STATES OF SAF­FRON

BJP reaps the ben­e­fits of hav­ing re­gional lead­ers with a mass base in four states go­ing for a De­cem­ber verdict. A chill­ier win­ter beck­ons Congress.

India Today - - OPINION POLL - By S. Prasan­nara­jan

The bad news from the states comes to Congress at its worst of times. In a year that saw the dis­in­te­gra­tion of a Te­flon-coated prime min­is­ter who could have been the mod­erniser of In­dia but ended up as an em­bar­rass­ment to the coun­try and a li­a­bil­ity to his party, Congress badly needed a mir­a­cle. A de­ba­cle is in store. The In­dia To­day Group-ORG poll in four states go­ing for a De­cem­ber verdict pre­dicts a resur­gent BJP tak­ing all. As the ve­loc­ity of Force Modi en­er­gises the saf­fron base, per­form­ers from the prov­inces add that ex­tra push to BJP’s do-or-be­damned bat­tle for In­dia. For the In­dian Right hop­ing for a sum­mer thriller in 2014 af­ter a decade of deso­la­tion and de­featism, this is an in­spir­ing pro­logue. A chill­ier win­ter beck­ons Congress.

Naren­dra Modi may have pro­vided the at­mo­spher­ics, but the states of Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Delhi (Mi­zo­ram is not in­cluded in this poll) are reap­ing the div­i­dends of bet­ter in­vest­ments in lead­er­ship. Two chief min­is­ters, quiet per­form­ers from the House of Saf­fron, rac­ing to­wards a hat trick; a feisty Rani with a com­mon touch on the come­back trail; and a low-key doc­tor with a win­ning pre­scrip­tion fight­ing for his chief min­is­te­rial de­but in the Cap­i­tal’s tri­an­gu­lar con­test—a per­fect blend of the power of grass­roots pol­i­tics and the re­wards of good gov­er­nance. The losers’ story is the fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tive of lost cred­i­bil­ity and in­cum­bency fa­tigue—and, of course, the in­evitable tragedy of be­ing a Congress leader in the time of Man­mo­han Singh melt­down.

The poll, as the find­ings show, is a ref­er­en­dum on the in­cum­bent as well as the chal­lenger. Each state, in its own way, votes for change, which doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily al­ways mean a change of guard, as in Mad­hya Pradesh and the neigh­bour­ing Ch­hat­tis­garh for in­stance. Nearly 60 per cent want the re-elec­tion of Mad­hya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has been chief min­is­ter since 2005 when he re­placed Bab­u­lal Gaur. It was Uma Bharati, in the block­buster As­sem­bly elec­tions of 2003, who stormed the Congress ci­tadel and hoisted the flag of saf­fron on Shamla Hills of Bhopal. It was the year when the tem­pes­tu­ous sanyasin in Mad­hya Pradesh and the rag­ing queen in Ra­jasthan brought an over­dose of oe­stro­gen to the Sangh Pari­var. Bharati was too volatile to sus­tain the man­date, and her suc­ces­sor Gaur was too an­o­dyne to in­spire the base. Chouhan did more than con­sol­i­date.

The quin­tes­sen­tial Pari­var mem­ber who never missed a mo­ment to re­mind the state of the Hindi cul­ture, Chouhan had the choice—and the cre­den­tials—to be­come the flag­bearer of Hin­dutva. Very early on, he re­alised that sa­cred

cows (he banned their slaugh­ter) and Surya Na­maskar (he in­tro­duced the yogic drill to schools) alone would not make him a twenty-first cen­tury leader with a mar­ket value. His achieve­ments in agri­cul­ture and power sec­tor are re­mark­able, but Chouhan has wisely ac­knowl­edged the im­por­tance of so­cial cap­i­tal in the pol­i­tics of de­vel­op­ment. The num­bers vin­di­cate: More than sixty per cent of vot­ers aged be­tween 18 and 40 want him to con­tinue, and he is the choice of 65 per cent of the col­lege-ed­u­cated. This de­mo­graphic div­i­dend is an en­dorse­ment of not Chouhan the saviour of en­dan­gered cows but Chouhan the mod­erniser, even though, be­ing a made-to-or­der heart­land politi­cian whose hall­mark is not flam­boy­ance but grey so­lid­ity, his ap­peal is lo­cal.

