This despite the fact that the combined vote share of the ‘Gathbandhan’ on these seats had been slightly less than the BJP.

Samajwadi party MLC Udayveer Singh says “This slight lacking of alliance vote share as compared to the BJP in 2014 elections is not a cause of concern. 2014 was a result of the ‘Modi wave’ where there was large-scale movement of voters towards the BJP. In 2019, ground realities have changed. There is a new caste consolidation of Dalits, backwards and the minorities on ground. The Congress as a third front will actually help us by making dents into the BJP’s natural vote base.”

Insiders in the BJP convey satisfaction about the triangular fight even though they dismiss the opposition challenge on record. The party’s state spokesperson, Hero Vajpayee, says: “Our party is firmly in the saddle. We are targeting 50 per cent plus vote share, hence a united opposition or the Priyanka Gandhi factor will have no impact. Opposition will be fighting each other for space in the remaining 50 per cent of votes.”

The BJP’s optimism can well be true on seats such as Saharanpur, where a triangular fight is clearly in its favour. In Saharanpur, both BJP and Congress polled less than a lakh votes respectively in 2009, while the SP-BSP alliance secured more than six lakh votes. In 2014, the BJP and Congress did unexpectedly well — both securing over four lakh votes. The alliance performed miserably, securing less than three lakh votes. Clearly, in constituencies like these, a divided opposition can be an advantage for the BJP like in 2014.

No doubt then the ‘Congress factor’ is a phenomenon that can throw up interesting possibilities in Uttar Pradesh. Lucknow-based political analyst and assistant professor of sociology Dr Pradeep Sharma says: “Data analysis shows that the ‘Congress factor’ should primarily be a major cause of concern for the BJP and to some extent for the alliance on a select few seats. This on the basis of the fact that Congress has just around 30 seats where it actually has some base in UP, that is its mission 30 seats.”

However, a lot will also depend on other crucial factors such as the Priyanka Gandhi aspect, performance of SP rebel Shivpal Yadav’s political outfit and most importantly, if the SP-BSP are able to ensure smooth transfer of votes to each other, Sharma adds further.

States that can decide BJP fortune in Lok Sabha Elections 2019

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became the first party in three decades to achieve a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. Can the party repeat this performance?

In a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of elections, electoral predictions are a hazardous exercise. This is because even similar levels of popular support (measured by vote shares) can lead to different number of seats for a party. This author wrote in a 2017 piece published in Mint that the Congress failed to get a majority in earlier elections despite having a vote share which was larger than what the BJP did in 2014.

This larger caveat notwithstanding, the BJP’s re-election chances will depend a lot on how it performs in what can be referred to as its big six states. These are the undivided states of Bihar (now Bihar and Jharkhand), Uttar Pradesh (now Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) and Madhya Pradesh (now Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) along with Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat. These states have a total of 278 Lok Sabha seats, which is slightly more than 50% of the total 543 seats. At least 70% of the BJP’s total Lok Sabha seats have come from these states since the 1989 elections.

In 2014, the BJP won 80% of the Lok Sabha seats from these states, a huge improvement compared to its previous performances. The BJP’s performance in each of these states was the best ever. Interestingly, the party won only 61 seats in the rest of the country, just nine more than the previous best performance of 52 in the 1999 elections.

It can be said with a reasonable degree of confidence that if the BJP has to get past or even closer to the magic figure of 272, it must avoid any significant losses in the big six states vis-à-vis what it had in 2014. This brings up the question of vote shares.

As is to be expected, 2014 was also the best performance of the BJP in the big six states in terms of vote share. However, its gains in terms of seats were disproportionate to the vote share gains, which is not surprising in a FPTP system.

The BJP’s 2019 tally will in these states be a function of two factors. The first is whether the BJP can retain its extraordinarily high 2014 vote share in these states. This will matter particularly in direct-contest states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The second is whether better Opposition unity will reduce the BJP’s seat share even with similar vote share levels. This will play a big role in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Assembly elections held after 2014 show that the BJP could not retain its 2014 vote share levels in most of these states. If these trends continue, the BJP might lose a significant number of seats in these states.

