With barely three to four months to go for the general elections speculation is rising as to who will take over New Delhi. Can one dare to make a prediction as to the final outcome? Unlike the NDA government which mistakenly pre-poned the elections on the theory that it can cash in on the fact that economically it had done well during its regime and could speak of ?Shining India?, the present UPA government has little to show.
True, inflation has come down to 5.91 per cent but that is hardly something the UPA government can take credit for. Thanks to the recession, the job-market has entered a dangerous phase. The textile industry has lost more than seven lakh jobs. The Information Technology is in no better shape. Retrenchment is the order of the day. Young technicians are getting apprehensive. Salary cuts have already started and the contagion is spreading. ?Shining India? had galmourised the IT industry and its rising impact on the national economy. Rural India had taken offence at it. Now nothing is shining. Till the other day, P.Chidambaram was warning that the worst is yet to come. A whopping 16,632 cases of suicides by farmers, including 2,369 women were reported across the country in 2007.
The Mumbai instance of jehadi terrorism shook the nation and exposed administrative slackness in the Congress-led government in Maharashtra. But can the BJP use it as an argument against the UPA government? Hardly, let us remember that the elections to the state legislatures of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram took place after the November 26-29 jehadi attacks in Mumbai. The news was still hot. But it hardly made any impact on the election results. The point may be made that state elections have their own local dynamics while in a general election things are played out differently. Would that make the BJP success in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh irrelevant? In Madhya Pradesh, BJP won 142 seats, almost 30 less than what it won in 2003. Does it say something?
On the other hand in Karnataka the BJP did extremely well not only in the state elections but subsequently also in the by-elections. In Delhi the same can be said of Congress success. Where, in the circumstances, does the so-called incumbency factor come in? In Rajasthan, the fight was close and the results were influenced by in-fighting and certain caste considerations. Uma Bharati'sBharatia Jan Shakti hardly mattered. Even the Bahujan Samaj Party could not make much leeway. One suspects that Mayavati'scharisma?such as it is?has played out and, except perhaps in Uttar Pradesh, she may not be a deciding factor. In Rajasthan Bhairon Singh Shekhawat could be, considering his sickening behaviour in recent days. With Shekhawat and Jaswant Singh as friends, the BJP does not need enemies. The point is that everything is in a flux. In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa is getting closer to, of all parties, the CPM. The CPM on its part is saying that there is no question of its own and other left parties supporting the Congress after its supposedly ?relentless pursuit of anti-people economic policies?.
Then again will the voter make the Congress?and the UPA?pay for its inefficiency in protecting the lives and property of Mumbai citizens during the jehadi attacks? That, certainly, was and will remain, a disgrace. The Congress has tried to compensate public anger by dismissing Vilasrao Deshmukh, but will that make much of a difference in the voting pattern? The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has not only passed strictures against Deshmukh, it has also criticised Ashok Chavan who succeeded him to the Chief Ministerial gaddi. Can that turn the voter against the Congress? The first reaction of the Congress-led Ministry in Mahrashtra?superficial beyond imagination?was strongly condemned by the public but will that angst show at the polling booth?
The general belief is that the UPA government has a weak Prime Minister and that has been noticed again and again. But really, how many of India'svast army of voters have any concept of the nuclear deal which has practically reduced India to subservience to the United States? The UPA government has shown enormous weakness in dealing with Pakistan to the disgust of many, but there are others who call it high statesmanship. To this day nobody knows what exactly India has in mind when Pranab Mukherjee says he is keeping all his options open. It is turning out to be the biggest joke in recent times. Nobody takes him seriously, not even the Zardari government. But will that affect the voting pattern? Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, poor man, is keeping his options as to whether to join the BJP or not. In other words, everything is up in the air. The point has been made that youth is now coming to the fore and the days of old politicians are numbered.
Meanwhile Sonia Gandhi has made it clear that if Congress comes to power Dr Manmohan Singh will still remain Prime Ministerial choice. Will that affect the party'schances? Rahul Gandhi is being steadily pushed to the front. The youth may vote for him but for the nation it could prove to be an unmitigated disaster, though the belief in some quarters is that in the end the youth will prevail. Should the BJP take that as a guiding principle and try to select younger men, say between their forties and fifties, as their candidates? One heartening factor for the BJP is that the RSS has now promised to take up the BJP cause. And that can make quite a difference.
Narendra Modi with the tremendous success that he has achieved in improving Gujarat'seconomy can be an icon and he can prove useful too in more ways than one. He can be projected as a natural successor to L.K.Advani who, incidentally, happens to be the only truly national figure bar none. Sonia Gandhi is nobody in comparison to him. The UPA government missed a great chance to show its mettle following the jehadi attacks on Mumbai. It should have gone into high gear and taken on Pakistan with immediate effect. Its failure may cost it a great deal, but the BJP has to deal with it in a very sensitive manner. Can a Third Force come into existence? Very unlikely. And if it does, it will turn out to be as fractious as any such group.
But one thing is certain: any party which can illumine the future by suggesting a wise solution to the current Indo-Pakistan mess will get acceptance from a substantial majority. The approach has to be positive and statesmanlike, avoiding hard language and accusatory abuse The nation is eagerly waiting for such leadership which the BJP alone can provide. It is a challenge that can propel it to power if properly met. In that sense the 2009 general elections can prove to be a turning point in history.
(The writer is a veteran columnist.)