22, 2004, Chandigarh, India
Caste, religion to decide fate
Left Front leads
with list of candidates
Acid test for Mufti’s PDP, Cong
Nine Orissa MPs on hat-trick mission
Who else but Vajpayee, say Lucknow Muslims
Will lotus bloom this time?
Telangana issue to dominate
Officials still await 1999
Caste, religion to decide fate
In medieval India the battle for Delhi was fought in Panipat. Today it is fought in Baghpat and beyond in Uttar Pradesh. Babar had a surprise weapon in his armoury, the cannon, for defeating Ibrahim Lodi. What will be the secret weapon for removing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance from power? Money, muscle and madira? It is an old strategy that is effective in winning student union, state assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The magic mirror has stopped telling who is the fairest of them all. The crystal ball itself is gazing in the sky for a clue. The political pundits will destroy their reputation trying to predict the outcome of the battle for the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. Only the astrologers may stick their neck out because they have no reputation to defend, but a lot of money to make.
The more important question is: Who will lead the charge? Clearly not the Congress. Even in the good old days of backward harmony a combined attack by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party did not help the Dalits capture Delhi. After Ms Mayawati and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav parted company following the Lucknow guest house assault on the Bahujan leader by Samajwadi activists they fight each other more than their upper caste "enemies". The rules of political warfare, too, have changed.
The first rule encourages the BSP and Samajwadis to play the role of political spoilers. If you cannot win, do not let your opponent win either. After the dust has settled on the most complicated and long drawn out electoral process in any democracy, the satraps from UP will wait for Delhi to march to Lucknow with a power-sharing offer to the one who has the most number of seats between them.
Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav has made a deft course correction for increasing his options of post-election bargaining. He was careful not to attack the BJP or its "communal politics" after he replaced Ms Mayawati as the Chief Minister last year. His statement on Mr L. K. Advani's "Uday Yatra", too reflects his urge not to take a rigid position on issues that once used to arouse his "secular" anger.
Ms Mayawati, on the other hand, has never had any qualms about political conscience in accepting the support of the BJP for becoming the Chief Minister. She has more unkind words to say about Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the Congress than about the politics and policies of the BJP.
As of today the main players in UP are devising their own strategy for the three-phase Lok Sabha poll. The question of a BSP-Samajwadi tie-up does not arise. The Congress is now an orphan neither of the two "other caste" - a politically correct coinage for the non-upper castes - leaders wants to provide political crumbs for survival. Unless there is last-minute accommodation, or at least putting together of a strategy for avoiding the split of what is rather self-righteously called the secular vote, a four-way contest appears unavoidable.
What has happened since the last Lok Sabha election are minor readjustments that have brought down the number of spoilers. For instance, the return of Mr Kalyan Singh to the BJP and Mr Ajit Singh, who heads a small western UP outfit, has entered into a pre-poll arrangement with the Samajwadi Party. Because of their Lodh and Jat following the two have a nuisance value.
The Samajwadi and BSP leaders resent being called spoilers. They may have a point when they say that it is now the Congress that plays this role. It no longer has enough support at the grassroots level in most of UP. So why doesn't it contest only from constituencies where it still has some political following? In the national context the fight is indeed between the BJP and its allies and the Congress and its domineering partners. But that is a different story.
A trend that has resurfaced in the run-up to the Lok Sabha poll is the role of caste and religion in influencing the verdict. The left and the Congress are the only parties which want to turn the Lok Sabha elections as a fight between communalism and secularism. Other factors like the impact of the "India Shining" campaign by the BJP and promise of a better deal for the "aam aadmi" by the Congress will have only a marginal impact on voting trends in UP.
BJP leaders privately admit that the "India Shining" campaign or the over-hyped "feel good "factor will not influence the caste and communally divided electorate. Even development issues will play only a minor role. The caste and religious labels of the candidates have always played a crucial part in deciding the outcome of elections in UP. This time is not going to be any different.
