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Polling will be completed in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the U.T. of Puducherry two days from today and part-completed in West Bengal, with five phases remaining. The BJP has high stakes in Assam and West Bengal and is making a desperate effort to get a toehold in the other three places. The Congress has equally high stakes in Assam and Kerala where it is fighting to regain power and in Tamil Nadu where it is helping the DMK regain power.
Nothing is certain about the outcome of any election. More so, when there are key players other than the Congress and the BJP such as the CPI(M) in Kerala, TMC in West Bengal and AINRC in Puducherry. In each of these places, there is a popular, though controversial, individual leading his/her party — Mr Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala), Ms Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and Mr N Rangasamy (Puducherry).
DMK, TMC will win
Pre-poll surveys can indicate only the direction of the election, not the outcome. Based on different surveys, it appears to me that the DMK alliance will win in Tamil Nadu and the TMC will win in West Bengal. In Assam and Kerala the rival alliances are more or less evenly matched and the elections could throw up surprising results. Puducherry reveals a confusing picture.
The Congress is fighting on a common plank of states’ rights, secularism, pluralism and addressing the acute economic distress. The BJP has a state-specific agenda. It is the CAA in Bengal but a studied silence on the CAA in Assam. It is a communal agenda in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. By forging broad alliances, the Congress has thwarted the BJP’s goal of a Congress-mukt India. By aggressively and unapologetically pushing its agenda, the BJP has taken a huge gamble.
Beyond Election Results
While the results of the elections in the four states are of immediate interest, the larger question is how will the country be governed in the three remaining years of the BJP government at the Centre. The basic principles of governance of the Modi government (essentially, the person Mr Narendra Modi) are quite evident:
Firstly, Mr Modi will not brook any dissent. Dissenting Opposition leaders and Opposition parties will be punished. Apart from the Congress which is the prime target, others who are targeted by the investigating agencies are the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu & Kashmir; the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal; the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra; the CPI(M) in Kerala; and the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Among those spared are the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in Telangana. The parties, including their leaders, that are cosseted are the JD (United) in Bihar and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Never before has the power of the Central government been so blatantly abused in order to promote the hegemony of one political party.
Secondly, the brute majority in the Lok Sabha and the ability to stitch together a simple majority in the Rajya Sabha will be used to pass legislation that are manifestly unconstitutional, besides being unjust. The legislation to dismember J&K and to reduce the government of Delhi to a glorified municipality are the most recent examples. Earlier examples were the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the three farm laws. More can be expected. The reprieve given by the courts — due to various reasons — means that these laws will exact their toll until they are examined and pronouncements are made.
Thirdly, there will be no place for new ideas, new initiatives or new experiments to improve the administration. There is place for only one thought — Modi Thought. An example is the mess that has been made of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. The first step to prioritise health and frontline workers was correct, but all subsequent steps were absolutely wrong. Particularly wrong were the staggered phases, the App, the requirement for pre-registration and bureaucratic oversight. Contrast the vaccination drive with the Pulse Polio programme. A simple announcement of the date (when oral polio drops will be given) brings thousands of mothers with their babies to every kind of hospital or health centre. The result of bureaucratisation of the vaccination programme is unconscionable delay that will frustrate the target of 400 million jabs by the end of July 2021. Meanwhile, thousands will be infected and hundreds will die every day. The same ‘follow the Modi Thought’ rule affects every programme of the government from the PM Awas Yojana to crop insurance. Incidentally, both are massive failures.
More into Poverty
Fourthly, the policies to promote economic recovery will be determined by corporate interests. Hence, the government has followed a supply-side driven strategy that has denied a fiscal stimulus, delayed the recovery, left millions of people unemployed, created few new jobs, reduced the earnings of every section of the population and pushed more people into poverty and debt. Compassion for the poor and the middle classes is totally absent: examples are the extortionate prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas and the heartless slashing of interest rates on small savings when inflation is printing at 6 per cent and is expected to rise.
The million dollar question is, will the results of the elections reinforce these basic principles of Modi Thought or will they cause a shake-up of the government and the ruling party?