Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Winner takes it all..and...'Ekla Chalo Re'

So, Modi is all set to be "crowned" tomorrow - after what may be called a watershed - election. It turned out to be a real "The Winner Takes It All" victory - stunning the whole nation.

In a first of sorts, Heads of Government from all SAARC countries, Maldives and Mauritius will attend the ceremony along with over 2500 Indian dignitaries. Conspicuous by her absence will be the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee.  Earlier it was reported, she had advised all newly elected MPs of her party to stay away from the function. But, on second thoughts - perhaps, she is deputing two trusted emissaries - Amit Mitra, Finance Minister of West Bengal, and Mukul Roy, General Secretary of Trinamool Congress, to represent her at the event.

Most people argue, Mamata Banerjee could have shown more grace on an occasion - which is as much about Modi as it is a celebration of Indian Democracy. But, then - those who know Mamata intimately would say - she's not given to hypocrisy. After the out-pour of bad-blood and vitriol during the election campaign it might have appeared duplicitous to her core-constituents - if she were to give an impression of "all is fair in love and war".

If Modi and BJP's victory at the centre was cataclysmic - Trinamool's performance in West Bengal was no less phenomenal. Insiders reveal, the party's own estimates were nowhere close to 34 seats. In the best case scenario, they hoped to get 26-28 seats. That the Left would be decimated to such an extent was even beyond their expectation. A young Rajya Sabha MP of Trinamool told me, even if allegations of rigging and intimidation are true - it could have given them an additional 4 or 5 seats at best but not such a sweeping mandate. While just like Modi nationally - in West Bengal people voted for Mamata, much of the credit behind the voter mobilisation goes to the organisation man - Mukul Roy whom, some are calling the Amit Shah of Bengal, he shared as an aside. (That begs the question, couldn't the same 'victory' have been achieved without violence and bloodshed that sullied the name of the state - a hark back to the dark days of 'cadre-raj')

The Left in India has lost in relevance - but in West Bengal they've also lost the will to win. The ground has shifted from beneath their feet - TMC has pulled the rug as it were. It was sad to see giants like Basudeb Acharya - with tremendous people connect reduced to dust by a once glamourous diva, now well past her "use by" date (if I'm permitted a sexist dig).  The proverbial grass-root organisation of the CPIM has simply evaporated into thin air and they are left making the same accusations against the ruling party as one used to hear about them till a decade ago.

But, the real story of these elections - even in West Bengal - is the BJP. Many have been intrigued by the disproportionate amount of time Modi devoted to West Bengal during the campaign. Modi held some 7 - 8 rallies in the state. Since, a Gujarati views everything in terms of ROI (Return on Investment) -  the dividend was certainly poor if measured in terms of seats alone. However, if one delves a little deeper another sub-plot emerges. The BJP's vote-share in these elections increased from 6.15 % to 16.8 % precariously close to the Left's 22.7 % and far ahead of the Congress' 9.6 %. In 30 of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies BJP emerged as the No 2 party. In 20 assembly constituencies, including some very high-profile ones, BJP were ahead (Read article).

What does this mean ? If the Modi Government at the centre stays on course and keeps alive the promise of development BJP may well consolidate its strength and emerge as the main Opposition party in the next Assembly Elections (Read earlier post). In his speeches, Modi's main target was the young audience of 18-28. There is no reason to believe - Bengali youth will think very differently from the rest of the country and not opt for development and promise of a brighter future.

It is here that one regrets the "hostility" trap Bengal falls into with successive government over the last 50 years, for which the state (and, more importantly, the younger generation) had to pay dearly. This was one chance for us to get back to the mainstream of national politics - but we once again seem to have missed the boat. There were subtle overtures made by Modi in the beginning which were rudely rebuffed due to local political compulsions (Read Vote Bank Politics is here to stay) .

But, it may not be too late yet to work out a tacit 'understanding' - without adopting a posture of aggressive opposition. Modi is a pragmatic politician, who looks at the longer term. Except for some unforeseen catastrophe, he is here to stay and he knows - that if not today - he might need the Trinamool's support in future and, therefore, be willing to play along. While we may have the example of the much vaunted "Gujarat Model where growth and development was allegedly achieved without support from the centre , we have also seen, in these elections, the case of Bihar, where Nitish spent 10 years fighting in vain for Bihar's "special status". Finally, when he failed to deliver on the promise of development - the voters shifted en-masse away from his party. 