The question is whether the BJP will be able to reverse the trend and swing back a significant number of voters in its favour. In 2019, it will probably be an election where the Opposition would be more interested in defending what it has achieved between 2014 and 2019, while the BJP’s campaign might be all about attacking the Opposition.

Dates for General Elections 2019 Announced.

The Lok Sabha election results will be announced on 23 May, with the polling happening in seven phases, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced on Sunday, 10 March.

The states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will have Assembly elections simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

The states of Bihar, UP and West Bengal will go to polls in seven phases. Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir will have five phases of polling.

The national capital will be voting on 12 May in phase six of the Lok Sabha elections.
The states of Bihar, UP and West Bengal will go to polls in seven phases. Jammu and Kashmir will have five phases of polling.

Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra will have voting in four phases, while Assam and Chhattisgarh will have three phases.

Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and Tripura will have two phases of voting. All the remaining states will vote in a single phase.

However, Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections will not be held alongside the Lok Sabha polls, with the Election Commission citing security reasons for the decision.

With the election dates being announced, the Model Code of Conduct has come into force.

CEC Sunil Arora said that all content posted on social media by political parties and their candidates will come under the purview of the Model Code of Conduct. Due to complaints about the security of EVMs, last-mile transportation of these machines will be tracked through GPS in the upcoming polls.

This year, number of voters has increased by 84.3 million for these elections compared to the last one. Ninety crore people will be eligible to vote in the Lok Sabha elections, of which 15 million are in the 18-19 age group. Also, the number of polling stations has increased from 9 lakh to 10 lakh.

Soon after the announcement of the dates, PM Modi took to Twitter, saying, “The Festival of democracy, Elections are here.”

Calling upon people to cast their vote, Modi also listed the achievements of his government in a series of tweets. He also took a dig at the previous UPA government saying there was “unprecedented anger over the UPA’s corruption, nepotism and policy paralysis”.

While The Congress on Sunday took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hours before the EC’s scheduled announcement of dates for the Lok Sabha polls, saying it was the first day of his “vidai parv” (farewell festival).

Will Pawan Kalyan Change the Fate of Andhra Politics

‘Power Star’ Pawan Kalyan has been Tollywood’s loose cannon hero since ’96, and an equally unpredictable politician since 2014. He’s currently on a recruitment spree, and has been roping in bureaucrats from the most unexpected places into his Jana Sena party.

His singular antics worked on the silver screen. But is he really set to become the new saviour of the citizens of Andhra Pradesh this year? And how well does he play the game?

Despite being Chiranjeevi’s younger brother, he refused to pander to the megastar’s audience and set a trend all of his own. There have been a number of entrants from the ‘Konidela’ family into Telugu cinema, all quite successful.

But Pawan Kalyan still looms large, and all alone.

Right from 1996, in which he debuted in the film ‘Akkada Ammayi Ikkada Abbayi’, he’s only acted in ONE film per year, or at the most, two. This is something that actors dare to do AFTER they turn into bankable superstars. 2014’s Attarintiki Daredi was the biggest grosser of all time in Telugu cinema, until Baahubali broke reality. And that was the year he entered politics, and called his party Jana Sena.

‘Pawan Kalyan’ was the most searched celebrity politician on Google that year.

Pawan Kalyan revamped the image of a politician. He wasn’t the white-shirt-white-dhoti ‘babu’ who bends in humble ‘Namastes’ to the audience. In 2014, at the launch of ‘ISM’, a book he wrote on his ideology, and that of his party Jana Sena in Vizag, he came dressed in a hoodie and jeans. The ‘audience’ lapped it up. He spoke about how he didn’t come for votes or political power or high position. But because his gut burned. And then he waved, like a film celebrity.

People have opinions about who’s a better actor between Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan.

BUT, unscripted, Pawan Kalyan is boss. He’s got clear diction that flits between casual Vizag slang, Hyderabadi overtones and explosive poetry in chaste Telugu. He’s a born public speaker. His only goal when he launched Jana Sena, was to eliminate the Congress party from the state. In 2009, the INC coalition won 34 of 42 seats. And 33 of these belonged to the INC. In 2014 though, the INC won all of 2 seats. As star campaigner for Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, Pawan Kalyan effectively routed the Congress.