Left Front leads
with list of candidates
Kolkata, March 21
The CPM-led Left Front, however, announced its candidate list as early as February 6 and has been marching ahead in the battleground. But the Left parties’ campaign has failed to gather any momentum.
The Trinamool Congress and the BJP (both NDA partners) are still negotiating over seat-sharing. The Congress too has not been able to finalise its candidates, except in 27 seats which was formally declared by the AICC on Friday.
In the 13th Lok Sabha, of the 42 seats from West Bengal, the CPM had 20 members and the CPI and Forward Bloc (FB) each three, while the RSP had four. The remaining 12 seats were shared by the Trinamool Congress (7), Congress (3) and BJP( 2).
In this election, the CPM under the seat-sharing agreement, has got 32 seats and the RSP four. The CPI and the FB were given three seats each.
The CPM candidates’ list includes 13 new faces and five women contestants like Ms Jyotirmoyee Sikhdar, the gold-winning runner in the Asiad, Ms Moni Thapa, Ms Minati Sen and Ms Minati Ghosh.
Of them, Ms Thapa is a new entrant. She has replaced the CPM’s sitting MP in Darjeeling, Mr S.P. Leepcha. Sikhdar who contested in the Assembly election with the CPM ticket but lost, will be taking on the BJP minister, Mr Satyabrata Mukherjee, in the Krishnanagar Lok Sabha seat.
The Congress has decided to field Ms Nafisa Ali, the social worker and film actress against Ms Mamata Banerjee of the TMC in South Kolkata, where the CPM has placed the Ballygune MLA, Mr Rabin Dev as its candidate.
Initially, Bollywood actress Moushumi Chatterjee was also a claimant for the South Kolkata seat, but she ultimately withdrew in favour of Nafisa.
In this election, the CPM is taking special care to make an inroad into Kolkata, where the party has failed to obtain any seat in the previous three elections. In the NE Kolkata seat, the party has re-nominated the “young” Md Salim who had narrowly missed the seat in the 1999 elections to the TMC heavyweight, Mr Ajit Kumar Panja. In NW Kolkata too, the CPM has fielded Mr Sudhangshu Sil, sitting MLA of Jorabagan, ignoring RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav’s claim for the seat. The CPM feels confident about its victory there in the wake of the inner rivalry in the TMC following the denial of ticket to the sitting MP, Mr Sudip Bandopadhyya.
The Congress’ sitting MP, Mr A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury (seven-time MP), Mr Priya DasMunshi and Mr Adhir Chakraborty will be again contesting from Malda, Raiganj and Behrampore seats in north Bengal, respectively. The WBPCC chief, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, is an aspirant for the Jangipur seat. He is awaiting AICC’s formal clearance.
The other prominent CPM candidates who are sitting MPs include Mr Somnath Chatterjee (Bolpur), Mr Tarit Thopdar (Barrackpore), Mr Lakshman Seth (Tamluk), Mr Swadesh Chakraborty (Howrah), Mr Rupchand Pal (Hooghly) and Md Hannan Mollah (Uluberia).
The CPM’s five-time winning MP from Mathurapur (South 24-Parganas), Dr Radhika Ranjan Pramanick, has been denied ticket and removed from the party on charges of corruption and anti-party activities.
Instead, the party has nominated Dr Basudev Burman, former Vice-Chancellor of Kalyani University as its candidate from the Mathurapur constituency.
The sitting CPI, RSP and FB MPs will be once again fighting from their respective constituencies. The lone exception is Coochbehar l, where the FB has selected Mr Hiten Burman in place of Mr Amar Roy Pradhan. He has been sacked from the party on charges of corruption and the anti-party activities. Mr Pradhan, however, will be fighting as an Independent candidate with the support of a section in the FB and some local people.
