Thursday, May 28, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The United Progressive Alliance manages to win emphatically in the 15th Lok Sabha elections despite losing many of its coalition parties before the polls. Yet another spell of years in opposition awaits the Bharatiya Janata Party, while the left suffers its worst defeat in many years.
Belying expectations of a fragmented verdict, the mandate of the 15th Lok Sabha elections has been decisive in favour of the Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The alliance has managed to win 261 seats, with the Congress itself winning 206 seats, its best tally since the 1991 elections when the party had won 244 seats. A mix of local state-level factors and a preference for the UPA alliance nationally can be seen as responsible for the victory, from initial observations. The UPA managed the win defeating not only the Left anchored "Third Front- TF" coalition of regional parties and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) emphatically, but despite the breaking away of several partners (who formed the Fourth front -FF) from the alliance before elections.
The UPA alliance won the most number of seats in 17 out of 29 (including the National Capital Territory of Delhi) states. Excepting the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, the performance of the regional and left parties in the Third Front ranged from underwhelming to disastrous. The NDA won overwhelmingly in Bihar, Karnataka and Chattisgarh but was defeated in many a major state by the UPA in direct fights.
Mix of factors for UPA victory
The Congress, in its manifesto as well as during its campaigning emphasised the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the Bharat Nirman programme and other social and welfare measures, not to mention th
e farmer loan waiver scheme. From the indications available, this has elicited a favourable response, which has played out well in different states, irrespective of whether the Congress party (or the UPA) has been in power. Also, minorities have voted for the UPA enthusiastically, explaining the wins for the Congress party and its allies in states such as West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. The performance of the party in states such as Gujarat - the Congress won 43% of the vote as compared to the 39% it garnered in the 2007 assembly elections– and in Madhya Pradesh – 40% as compared to 32% in the assembly elections in 2008) suggests the resonance of its national agenda.
The broad geographical distribution of mandate for the UPA points toward an undercurrent favouring the Congress party in general, but local issues have also mattered significantly. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the implementation of populist and welfare measures by the state government has meant that the alliance has bee
n victorious for a second consecutive Lok Sabha election. The state assembly elections' results has given a majority mandate for the Congress party.
In the left ruled states, high-handedness in administration, the unpopular industrialisation and subsequent land acquisition drive, and the unity of the opposition in West Bengal, and the perception of inadequate levels of governance by the state government and factionalism in the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala has
helped the UPA. In Tamil Nadu, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has done particularly well, on the might of its populist schemes while the incidents in northern Sri Lanka have complicated the verdict – resulting in some losses to senior Congress candidates.
The presence of the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena has dented the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and helped the UPA in Maharashtra, while the "honeymoon period" enjoyed by the Congress governments in Rajasthan and Delhi has meant big wins for the party. In Uttarakhand and Punjab, the Congress has managed to defeat the ruling BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal(SAD)-BJP alliance (possibly facing anti-incumbency) respectively, garnering the majority of the votes.
The Congress party's decision to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh after being unable to arrive at a seat-sharing understanding with the Samajwadi Party has also paid unexpected dividends. The Congress party has garnered 21 seats (vote share of 18%)-
its highest tally for years in the state. While the reasons for this astounding performance would be clearer only after a closer and detailed look at the vote shares in the state, the underwhelming performance of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) suggests a shift of some of its targeted social base - particularly the upper castes and the Muslims - to the Congress Party. Overall, the Congress party managed to increase its vote share from 26.4% in 2004 to 28.5% in 2009 and a seat increase from 145 to 206.
State wise Seats Tally
(source: Election Commission Web Site)
The BJP thwarted again
The BJP tried to focus on “national security” as its core issue and attempted to make the elections a referendum between personalities pitting its prime ministerial candidate L.K.Advani against the UPA leadership and prime minister Manmohan Singh. The NDA since 2004 had shrunk and the BJP was left only with the Janata Dal- United (JDU), the Shiv Sena the SAD and other minor parties as its allies. The erstwhile NDA allies - the Telugu Desam Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had all left the NDA citing the communal politics of the BJP. This had made the NDA's prospects dimmer even before the elections and expectedly, the NDA managed a tally of only 159 seats, way behind in second place to the UPA. The BJP's overall tally was reduced to 116 (18.8%) from 138 (22.2%) in 2004. Both the defection of erstwhile partners as well as the reduction in the party's overall vote share is indicative of the lesser resonance of the party's communal Hindutva agenda, which came again to the fore in the run up to the elections.
The BJP managed to win with reduced margins in its strongholds such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, but won handsomely in Chattisgarh and Karnataka. The performance of the JDU was most significant as Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party were trounced badly. It is too early however to suggest that the politics and efficacy of caste alliances in the state has been overcome, as many claim to be the reason for the JDU-BJP alliance which pitched its state government's “development record” as the agenda for the elections.
The Left's worst performance in years
The “third front” - an assorted set of regional parties, and anchored by the Left Front (LF) performed dismally. Though the BJD shrugged off its alliance with the BJP and managed to win the majority of seats both in the Assembly as well as in the Lok Sabha elections in Orissa and the AIADMK managed to improve its tally (from zero previously) in Tamil Nadu, the defeat of the left parties in Kerala, West Bengal and the underwhelming performance of the BSP dragged the TF's tally down. The TF contested directly against the Congress and its allies in most of the states where the front was “viable”.
