I'm back after a long lay off. Many thanx for the good wishes while I was convalescing after surgery.
Five years ago, the media hailed the victory of the BJP-led coalition even before the first vote was cast. The reason? India was shining and Atal Behari Vajpayee's popularity was unmatched, they proclaimed. Stunned silence was followed by convoluted arguments to explain how the supposedly unbeatable BJP snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Jai Ho!
Now that another general election is upon us, the same self-styled pundits are back on the idiot box to hand a victory to the Congress. Price rise, unemployment, terrorism, urban angst, rural suicides, the exit of allies from the UPA, the absence of a party machine to fight elections, reliance on turncoats, the threat of rebels et are of no consequence as the Congress will manage to form the next government through a process of elimination of its opponents, our pundits insist. Jai Ho!
To begin with, the Congress will “sweep” the polls in Delhi and Haryana, the two states it rules on its own in north India. Sikh anger, though present, will not add up to much, so there's not much to worry about on this score. In the rest of the region – Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, and Jammu and Kashmir – the Congress will reverse its losses in the Assembly polls, thanks to anti-incumbency against the Akali Dal and BJP, to come up trumps. Jai Ho!
In the 'Cow Belt' comprising 134 constituencies, the Congress need not worry, we are advised. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Ramvilas Paswan (the Fourth Front) , despite their current stand-off which is only a normal ghar-ghar-ki-kahani, will deliver enough MPs, “post polls”, to make up the numbers for the next Congress-led government. Of course, both Mayawati and Nitish Kumar pose a “stiff challenge”. But even if they manage to best the Fourth Front, “post polls” they can be cajoled into supporting the Congress since in the Cow Belt they follow a herd mentality. It's a “win-win” situation for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi here. Jai Ho!
In the eastern seaboard states it will be a “cakewalk” for the Congress, we are told. This region sends 146 MPs to the Lok Sabha. In West Bengal, the Left will face humiliating losses “post Singur and Nandigram”. Naveen Patnaik will rue his comeuppance in Orissa. Even though the Congress's “tallest leader”, JB Patnaik, has been denied a ticket by Sonia, the party will reap “handsome dividends” in a three-cornered contest. In Andhra Pradesh YSR Reddy will beat anti-incumbency and the Grand Alliance of the TDP-TRS-Left handily. Otherwise, Chiranjeevi can always come to the Congress's rescue as he does in the movies. And in Tamil Nadu plus Puducherry, Karunanidhi will prove history wrong by winning at least half of the 40 seats. Even if he fails, a “temperamental” Jayalalithaa can always switch sides and support a Congress government in New Delhi in return for keys to Fort St George. Jai Ho!
In the western seaboard states that send 127 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the Congress is “sitting pretty”, we are informed. The Congress will “decimate” the Left in Kerala. Our pundits claim there is a pro-Congress wave in the country's most literate state. The Congress will also create “upsets” in Karnataka. And in Maharashtra, the Congress, in an alliance with Sharad Pawar, will “steamroller” the opposition. You see, the relief packages for suicide-prone farmers and other “sops” have had a salutary effect. And India Inc's support in Mumbai will weave its own magic in urban pockets. Only Narendra Modi in Gujarat will put up some resistance, but his effort will not halt the Congress juggernaut. Jai Ho!
That leaves only 55 seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh for the Congress to take care of before a triumphant return to New Delhi. The Congress has already “proved” that the BJP can be beaten in its strongholds. And Ashok Gehlot's “victory” in Rajasthan has only demonstrated that the Congress can wrest more seats from the BJP than it did in 2004 in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh since the “momentum” is with it. Besides, the saffron party is in “disarray”. So regardless of how brave a fight the BJP puts up in central India, it would be futile. “Too little, too late,” we are instructed. Jai Ho!
The wins in the northeast, though few, will only be an icing on the cake. Jai Ho!
To be fair to the pundits, none of them gives the Congress a chance of winning more than 150 seats. nevertheless, these worthies feel that this less than stellar performance still makes the Congress the natural party of governance. This was underscored by Manmohan Singh when despite his recent heart surgery he undertook a “whirlwind campaign” to address members of Assocham, CII, FICCI and sundry Merchant Chambers in a string of meetings in five-star hotels. The captains of India Inc wholeheartedly agreed while beseeching Manmohan carry on with the good work and quickly wrap up the “reforms” in the banking, insurance, FDI in retail, labour, disinvestment and other sectors. Jai Ho!
Our pundits insist Manmohan Singh will remain prime minister, so what if he cannot win a Lok Sabha seat for himself. The fact that he is not even confident of contesting from a 'safe' Congress seat - there seems to be none besides Amethi and Rae Bareli – is conveniently forgotten. What is more important that India Inc has reposed its faith in him; that he is an economist of “international repute” without having written a a book or published papers; that his “integrity cannot be questioned” even though money changed hands to buy MPs to save his government last year; and that his love for George W. Bush stems from deep rooted conviction to “make India a superpower”. Jai Ho!
The “findings” of our pundits have given a new meaning to Benjamin Disraeli's famous observation about statistics. Their first round of polling in January and February gave the then UPA a shade less than 272 seats, enough to form the government, especially after Naveen Patnaik ditched the BJP. But then came the double whammy - Lalu Prasad, Ramvilas Paswan and Mulayam Singh ganged up against the Congress and the incipient Third Front actually took shape. In double quick time, the pundits changed the rules of the game. By the end of March it was not which alliance – UPA, NDA or Third Front – that mattered; the race to emerge as the largest single party that would form of the core of the next government became the leitmotif of all the projections. Naturally, with a nudge here and a wink there, statistics were trotted out to give the Congress that honour. Jai Ho!
To make up the deficit of around 175 seats; i.e. more than the number than the Congress is expected to win, our pundits have designed elaborate scenarios to install a Congress government. The first to fall in line will be, of course, the Lalu Prasad-Ramvilas Paswan-Mulayam Singh triumvirate. If they do not “have the numbers”, Mayawati can be roped in and so can Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik. KC Rao of the TRS is a “natural ally”. Jayalalithaa can fill in for Karunanidhi is need be. Deve Gowda can be enticed. Sundry regional outfits in the northeast can be bought. Independents will automatically gravitate to the largest party. And if after all this the numbers still do not add up – the worst case scenario – the Left would be forced to support a Congress-led government to “keep the communal forces at bay”. Jai Ho!