Acid test for Mufti’s PDP, Cong
Jammu, March 21
This is for the first time that while being in power, Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed and his daughter, Ms.Mehbooba Mufti, who is heading the PDP, have got an opportunity to avenge their defeat by the NC candidates in the last Lok Sabha elections in 1999 from the Anantnag and Srinagar constituencies, respectively. However, the Mufti had won the Anantnag seat in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, but the House was dissolved within a few months and fresh elections were held in 1999.
What is significant is that for the first time the Lok Sabha elections are being held under a coalition government in the state. No single party got a clear mandate in the Assembly elections in 2002 as a result of which the Mufti got an opportunity to head the coalition. However, the NC enjoys the position of being the single largest party with 28 members in the House of 87. The Congress and the PDP have 20 and 16 members, respectively.
The peace talks between India and Pakistan initiated by Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the opening of a fresh dialogue between the separatists and the Centre at the level of the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani, are expected to reflect in these elections. The Centre and the Mufti have taken certain steps to restore confidence among the people of Kashmir.
The tussle within the ruling coalition partners has made the election scenario interesting. While a settlement between the PDP and the Congress for contesting the Baramula seat is eluding, the Panthers Party of Mr.Bhim Singh and the BSP have queered the pitch for the Congress in the two seats of Jammu by deciding to field their own candidates. The Panthers Party and the BSP are also coalition partners in the Mufti government.
The BJP was the first to announce its candidates for all six seats in the state. The PDP, the Congress and the NC are so far keeping their cards close to their chest.
The NC chief, Mr Omar Abdullah, and his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah, have announced that they would have no poll alliance with any party. The NC withdrew from the NDA Government following the communal riots in Gujarat.
In case Ms Mehbooba jumps into the fray from the Anantnag constituency, the election would be interesting in the valley as Mr Omar Abdullah was expected to seek re-election from the Srinagar seat.
J&K is the only state in the country where the elections would be held in four phases. Polling for the Jammu and Baramula seats would be held first of all on April 20, the Srinagar constituency would go to the polls on April 25, Anantnag on May 5 and Udhampur and Leh on May 10.
An increase of 13,46,794 voters has been registered this time in the electoral rolls of 63,77,282 against the total strength of 50,30,488 voters in the 1999 elections.
The NC had five members in the dissolved Lok Sabha, while the BJP had one. The Congress and the PDP did not have a single seat from J&K. Initially, the NC had four members, but the party won the Jammu seat in a by-election held following the death of Vaid Vishnu Dutt of the BJP.
The two seats of Jammu were shared by the Congress and the BJP from time to time prior to 1975 when the NC came to power in the state while the Congress generally held the four seats of the valley and Leh. However, the NC made quick inroads and snatched most of these seats.
While the BJP secured two seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 1999 by polling 31.55 per cent votes, the NC managed to bag four seats by polling 28.93 per cent votes. The Congress got 17.83 per cent votes, but failed to bag even a single seat.
However, in the 2002 Assembly elections, the NC received the highest 28.24 per cent votes, followed by the Congress (24.24 per cent) the PDP (9.28 per cent) and the BJP (8.57 per cent).
BHUBANESWAR: As many as nine Orissa MPs of the dissolved Lok Sabha, including three union ministers, will this time try their luck to score a hat-trick in the coming Lok Sabha poll from their respective constituencies.
While five of them belong to the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), four of them are from its ally, the BJP.
The three union ministers, who would be on a hat-trick spree are Tribal Welfare Minister Juel Oram from the BJP (Sundargarh), Union Water Resources Minister Arjun Charan Sethi (Bhadrak) and Union Steel Minister Braja Kishore Tripathy (Puri).
Both Mr Sethi and Mr Tripathy belonged to the BJD and have been renominated to contest Bhadrak and Puri Lok Sabha seats, respectively, to achieve the goal.
The other BJP sitting MPs trying their luck for the third straight win are Mr M.A. Kharvela Swain (Balasore), Mr B.K. Deo (Kalahandi) and Ms Sangeeta Singdeo (Bolangir).
