These debates, accompanied by a nip in the air, will only intensify in emotion and extent, pointing once again to the thrills and (possible) perils of the Indian democratic exercise.
I’ve been present in some of these discussions and here’s the gist gathered by me so far:
--- The Congress party and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government are seen as discredited and corrupt.
--- It’s likely that the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha elections.
--- It’s also likely that the BJP might not be able to gather enough support from other parties to actually form a government.
--- Regional parties in the electorally important states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will decide who takes power in Delhi.
I have deliberately excluded some minority views like that of a lawyer friend, who said it was no longer the BJP that was contesting the elections but the “apolitical” Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since it had forced the BJP to anoint Modi as its prime ministerial candidate.
As the gist makes clear, the Congress party is in real trouble. It’s indecisive and corrupt image, with an untested leader like Rahul Gandhi leading the charge, are seen as a huge drawback.
A young friend points out that the tired, jaded ministers (many of whom he believes have made a lot of money) are a huge liability for the Congress. If the party does not field new faces in the polls, its troubles will only mount.
An editor colleague believes that Modi has been turned into a brand by Television and Corporate India. Every speech of his is being broadcast live; a clear signal that the image building exercise is well underway.
So, like say a popular shoe or butter brand, Modi is the new political brand that is being sold openly on television and print media. His many (questionable) successes are being hailed and turned into myth. If RSS is the company, Modi is the brand.
He’s also being touted as a “strong” leader as opposed to the “weak” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Another participant in the discussion believes that regional parties in key states might get over 200 seats in the 542-member Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.
In that case, if assuming the BJP is the single largest party, will this third clutch of parties support Mr. Modi as prime minister? That’s a key question for further debates.
We have seen in Bihar, which sends 40 members to the Lok Sabha, that a regional ally of the BJP, the Janata Dal (United) cut relations with the BJP after it became clear that Modi was being projected as its national leader.
In the past, the JD-(U)-BJP alliance had insulated itself against Modi’s brand of polarising politics by ensuring that he didn’t campaign in Bihar. With the changed reality, the BJP became a burden for the JD-(U).
To move from drawing rooms to Television India, a recent opinion poll conducted by Times Now-CVoter gave the BJP 162 seats (with allies the figure is 186) in the Lok Sabha, nearly a 100 seats short of a majority.
Given the “wave” conditions in favour of Modi and his impact in every state that Times Now and other television channels have been talking about (as part of the corporate image build-up of the man), this is an abysmally low number.
A bit of checking would reveal that ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections CVoter (with Star News at the time) had projected 267-279 seats for the BJP and its allies. The results show that the NDA obtained 181 seats in 2004.
My point is that these opinion polls are notoriously unreliable and are often used by interested parties to bump up the image of a party and leader and point the direction which undecided voters should take.
In the end, neither the drawing room discussions nor the opinion polls will decide who forms the next government in Delhi.
It will be the voter, on the merits of individual parties and candidates, who will decide.
Meanwhile, the debate and discussion will go on as the state assembly elections in key states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram commence on November 25.