But, this is Andhra Pradesh, and one doesn’t do politics on the basis of ideologies. Here, politics is all about caste. Speaking purely on the basis of numbers, TDP won because the ‘Kapu’ caste, who form 15% of the electorate, voted for Chandrababu Naidu, and against Congress. And this, is why Pawan Kalyan could be a game changer for 2019.

The Kapu votes will decide the government this year, since they’re a homogenous group who typically vote all-in for ONE chosen candidate.

Despite Jaganmohan Reddy’s 3,600 kilometre Padayatra..

Despite Chandrababu Naidu’s 5% reservation bill to the Kapus…

Pawan Kalyan is yet again, the dark horse, who is capable of drawing the Kapu votes all to himself. He’s one of them, and has two decades of cinema and its enduring fandom in his favour. His political decisions have never been flamboyant. He’s already managed to rope in big names who will strategise his campaign blitzkrieg further.

Whether Pawan Kalyan stands a chance at becoming CM this year is debatable. But he’s definitely a force to reckon with.

Sonia Gandhi will play a pivotal role in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections

Sonia Gandhi’s move to contest from Rae Bareli is surprising, underlying 10 Janpath’s desperate bid to shore up Congress prospects in the 2019 general elections and keep the party cadre motivated.

However, in doing so, the former Congress president has over-ruled herself. Sonia had toyed with the idea of retiring from politics in 2016 when she turned 70. The party, however, kept pressuring, dithering and delaying till Rahul Gandhi was crowned party president when the Gujarat assembly polls were underway. For the past one year, Sonia had almost stopped meeting Congress leaders, telling them to call on Rahul. However, political compulsions or the doctrine of necessity due to the post-Pulwama and surgical strikes scenario has forced her to junk her own desire to set an example of voluntary retirement from public life.

The development signals, yet again, the clout of the Congress old guard over the Gandhis. In other words, for the first time in contemporary history, the country’s illustrious political family has become hopelessly dependent on the party than the other way round.

“Sonia Gandhi dobara” has its positives. The woman from Orbassano is one of the finest graduates from the university of life. From available indications, she is preparing herself to play the role of a “kingmaker” after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls if the verdict is split.

The 2004 tie-up with the DMK was another example of realpolitik. The DMK was a party that some senior Congress leaders had in 1997 accused of being soft on the LTTE — the Sri Lankan militant outfit to whose bomb Rajiv Gandhi fell. However, from 2004-2014, Sonia displayed a refreshing approach towards allies, bringing around even the NCP, with which the party had an ego clash. Through the UPA years of 2004-14, Sonia kept both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in good humour, even though they were rivals on the Uttar Pradesh turf.

Sources close to Sonia say her life has largely been shaped by circumstances than her free will. She was opposed to the idea of Rajiv Gandhi joining politics after Sanjay Gandhi’s death and Rajiv taking over as prime minister after Indira Gandhi. But on both occasions, circumstances forced her to accept destiny. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, she showed a degree to firmness to say no to politics when the entire Congress Working Committee, led by Pranab Mukherjee, pleaded with her to be Rajiv’s successor.

By 1997, several Congress leaders such as Aslam Sher Khan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, PR Kumaramangalam, Suresh Kalmadi and Buta Singh had deserted the grand old party. In despair, a number of middle-rung leaders such as Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel, Ashok Gehlot, Vayalar Ravi and Kamal Nath approached “apolitical” Sonia with a plea: “How can you allow the collapse of the Congress before your eyes.” The tardy progress in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe, declining fortunes of the Congress and attack on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy had weighed heavily on Sonia’s decision to join active politics. She viewed the Congress as an extension of her love for Rajiv Gandhi and the country she had chosen to live in.

Delivering a lecture on ‘Living politics: what India has taught me’ at the Nexus institute in Netherlands in 2007, Sonia had observed, “Looking back, I can say that it was through the private world of family that the public world of politics came alive for me: living in intimate proximity with people for whom larger questions of ideology and belief as well as issues relating to politics and governance were vivid daily realities. I had to school myself not to react in the face of falsehood and slander. I had to learn to endure them as the rest of the family did,” she said.

In conclusion, Sonia had remarked, “Public life in India is characterised by vigorous debate and vehement contention. The cacophony of politics is the very music of our democracy.”