Besides the two union ministers from the BJD, the three other sitting MPs of the dissolved Lok Sabha waiting for a hat-trick are Mr Bhartruhari Mahatab (Cuttack), Mr Prasanna Acharaya (Sambalpur) and Dr Prasanna Kumar Patsani (Bhubaneswar).
Union Steel Minister B.K. Tripathy had already won the Puri Lok Sabha seat thrice, but not in a row. In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, he defeated the rival Congress candidate by over 40,000 votes as a Janata Dal candidate but he lost the seat to the Congress in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections.
Similarly, Union Water Resources Minister A.C. Sethy had won the Bhadrak (SC) seat four times in the past, but failed to score a hat-trick.
He was first elected from the Bhadark Lok Sabha seat as a Congress candidate in the 1980 elections but later joined the Janata Dal, won the seat for the second time in 1991, defeating his nearest rival, Mr Netrananda Mallick, an Independent candidate.
As a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate, Mr Sethi won the seat in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections.
For journalist-turned-politician Bhartruhari Mahatab (BJD), a victory from the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat this time would put him in a rare distinction of scoring a hat-trick, something nobody has achieved so far from the constituency. It was his father Mr Harekrushna Mahatab, who won the first Lok Sabha elections from the constituency in 1952. So far, former Chief Minister J.B. Pattnaik and Mr Nityananda Kanungo had won the seat twice consecutively and no one else since the first general election.
BJP sitting MP from Kalahandi B.K. Deo, a member of the royal family, is all set to join his father, Mr P.K. Deo, in scoring a hat-trick this time from the Kalahandi Lok Sabha seat.
Mr P.K. Deo had achieved the unique distinction of winning the Kalahandi seat five times in a row since the 1957 Lok Sabha elections. His son, Mr B.K. Deo, won the seat in the 1998 and 1999 elections and has been renominated by the BJP to seek re-lection to score the hat-trick this time.
BJP’s other sitting MP of the dissolved House Sangeeta Singhdeo (Bolangir) would have been scored a hat-trick in 1999 had she not been defeated in 1996 Lok Sabha elections by the Congress candidate.
She lost the seat to Mr Sharat Patnaik of Congress by 40,000 votes in the 1996 elections, but avenged her defeat in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, defeating Mr Patnaik by over 1.26 lakhs and 1.52 lakh votes, respectively.
Ms Singdeo, wife of state Industries Minister K.V. Singdeo (BJP), would again take on Mr Sharat Pattnaik, a former Orissa Pradesh Congress chief, and is poised for a hat-trick.
The only sitting MP from Orissa who would be missing the opportunity of scoring a hat-trick this time is Mr Prabhat Samantray (Kendrapada), who was expelled from the BJD for indulging in anti-party activities.
Instead, the BJD has chosen Congress leader Archana Nayak, who quit the party and joined the BJD to be nominated as a party candidate for the Kendrapada Lok Sabha seat. Ms Nayak had unsuccessfully contested the Kendrapada seat twice in the past as the Congress candidate. — UNI
Who else but Vajpayee, say Lucknow Muslims
Lucknow: Mohammed Shakeel Ahmad, a 62-year-old devout Muslim has a bicycle repair shop in the posh Indira Nagar area of Lucknow. Sitting in a corner of his shop, strewn with spare bicycle parts and tools, Shakeel said this time he would vote for BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He knows his choice would be strongly disapproved by Muslims. “It hardly matters if the man is Hindu or Muslim … the only thing which matters is whether he (Vajpayee) is a performer.”
He points out that Vajpayee, who represents Lucknow in the Lok Sabha, has broadened the city’s roads, built new parks and ensured regular power and water supply.
But didn’t Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rise to prominence by demanding the construction of a Ram temple at the site of a mosque in Ayodhya, thereby creating a rift between the Muslims and the Hindus? Shakeel acknowledges BJP’s Muslim-bashing past but says that Vajpayee went to Pakistan early this year in an attempt to make peace. “Would Atal Bihari have done that if he hated Muslims?,” he asked.
