Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Star News poll indicates Cong-SP government in UP….

One BJP leader after another has been expressing frustration against the trial court’s dismissal of Subramaniam Swami’s petition against Chidambaram. Today’s letter by Yashwant Sinha in the ET is ample evidence of this. The BJP’s frustration is not surprising considering how badly it wants to indict the Congress directly in some scam or the other. The cash-for-votes scam was inconclusive; the Antrix-Devas deal is blaming the scientists not the Congress; and even in the 2G scam, while the SC has cancelled the 122 licenses, it has given the Congress a chance to convert the problem into an opportunity (it wouldn’t mind the fiscal help it would get from the 2G auctions). The last straw for the BJP could be if the Congress romps home to a better-than-expected result in UP like the Star News poll is suggesting.

The Star News poll was conducted between Jan 4th and 20th and doesn’t include the negative impact the Congress will suffer on account of the cancellation of the 122 telecom licenses by the SC. However, in all likelihood, the impact is going to be minimal – especially since Chidambaram has been let off the hook by the trial court. There is also the positive impact that media suggests Priyanka Vadra’s campaigning will bring to the Congress. In toto, if we were to take the forecast as nearly accurate, the SP would emerge as the single largest party but with only 135 seats. For it to form a government, it will necessarily need to tie-up with the Congress-RLD combine which is likely to get 99 seats (Congress 79; RLD 20). This is the ideal situation for the Congress. The SP will act in consonance with the Congress at the center and the Congress with the SP in UP. This help the UPA government enter the budget session with confidence and gusto. Ironically, when I had written that the SP and Congress should get into a pre-poll alliance on December 7th, “Congress must do a pre-poll alliance with the SP…..”, readers of the blog gave it a rating of only 3.62. If anything this should show that bloggers have to turn a blind eye towards reader ratings!

The other finding of the poll of course is that the BSP drops from its 206 seats to just 101. The spoils of BSP’s rout are shared by the SP, Congress and the BJP. However, the BJP is the smallest gainer of them all. Even the RLD which is confined to only Western UP gains 10 seats as per the poll. The BJP also gains just 10 seats to reach a rather poor 61 – making it the 4th party in the state. Now I know these are just prepoll forecasts and the end result may be different, but if the final position is such that the BJP becomes the 4th largest party, it will be a serious set-back to the BJP. It will also be a big learning for the party. It will reaffirm the fact that the old Ram Mandir issue is dead – at least electorally. The BJP’s strategy of projecting Uma Bharati – one of the strongest proponents of the Ram Mandir – would have backfired badly. The Kushwaha episode would also have dented the party. It’s difficult to conjecture but I think that if Modi had canvassed in UP, it would have caused the BJP even more harm.

The nicely balanced UP position will give the Congress leeway in handling the more-left-than-the-Left TMC, even though the Congress will be careful not to snap relationship with the party. The strong support from the SP’s 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha will be a good counter to the tantrums of the TMC’s 19 MPs and the SP’s 5 Rajya Sabha MPs will also be a good counter to the TMC’s 6. In any case, the SP has been backing the Congress in crucial matters at the center.

What does the support from the SP mean to the UPA in real terms? On the issue of allowing FDI in multi-brand retail, the SP appears to be against the idea. In fact, the SP has mentioned in its election manifesto that it is against even large retail corporates. This is also the stated position of the TMC. However, the difference between the two could possibly be that the SP may allow the central government to go ahead with FDI in multi-brand retail at the center, while blocking the entry into UP. The SP could also claim that it was “coalition compulsions” that forced it to change its stand! Every party uses such compulsions to justify inaction on core electoral promises. The BJP used the same logic to justify doing nothing on the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya after it came to power at the center – though that was even then an important poll promise.

With regard to the Lokpal Bill stuck in Rajya Sabha, it’s still going to be a long haul. Even if the SP were to support the bill, it is not going to be enough for the Congress to get the bill cleared. The only way the bill can get cleared is if the Congress clearly makes the Lokpal bill only into a central act with absolutely no connections to the states. If that happens, some of the local satraps like TMC, SP, RJD, LJP and maybe even the left could support the bill and it could become a reality. The Congress is unlikely to concede the demands of the BJP and without the BJP’s support, it will be that much difficult. In short, the SP’s support to the Congress will not be adequate to ensure the Lokpal Bill’s passage in Parliament.

There are also worries which the Congress will have to handle from the SP. The SP has said that it prefers a blanked ban against land acquisitions – with the very important caveat that it would allow it under “urgent or emergency” situations. One of the urgent situations could well be coalition compulsions!

But overall, the Congress will be able to wield power over the SP. For the SP, the only thing that matters is the state of UP. It is thus unlikely to do anything that will destabilize its government there. It is this elbow room that the Congress lacks against Mamata.

Once the SP supports the UPA, Mamata will fall in line. Once Mamata realizes that she doesn’t have the power to harass the center, she will prefer instead to woo it. God knows she is in trouble already in the state. The honeymoon period for Mamata is already over and it’s clear that she is struggling with administration. The spate of child deaths in WB continues and very soon, this will start to hurt her. The people of WB didn’t vote her to power to give them even more Leftist policies. They voted her to power thinking she will bring them out of the tyranny of Leftist politics and poverty. Mamata seems incapable of delivering that. That’s why Mamata will need to rely on the money and management expertise from the Congress at the center.

The real truth is that UP matters a hell of a lot to national politics. More so this year than perhaps ever before. On UP depends the stability of the national government; its ability to continue to perform; to get out of the freeze it finds itself in right now. More than even the Congress, it is the corporate sector that is praying that the UP results go the way the Star News poll indicates. The corporates don’t care for one party or another – all they care for is the start of reforms and the resumption of decision making…..

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