Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Nov 14, 2003
Is it Advantage Congress?
With opinion polls giving the Congress(I) the edge in Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh, will their party win hands-down, these Delhi party workers seem to wonder. Shanker Chakravarty .
THE STAGE is set, the knives are out as far as political rivals are concerned, and for the people of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh, which will vote for a new Assembly in December, the curtain is going up on the great political circus.
Opinion polls are odious things for the best of politicians but in today's day and age, with a proliferation of various forms of media, they have become almost as inevitable as the voting itself. Various opinion polls have given the Congress(I) a clear edge in Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh, while predicting "real trouble" in Madhya Pradesh, where the party Chief Minister, Mr Digvijay Singh, has to battle a double-term, or 10-year, anti-incumbency factor.
The NDTV-TNS Mode poll puts the BJP's prima donna in MP, Ms Uma Bharti, well ahead of Mr Digvijay Singh for the chief minister's post. While Ms Bharti is naturally elated, her rival dismissed all opinion poll results as "rubbish" in rather strong words. "I will throw all these opinion polls in the dustbin. I threw them away once in 1998, and I will throw them away again in 2003," Mr Digvijay Singh said.
Bravado is fine, but the ground reality and people's growing disenchantment with ruling politicians are something else. What the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu, is trying to do now in his State offer some kinds of sops to the voters just before he announces a mid-term poll, Mr Digvijay Singh too tried. Just 20 days before the election code of conduct came into force, he announced a free power scheme for the small farmers of MP. But on November 10, taking a dim view of the timing of incentives, the Election Commission ordered the MP Government not to implement the free power scheme.
If in MP the Congress(I) is worried, in Rajasthan, the party, especially the president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, has reason to smile. Hardly a year ago, and around the time of the Gujarat Assembly elections last December, the Rajasthan Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot's popularity rating was quite dismal. In adjacent Gujarat, one had met quite a few Rajasthanis who had said that since the Congress government had not delivered in their State on such vital issues as civic amenities, health-care, and educational and employment opportunities, the Congress(I) was bound to lose that State too when elections were held in 2003.
Around that time, one learnt, that Ms Sonia Gandhi had read Mr Gehlot the riot act. Deliver or make way for another Chief Minister.
Obviously, Ms Sonia Gandhi's wielding of the stick has worked and, according to the NDTV-TNS Mode poll, while the "satisfaction" levels of the people with their elected representatives, led by the Chief Minister, is only 41 per cent in MP, in Rajasthan, it is as high as 65 per cent.
Of course, making provisions for last-minute swings and the firepower of the Opposition campduring the campaign, this is at least an indicator that Mr Gehlot has learnt his lesson well, even if late.
Delhi seems to have been one State about which the Congress(I), as well as political observers and analysts, had little doubts from the beginning that the suave and efficient Mrs Sheila Dixit would keep the capital for the party. For one, the Opposition has little to rake up about her regime. Of course, Delhiites keep grumbling about the growing violence and crime rate, particularly against women, but this shortcoming the Congress(I) is able to deflect onto the BJP by charging that law and order in Delhi is under the Central Government.
Also, in a way, as Delhi has not yet attained full Statehood and, hence, sees in reality two rulers the Union and the State government some of the flak of the voters will stick to the government at the Centre too.
But clearly the dark horse of this election seems to be the Chhatisgarh Chief Minister, Mr Ajit Jogi, who has had to take the ire of various sections, led by the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr J. M. Lyngdoh himself. On a visit to Chhattisgarh, the CEC came down heavily on bureaucrats for going out of their way to please Mr Jogi.
Their antics included inviting Mrs Jogi to distribute spectacles meant for a government scheme at an official function and flying with the Chief Minister in a private helicopter while the latter was on election tour. But what really got to Mr Lyngdoh was the scheme to distribute 25 lakh school bags with pictures of the CM embossed on them. He ordered the distribution of the bags stopped immediately.
But, instead of going against him, all these adverse developments seem to have only added to Mr Jogi's popularity. Or, so it seems from the latest poll of NDTV, the results of which were declared on November 13. By this poll, Mr Jogi is clearly in the lead and comfortably poised to win the elections!
That brings us to the unfathomable mind of the voter. What exactly drives him/her to cast the vote in favour of a particular party or individual on D-day will always remain a mystery. Sadly enough, most of the time it is a negative vote that the Indian voter casts.
In most States, the voter just has the ruling party and the principal Opposition party to choose from. Interestingly enough, this time it is the Congress(I) in the driver's seat with the BJP being the principal rival. So in a way, the results of these States will be an indicator of which way the wind is blowing for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. The sad commentary on the disenchantment of people with the politicians is that it cuts through all classes and sections. On television channels, which have moved into election mode, one can see both the villagers from remote areas of either Rajasthan or MP, and young educated and upper class Delhiites, saying that they will not bother to vote.
The villagers are, of course, incensed that the politicians who had sweet-talked them into voting for this party or that, had not delivered.
Political parties may come and go but the voters' problems remain the same. Not that these simple folk are asking for the moon. Access to potable water, basic health facilities, at least one school in the village, electricity and decent roads connecting them to the nearest town, the measly pension promised to them and ration in the PDS shops... are all they are asking for.
In cities like Delhi, too, the voter is fed up, though for different reasons.
On Thursday morning, the Sahara news channel showed a young Delhi woman who expressed the proverbial disenchantment of the educated classes with our political bosses, when she said: "Whether I vote for the Congress(I) or the BJP, I know neither of them is going to do anything for either Delhi or its people. So why should I waste my time to vote at all?"
Which led one of the politicians one missed both his and his party's name to say self-righteously. "Why don't educated people like you come forward to join politics and contest in elections? You think politics is full of rogues and criminals, but that is not true. It has some very decent people too."
Another politician had this message to give to the youngster who was more indifferent than angry. It went something like this: People like you must vote. Doesn't matter if you feel that a goonda is contesting from your constituency. Go ahead and vote for the candidate who is less of a goonda in your opinion. But vote you must!
What a choice!
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