Therefore, "Ekla Chalo Re" may not be the best anthem for all times.....

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The final countdown..

So the campaigning has finally come to an end. Less than 24 hours for the Exit Polls to come out and 4 days for the results. What a journey it has been - not just for those in the fray, the organizers, workers, 'war-room' managers and those who covered it on the ground - but even the likes of me who followed it from the side lines and participated in the dialogue on social media.

Of course, Narendra Modi ran the "mother of all campaigns" in the history of Indian Elections - termed as the 'Maximum Campaign' and beautifully depicted in this graphic 

For the last leg the entire world descended on Varanasi - journalists national and foreign, political commentators and even academics from across the world. Sadanand Dhume, the WSJ journalist, quipped in a tweet to me:  

The credit for permanently changing the rules of the game has to go to one person - whether you like him or not - Narendra Modi. It was truly a 'watershed election' as everyone seemed to agree on Barkha Dutt's 'wrap-up show from Varanasi (watch video here)

The final outcome is not known yet and as some die-hard detractors of Narendra Modi are still hoping against hope that he'll falter at the finishing line (Read this post). Undoubtedly, it is yet a possibility - especially with practically all major political forces of the country lined up against him and even stalwarts of his own party being less than supportive (to put it mildly). Other than Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and a few other second rung leaders - most other big names have been conspicuous by their silence and missing in action (from the campaign trail). But, the fact that he has come thus far is a "phenomenon". Today - it's virtually 'Modi Vs the Rest'. The single point agenda of all parties and leaders of any national standing is how to "STOP" Modi.

Less than a year ago I recall a popular political commentator) pooh-poohing the idea of BJP coming to power. This was in Bangalore and he supported his theory pointing out BJP is likely to draw a blank in Karnataka - the state that had sent the maximum number of BJP MPs in the last elections. Next, everyone came up with dooms-day predictions when Nitish broke-off with BJP over Modi. People said - BJP had axed their chances by giving up old allies. Then came the Advani, Sushma sulking episodes over Modi being appointed in-charge of the campaign Committee in Goa. Everyone went to town talking about the split wide-open within the party almost writing-off its chances. The rest is history now and can't bear repetition. Now, we can only wait for the results and watch how the drama unfolds over the next 4 days.

I for one was one of the early converts on Modi - though I wouldn't like to be counted (and, hope others don't) among the "Bhakts". I'm not blind to his faults and aware of the risks of someone so domineering coming to power. But, I do think - to use a cliche - India needs a strong leader to salvage it out of the mess that the Gandhi family's remote control government - guided only by the interest of ensuring the survival of the dynasty - has landed the country.

The way Modi has run this campaign shows he knows a thing or 2 about organisation and management. In creating a campaign on such a grand-scale he has displayed a vision that is beyond the imagination of any politician in this country - the troika of Mother, Son and Daughter included. He has been accused of being bank-rolled by corporates and engaging the best international PR agency. Even if the same resources were made available to any other party - be it AAP or Congress - none could created something this scale and impact.

Ridiculous arguments have been used as to why Modi is not fit to be PM - from his lack of 'social skills' to his poor facility in English. A case has been made out that - he takes false credit for the success of the "Gujarat Model" tho much of it was either legacy or is owed to the entrepreneurial traits of the Gujarati businessman. Even a first grade student of Management knows that it isn't easy to preserve what you inherit let alone grow it further unless you are particularly gifted. Further, I contest the theory - Modi isn't a team player. The greatness of a leader lies in gathering the talent around him and having the ability to sift their advise and come to the right decisions. If Modi didn't have the ability to do so - he wouldn't have been able to run Gujarat with such aplomb for 12 years or conceive and execute a campaign of this order.

But, the real success of #Modi lies elsewhere. This evening I was surprised to hear the buzz about him and BJP in the Bar of the Coonoor Club among the elite Tamil gentry spending their summer recess in the hills. More than the number of seats he brings to the BJP in the Hindi-heartland, what he'd have done for good is spreading the roots of BJP in areas where they were hitherto non-existent - eg West Bengal, South India and the North East. BJP may not Lok Sabha win many seats in Bengal but they would have sufficiently increased their vote share to be a force to reckon with in the coming Assembly Elections (read this piece by Abhijit Majumder of HT). And, if indeed, BJP forms the government at the centre with Modi at its helm - the equations could change drastically across the country.

But let's wait for a few days more.... till then : Aab Ki Bar Modi Sarkar