He said the Indian cricket team was in Pakistan on a goodwill tour and this had become possible only due to the intervention of Vajpayee.
It’s not uncommon to hear Lucknow’s Muslims, who account for nearly one-fifth of the city’s 3.7 million residents, praising Vajpayee, the leader of a party that has at times spouted virulently anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Thanks to a booming economy, as well as Vajpayee’s trip to Pakistan, India’s most popular Prime Minister of the past decade has won over a wide spectrum of Indian voters — and his party looks set to cash in on that appeal by calling the General Election as early as April, five months before the scheduled date. The BJP is counting on Vajpayee’s enhanced stature to project a drastically new image for itself.
“He’s not a hard-liner,” says Maulana Hafiz Ali, a teacher in the Muslim college of theology, Nadwat-ul Ulma, in Lucknow. “He is a moderate face in the BJP, surrounded by hawks.”
“Vajpayee is a friendly figure — and perhaps India’s only viable Prime Minister,” says Syed Mohammed Jaffar, an educationist. “It was his dominance which disappointed Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS volunteers, who hoped Vajpayee would undo India’s secular Constitution during his rule.”
The government has offered no support to VHP leaders who marched to Ayodhya to demand that the temple be built at the disputed site, he says.
Adhish Kumar, a state leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), feels that Vajpayee has done precious little to advance the Hindu agenda.
“We have our reservations about his style of functioning,” he says.
Although many Muslims would support the Congress and Samajwadi Party over the BJP, they feel that Sonia Gandhi is no match to Vajpayee. When asked if he wouldn’t prefer someone other than Vajpayee to lead India, Mohammed Shakeel, the repairer of bicycles, counters: “Who else is there?”
Baramati: Victory seems to be certain for Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar in the Baramati parliamentary constituency as the Shiv Sena-BJP opposition is focusing on reducing his victory margin rather than taking on the NCP chief, political observers say.
The BJP is contesting the Baramati seat in accordance with the decision of the saffron alliance in Maharashtra and has even managed to rope in Pawar loyalist Prithviraj Jachak into the party fold and field him from this constituency.
The NCP supremo, who has won this seat in western Maharashtra for five times, first met success in 1984 and later four times consecutively in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Also, the Congress or the party led by Mr Pawar had won the seat on 13 of the 15 times.
The parliamentary constituency comprises the Haveli, Shirur, Daund, Indapur, Baramati and Purandar Assembly segments of which three are held by the NCP, one each with the JD (S) and Independent candidate, both part of the DF alliance and one by the saffron alliance.
Kozhikode, March 21
The response to the ‘Bharat Uday Yatra’ of Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani that criss-crossed the state and a couple of ‘feel-good factors’ have roused hope in the BJP.
A good-governance campaign, the entry of several prominent people into its fold, an end to an era of “untouchability”, infighting in the Congress and its camaraderie with the Marxists elsewhere and, above all, the support of some powerful communities appear to have brightened its chances.
Its state unit President, Mr P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, symbolises the party’s ‘liberal face’ in the state where it was considered an ‘untouchable’ in the past due to its “hardline ideology.”
The hopes of the BJP to improve upon its 8.4 per cent vote share in the last Lok Sabha elections rest on two union ministers - Mr P.C. Thomas and Mr O. Rajagopal.
Mr Thomas of the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), an ally of the NDA, is a five-time MP.
“A large number of leaders and workers of organisations like the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SND) want at least the two ministers to win,” Mr Pillai said. However, he denied any “tie-ups” with these two powerful community-based organisations, representing the Nairs and the Ezhavas.
Mr Pillai said: “In the past, disinformation campaigns had made people apprehensive about communalism, stability, economy and foreign policy if the BJP was voted to power. Now the party is not considered an untouchable.”