In West Bengal, the left suffered a historic defeat, polling much fewer votes than in the 2006 Assembly elections and wilting against the united opposition of the Congress and the Trinamul Congress. Reduced to merely 15 seats (43.3%) from a previous tally of 35 (50.7%), the left's loss could be attributed much to its state government's series of policy and governance disasters since 2006 as the opposition fought the elections considering it as a referendum against the long standing Left Front government. Issues such as the land acquisition for industrialisation, high handedness of the administration, minority angst after the Sachar committee findings are the discernible reasons, apart from the fact that the idea of a “third front” did not really appeal to voters. The Lok Sabha election results point to a possible defeat of the left front for the first time in 35 years in the upcoming assembly elections in 2011.
Infighting in the left and governance issues resulted in a UPA victory which was also bolstered by minority support in Kerala. The BSP was not able to replicate its 2007 assembly election performance managing a reduced vote tally, suggesting the non-realisation of the “wider castes and minority support” that the party hoped to garner.
Overall, the idea of the “third front” - an amorphous alliance of motley regional and left parties without a common agenda beyond an anti-Congress, anti-BJP position, was rejected in general by the voters.
The increased tally of the UPA despite the division in “secular votes” because of the presence of the “third front” and the improved performance in the Congress even in BJP strongholds are pointers toward a good conjuncture of local and national issues favouring the UPA. The UPA contested the elections on its national record of initiating programmes such as the NREGA and other social and welfare measures and pitched its state governments' populist record. The BJP failed to inspire confidence in its national security and personality based platform among the electorate, while the alliance of convenience that forged the third front did not materialise in any gains for the parties in it.
Article (Commentary) written for the Economic and Political Weekly
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Tragedy in the Vanni
The Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government push the Tamils of the Vanni to a fate worse than death.
Scores of dead civilians, many limbless survivors, starving and homeless people, makeshift hospitals that have been bombed and “human shields”. These are the images from the military confrontation between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Vanni region in the north-east of the island. The Sri Lankan government’s campaign to destroy the LTTE has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe that was foretold when the military solution was initiated two years ago. The government, however, shows no let-up since it is sensing victory as the LTTE is now confined to a patch of 10 square kilometres adjoining the Indian Ocean. Until earlier this week, the Sri Lankan army was shelling and bombing the territory, while the LTTE used the civilian population as a shield against the military onslaught. Nearly 2,00,000 people have fled the area and are being kept in internment camps in shabby conditions while tens of thousands are hostages in the small area under LTTE control.
Both sides to the conflict, intractable in their military aims, have remained impervious to the human tragedy they have scripted. The LTTE refuses to give up and apart from issuing one unilateral ceasefire declaration earlier this week, which was rejected by the Lankan army, it continues to use the people it professes to fight for as fodder in its military resistance. Despite appeals from the international community, the Sri Lankan government too shows no indication of halting the military campaign to ensure safety of the civilians. The government has been emboldened by the euphoric support it has received from the Sinhala populace and from the Sinhala polity’s refusal to consider any course apart from military action to resolve the ethnic conflict.
The conflict now looms over the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu as well. The Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has suddenly declared its support for an independent “Eelam” and in response, the Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (briefly) went on an “indefinite” hunger strike to demand cessation of hostilities in the island. Eelam, until now restricted to the fringe political sections of the state’s polity, has become an election issue. The government of India responded to the clamour in Tamil Nadu for intervention in Sri Lanka by sending its national security advisor and foreign secretary to Colombo and calling for a truce, but it is evident that the Indian response is not intended to go beyond tokenism. New Delhi perceives the conflict in Sri Lanka from a competitive geopolitical perspective as China is a big supplier of weapons and ammunition to the Sri Lankan government and Beijing is unwilling to pressure the Lankan government to stop its military campaign.
The efforts by the Sri Lankan government to paint the ethnic conflict as a “war on terror” have paid off because of the increasing global animus to all forms of “terror” since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. There had been a crackdown on overt and covert material support to the LTTE in the various countries of the world hosting the Tamil diaspora and this has helped the Sri Lankan government isolate the rebel group and move to the verge of a military victory. The Sri Lankan government led by its president Mahinda Rajapaksa has managed to withstand criticism of its actions by promising a simultaneous political solution to the conflict involving other Tamil representatives, but this too is tokenism as no genuine effort towards a federal devolution seems to be in the offing. The tired tactic of co-option of a few ex-Tamil militants, and the adoption of draconian measures to curb any criticism of the government’s military approach in the media, civil society and the polity belie the promises made by Rajapaksa.
It is evident that a bloodbath is going to happen if the Lankan army continues on its course of wanting to obliterate the LTTE. Will a physically and emotionally traumatised Tamil citizenry really trust a government that promises an undefined political solution after its military victory? The current antipathy in the Sinhala polity towards a federal solution tells the Tamils what is in store after a Sri Lankan army victory. As for the LTTE, its strategy of dragging the remaining thousands of Tamil civilians in their area of control to mutilation and death is genocide of its own kind. It is evident that the LTTE top leadership will continue with its resistance because it fears trials for its past actions such as assassinations and indiscriminate attacks on civilian institutions. But if the LTTE wants to live up to its claim of acting on behalf of the Tamil people of the island, surrender is the only way to prevent more casualties in the Vanni. It would then be up to the international community to drive a just bargain for the Tamils if the Sri Lankan government fails to live up to its words.
Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly