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Millennium Post

Right time to pluck the lotus

Important states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the BJP is in power, and Congress-ruled Delhi and Rajasthan are going to polls this year. If the Congress wants to stop Modi juggernaut before 2014 general election, it must retain both Rajasthan and Delhi. While in Rajasthan chances of the ruling Congress look bleak, in Delhi the party is better placed.

Despite the drubbing the Congress received in the civic elections, Sheila Dikshit would have fancied her chances of coming back to power. However, the manner in which she was publicly heckled during the anti-gang rape protests might indicate that the tide is turning against her. However, the BJP has failed to put forward a single leader, who can take on Dikshit and the state BJP chief Vijender Gupta is no exception.  

A lackluster performance of the Congress, particularly in Rajasthan, in sharp contrast to Delhi, could undermine the morale of party workers and even the leadership. This could have a direct bearing on the party’s numbers in the Lok Sabha elections.

With the slew of charges against the BJP, the change of chief ministers and finally the rebellion of B S Yeddyurappa, the party has stumbled from one disaster to another in Karnataka. In spite of the presence of the Deve Gowda-led JD(S), the Congress seems to be only viable option in the state. But it still needs to sort out the leadership question with a number of leaders like S M Krishna and Siddaramiah, having their own spheres of influence.

In the event of ouster of the BJP from Karnataka, the party will have no presence in south and be reduced to a north-Indian party. One wonders if the BJP’s star campaigner, Narendra Modi, will canvass in Karnataka, knowing well that the party is on its way to loose the electoral battle. Evidently, Modi will not like to put his reputation at stake in the first of 11 states going to poll, in the run up to the general elections in 2014. Loss of Karnataka, evidently, will be seen as Modi’s declining acumen as a campaigner.

Modi has made an impressive debut as a powerful campaigner and orator too early; he has gradually begun loosing his sheen and may become ineffective by the time of general elections. As a matter of fact, he is in a hurry to project himself as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate even before the party’s leadership has taken a decision on PM nominee. NDA’s constituents, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in particular, may prefer to walk out of the alliance than accepting Modi as his leader. The NDA has already become shaky, and one wonders if it will remain intact in the run up to Lok Sabha elections.

The real battle will be fought in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the ruling party has been facing powerful anti-incumbency. Despite all the claims made by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan of a clean leader, his rule has not been corruption free. A section of the BJP leadership wanted to project him as the Prime Ministerial candidate but could not make any headway.  His only plus point is that the Congress is ill-prepared to face the BJP challenge. It will, however, not be an easy task for Chauhan to retain MP. BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, on the other hand, is better placed despite insurgency problem. Chief Minister Raman Singh himself is a capable ruler, helped and advised by a set of competent and dedicated officers.

If the year 2012 was bleak for the Congress, which continued to be besieged by an avalanche of scams and anti-graft agitation – 2013 looks equally grim. Just as the party had started to come out of its stupor by the second half of last year, Narendra Modi’s victory in Gujarat and the country-wide anger triggered by the brutal gang rape, and the callous political response to it, have pushed it back into a muddle.

The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre had managed to bridge governance deficit to some extent by finally pushing FDI in multi-brand retail, kick-starting the landmark direct benefits transfer scheme and hanging of the 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab. But the year ahead is strewn with thorns when the states go to polls.

The Congress is banking on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram to turn the tables by pushing reforms while at the same time cough up billions of rupees for flagship programme. But there is muted concern in the party as to how far Chidambaram can go to present a ‘populist’ budget when the economy is still not out of woods. There is also question mark about the Congress party’s ability to leverage political capital out of schemes such as direct benefits transfer and food security. The cash transfer scheme may not prove to be the ‘game changer’ that it has touted to be.

In the absence of logistics and necessary infrastructure, it may take more than a year to implement the scheme in all the 600-odd districts across the country. The food security Bill is also stuck. Even if the government manages to pass it by the end of the budget session, experts say it could take more than a year for the benefit to percolate down.

Another worry for the Congress is that the canny state satraps such as Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh, MP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar are cloning the food security scheme through the public distribution system in their states, taking sheen out of the central scheme. (IPA)
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