By Geeta Padmanabhan
If there’s one thing that is predictable about the 15th Lok Sabha elections, it is that it is unpredictable. Even those psephologists who consider their analyses incontestable are talking in terms of “if”.
The bookies are of course making a lot of hay in the unpredictable sunshine. The ruling coalition UPA is expected to get 150-160 seats and so the odds are 1: 70 paise. That is, if you put Re. 1 on UPA (led by Congress), you’ll get 70 paise if it bags 150-160 seats. If NDA (led by BJP) gets 110-120 seats your share will be Re. 1.50.
If the Third Front gets 100 seats, your return will jump to Re. 3/-
No one is betting on that. The odds will keep changing as the polls get near, and that is the charm of the game. Note that no one is sure either of the two groups will have enough seats to form the government. Is that a hung parliament? Not necessarily.
As alliances are made and unmade, one figure is emerging as the eventual tipper of the scale. It is the Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. I would have said “Kingmaker” but Mayawati may not be satisfied with that. But her caveat in the early stages of negotiations that she be declared the potential PM did not find many takers (imagine the Tamil Amma accepting that!) among the members of the Third Front. So she changed the rules of the game.
Look at this scenario: In the event of either UPA or the NDA falling short of a majority (which is quite likely), and Mayawati getting around 50 seats, all roads will lead to her door, post election. Which is exactly why she has ruled out seat adjustment with any party in the Lok Sabha polls. She has also declared that the issue of the prime ministerial candidate of the Third Front would be decided after the elections. Mayawati’s BSP is contesting 80 seats.
At a dinner she hosted for members of the Third Front she said, “All our allies are contesting the elections separately and after the elections, together we will prevent the UPA and NDA from coming to power,” adding that the way the Front was being targeted showed that its detractors were “panicky.” It was the “heartfelt desire” of party founder Kanshi Ram that BSP captured power at the Centre and in all the states.
What does she promise the voters? Security? Jobs? Infrastructure? Water and Electricity? Runaway prices? Mayawati released the BSP’s “appeal” for the elections in which she says, if her party came to power at the Centre, her government would provide reservation for upper castes. “My party’s policy is not confined to the welfare of Dalits alone,” she said.
Mayawati says her party is the only alternative to the two biggies. National ambition is ok, but how this will work is to be seen. She is in a coalition that will become one only after the elections.
Asked about her becoming PM in the event of a big win for her candidates, Cho Ramaswamy said, “That is a joke.”
Still, the fortunes of the BSP and Mayawati will be interesting to follow.
Highlights and Sidelights
Now everyone’s sort of resigned to the fact that the election will be won – not on ideology, performance, popularity of the contestant or his clean record. It will be the freebies offered pre and post elections. Free or low-priced rice is the major attraction now. Bharatiya Janata Party is promising free cell phones to the people and cheap laptops to the students,
Check out the manifestos. Congress is offering rice at Rs. 3 a kilo. This with the other freebies is giving economists a scare. In a poor economy how is this expected to be fulfilled? Why isn’t anyone learning from DMK’s 2-rupees-a-kilo rice fiasco? Large quantities of this ration rice were routinely transported to neighbouring Kerala. The rice could be used only for idlis and dosas and people had to buy rice in the open market for regular use. Another freebie, the colour television sets is another unpalatable story. A girl in my apartment building earning around 15 k a month has one of those. She said she got it from her grandmother who lives in a small town in Tamil Nadu. A couple of village workers told me that they have bought these TV sets at a cheap price from the villagers. They already own better sets and were selling these free ones off.
A developing story is the one about Varun Gandhi. A murder charge has been slapped on him. The case is getting curiouser and curiouser. BJP first tried to distance itself from his alleged fiery speech against Muslims, but now has decided to back his candidature. Is that how they understand the voters’ mood? As things stand, it looks like he may not be able to campaign at all. If he wins his Philibit seat, it will not be the first time a candidate wins sitting in a prison cell.