Many Congressmen in the state were disheartened by the party being reduced to a “family welfare limited company by a veteran leader”, Mr Pillai said, alluding to the infighting in the Congress due to a disgruntled K. Karunakaran and the present crisis brewing in that party over the ticket.
Many Congress workers were also unhappy with the “bad show” of the A.K. Antony Government, he added.
Regarding the party’s election campaign, he said: “The unholy alliance between the Left and the Congress in other states can be exposed and effectively projected here,” referring to the opposition of the two parties in Kerala. This issue could be “one of the biggest plus points for the BJP in the general elections.” — UNI
Telangana issue to dominate
Hyderabad: When Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu picked former CBI chief K Vijayarama Rao for a cabinet berth after the 1999 Assembly elections, he had no inkling of the political genie he was letting out.
Mr Naidu chose the former cop as a mascot of his party's growing image among educated middle class and, in the process, dumped Mr K Chandrasekhar Rao, a five-time Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLA, who belonged to the same community and region as the former.
By denying Mr Chandrasekhar Rao's claims for a ministry, the TDP chief unwittingly opened a Pandora's box that threatens to play a spoilsport with his ambition for a hat-trick.
A year-and-half later in March 2001, a peeved Chandrasekhar Rao revolted against the leadership of Mr Naidu and launched a movement for a separate Telangana state. There was nothing new in discontented Telangana politicians raising the bogey of continued neglect of the region by successive governments headed by "Andhra rulers." At least, that was what political observers thought.
Ever since Andhra Pradesh was formed on November 1, 1956, by merging the coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema regions under British rule and Telangana under the Nizam on the basis of a linguistic states formula, Telangana leaders harboured apprehensions that the economically and educationally developed Andhra region would dominate the underdeveloped Telangana region.
Last time the Telangana issue dominated the political scene in Andhra Pradesh was in 1971 when Mr M Chenna Reddy, a disgruntled Congress leader, led the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS) to a landslide victory on the same plank. But soon, Mr Reddy, to further his own political interests, merged the TPS with the Congress, dealing a severe blow to the movement.
However, Mr Chandrababu Naidu's calculation that Mr Rao's Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) would be a non-starter as the issue had lost credibility among the people of the region went awry. The first signs of the TRS becoming a potent political force in Telangana became clear when the Congress and the BJP were compelled to champion the cause of a separate state for the fear of losing their cadre to the new outfit.
The significant gains made by the TRS during the panchayati raj elections further strengthened Mr Chandrasekhar Rao's position as a leader of consequence in the Telangana region.
When Mr Chandrababu Naidu dissolved the Assembly in November, 2003, almost a year before tenure, one of the reasons offered by him was that it was time the people of the state gave their mandate once and for all on the issue of dividing the state.
Telangana accounts for 107 assembly seats in the 294-member House and 16 Lok Sabha seats of a total of 42 in the state. Sensing the groundswell of support for the TRS in Telangana districts, the Congress has already forged an alliance with the fledgling party, offering 42 assembly and 6 Lok Sabha seats.
Mr Chandrababu Naidu, however, is confident that any losses that his party might suffer in Telangana due its stand on integrated Andhra Pradesh would be amply compensated in the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. The Congress wants to have the cake and eat it too, but it's going to be a loser in both regions, says Mr Naidu. Whether the Congress makes it to power or not, the elections next month are going to decide the issue of a separate statehood for Telangana once and for all.
Officials still await 1999
Solan, March 21
This is despite the fact that the state department had initially granted its approval for the release of this amount soon after the funds were sanctioned by the Government of India in 1999. The officials are paid one month’s basic salary as honorarium for the services rendered during elections. This money is directly released by the Ministry of Law after the elections to each state after sanction from the Election Commissioner.
Since the election work involves crucial tasks like strategic planning, it is a target-oriented job involving Class I officials, including deputy commissioners, additional deputy commissioners and headquarters staff of the chief electoral office. While the other staff deputed at the polling booths are granted TA/DA on completion of their work, these 400-odd officials have been awaiting their due even after about five years.