To­day BJP is en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of hav­ing such lo­cal he­roes with a mass base. Ra­man Singh of Ch­hat­tis­garh is the other per­former who ex­udes dura­bil­ity and depend­abil­ity in equal mea­sure: Fifty-six per cent want to give him a third stint in ar­guably In­dia’s most dan­ger­ous state where the Maoist blood­lust con­tin­ues to make the best use of In­dia’s con­fu­sion on in­ter­nal se­cu­rity, and that is why, in spite of the Chief Min­is­ter’s pop­u­lar­ity rat­ing, fifty-eight per cent do not ap­prove of the way the gov­ern­ment is deal­ing with the in­sur­gency. The Ra­man ef­fect in gov­er­nance is more re­flected in his record in reach­ing out to the low­est rungs with poli­cies like the one-ru­pee rice scheme—his ver­sion of food se­cu­rity. The first elected chief min­is­ter of Ch­hat­tis­garh is at full throt­tle, still.

In Ra­jasthan, though, Chief Min­is­ter Ashok Gehlot’s last- minute sop of­fen­sive seems to have lit­tle im­pact on the Come­back Queen: Fifty-five per cent want change. It took only five years for Gehlot to turn Ra­jasthan into a state where 41 per cent think the gov­ern­ment’s big­gest fail­ure is the ris­ing crime against women. Ob­vi­ously, Gehlot’s saris-to-the-poor scheme did not change this per­cep­tion. The lady in chif­fon has made all the dif­fer­ence. In 2003, in the desert storm of an elec­tion, Va­sund­hara Raje con­quered Ra­jasthan with 120 seats. In five years she squan­dered the man­date. Her come­back bat­tle of 2013 is all about re­gain­ing the ro­mance of 2003 and re­pu­di­at­ing the hu­mil­i­a­tion of 2008. Power broke her covenant with the peo­ple; she wasted the op­por­tu­nity to join the club of the in­fal­li­bles, cur­rently oc­cu­pied by Modi, Chouhan and Ra­man Singh. The poll shows that she is all set for a sec­ond be­gin­ning.

The poll de­nies Congress’ most en­dur­ing chief min­is­ter a fourth term. In the tri­an­gu­lar bat­tle for Delhi, it is still Sheila Dik­shit’s elec­tion to win or lose, but the en­try of the usurper called Arvind Ke­jri­wal has changed the scene as well as the theme. BJP, to her horror, looked be­yond the worn-out Goels and Mal­ho­tras and came out with a re­fresh­ing chief min­is­ter can­di­date—Dr Harsh Vard­han. The poll gives BJP 36 seats, Congress 22 and Aam Aadmi Party 8; but Sheila is the ideal chief min­is­ter for the Del­hi­ite. She is still the city’s suc­cour mom. In another time, she could have been Congress’ Modi. She lives in the time of Man­mo­han and is pay­ing the price—add to that a cer­tain amount of Sheila fa­tigue. It is not the best time to be a Congress leader, and it seems the na­tional ap­peal of Modi, as re­vealed by suc­ces­sive opin­ion polls, has given that ex­tra dash of saf­fron to the As­sem­bly elec­tions.

Modi him­self is a vin­di­ca­tion of an abid­ing truth in In­dian pol­i­tics to­day: Power has shifted from the head­quar­ters to the prov­inces. The mythol­ogy of Naren­dra Modi is built on the record of Gu­jarat as In­dia’s best gov­erned state; in Ch­hat­tis­garh and Mad­hya Pradesh, vari­a­tions of Gu­jarat are on dis­play. Even as the party’s high com­mand show­cased glo­ri­fied ap­pa­ratchiks at war, lead­ers in the states were work­ing hard to pre­serve the fiefs. In the Congress, it is the story of or­phaned states: The Cen­tre is weak, the states are weaker. The four states ac­count for 72 Lok Sabha seats; come the sum­mer of 2014 and th­ese ac­cel­er­a­tors from the states will be in the van­guard with Modi in his bat­tle for In­dia. Rahul Gandhi’s coun­ter­at­tack will get lone­lier. At a time when a ner­vous gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to ban­ish opin­ion polls, the much dis­puted sci­ence of psephol­ogy is closer to the truth: In­dia is in no mood to for­give the party that let it down so badly, and the colour of change is saf­fron.

Modi’s mythol­ogy is built on the record of Gu­jarat as the best gov­erned state; in Ch­hat­tis­garh and Mad­hya Pradesh, vari­a­tions of Gu­jarat are on dis­play.

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