Wednesday, April 1, 2009

THE REAL IPL T20 IS ON IN UP!

The cricket IPL T20 tournament may have moved to South Africa. But there is an even more gripping T20 Indian Political League(IPL) tournament being played in India's biggest people's stadium that holds 116,424,101 active "spectators". Although each team theoretically has 80 "overs" to play with and take home, the ferocious battle being fought out there in the final run-up to the grand finale on May 16, 2009, is for 20 "overs". These are the ones that will most likely decide as to who will get that Big Trophy in Delhi.

During the last Lok Sabha elections in 2004, the Congress party emerged as the largest single party by a whisker with 145 seats against 138 of the BJP. That "victory" by a wafer-thin margin enabled it to cobble up a post-poll alliance called the UPA and form the government with its candidate Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister.

When the elections were announced this year, it looked as if the UPA was going into the polls almost intact, the only change being that the Left had been replaced by Mulayam Yadav's SP as its ally. As a result, all surveys were predicting the return of the UPA.

Today, however, the situation stands dramatically altered. In UP, the alliance of the Congress with the SP has fallen through; in Bihar, Laloo Yadav's RJD and Ram Vias Paswan's LJP have ganged up and thrown the Congress out; in Jharakhand, the JMM has called off its alliance with the Congress leaving it lonesome; in Tamil Nadu, the PMK has crossed over to Jayalalithha's AIADMK, leaving the Congress and DMK gasping for breath; in Andhra Pradesh the Satyam scandal has damaged the Congress, as has the emergence of Chranjeevi with his new Prajarajyam Party; in West Bengal, although the Congress has got into an alliance with Mamata Banerjee's TMC and is contesting in 12 seats, it is not likely to increase its tally beyond the six seats it got last time; in Assam the coming together of the BJP and the AGP is going to hurt the Congress, as is BJP's alliance with the INLD in Haryana.

As far as the BJP led NDA is concerned, it has lost the BJD, TMC, the AIADMK, the TDP and other smaller allies, although it is the loss of the BJD that may hurt it the most, going by the last election results. It is to be seen how much benefit accrues to the party by its new alliances with the AGP, the INLD and Ajit Singh's RLD which is strong in Western UP.

The net upshot of all these developments is that the allies of the Congress are convinced that the party is going to emerge much weaker after these elections. The BJP too will struggle to improve its own tally by much. The latest survey carried out by DNA partly reflects the changed situation. It gives a tiny edge, for the first time, to the NDA over the UPA, 178 to 175. A survey commissioned by the BJP projects that the BJP will get 160 seats against 135 of the Congress, the tally for the NDA and UPA being 217 and 180 respectively; the NDA, though ahead, still remains adrift of the half-way mark by more than 50 seats.

This why the real IPL T20 tournament being played in UP assumes so much of significance.

In the last elections, the Left emerged as the largest group after the UPA and NDA with 60 seats, followed by Mulayam Yadav's SP with 36, Laloo Yadav's RJD with 24, Mayawati's BSP with 19 and Karunanidhi's DMK with 16. The Left has consistently refused to be a part of any government and, in fact, did not allow Jyoti Basu to become the PM of a United Front government in 1996. This time, however, it has indicated that it is not averse to accepting the top job, should the newly formed Third Front emerge as the leading contender after the elections; Comrade Prakash Karat is ready and eager to wear the crown. Mulayam Yadav, Laloo Yadav and Mayawati have also never concealed their Prime Ministerial ambitions and are sniffing a clear opportunity this time.

If the Congress emerges weakened after the elections, then there still might be a UPA government but its present and likely allies will not allow the PM to be from the Congress. That is the whole game-plan behind Laloo's Yadav's sudden turn and Mulayam Yadav's clever overtures to the Congress mixed with tough demands, even as he readies to take it on in UP. Thus, unless the NDA emerges with even more than the 217 seats the BJP believes that it will bag, the Prime Minister's chair is up for grabs, be it a UPA or a Third Front government that manages a post-poll victory. And the one who will get it will most likely be the one who has the highest number of MPs after the Congress and the BJP.

The Left, as per indications available now, will not be able to repeat its performance and may, therefore, may not be in the running for the crown that it should have worn in 1996. Mayawati has since the last elections managed to emerge as the biggest party in UP, thanks to some great social engineering. The Congress has been sliding badly in the state, the latest evidence being it getting just around 2000 votes to emerge seventh in the Bhadohi Assembly by-election held recently. The SP too is not as strong as it was and the BJP is also in a similar boat.

In UP, therefore, a gain of 20 seats will make Mayawati the top contender for the job with a tally of 39. A gain of 20 seats for the BJP from its previous tally of 10 will put the BJP-led NDA within striking distance of the half-way mark. A loss of 20 from the 36 seats that it got last time will destroy all of Mulayam Yadav's bargaining power and dreams of becoming the PM. For the Congress, an addition of 20 seats to its dismal last score of seven, will ensure that there will be no real challenge to it leading the UPA with Dr Manmohan Singh back in the saddle.

The stakes in UP, therefore, are so high for all the four main players there that any significant development that can dramatically alter the outcome in this state could well make or mar their aspirations at the national level.

The twists and turns of the Varun Gandhi episode, if seen in this light, begin to make a great deal of sense. His infamous speech, given to a few party workers, would have died unnoticed under normal circumstances. But, for the Congress, looking desperately for an issue to get back its Muslim vote bank that Mulayam Yadav had poached, this anti-Muslim speech was a heaven-sent, even if somewhat doctored, opportunity to tell the Muslims of UP that only the Congress was capable of protecting their interests; therefore, they had little choice but to vote for the Congress alone. Perhaps that is why the media and the Chawla-impacted Election Commission went nuts, thinking they had got the BJP's nuts and Muslim votes. Those vital 20 additional seats that were looking impossible to get seemed suddenly within reach.

The BJP, on the other hand, after the initial confusion caused by the media onslaught, thought that it too had got a issue, raked artlessly by a Gandhi and fanned recklessly by the Gandhis, that could get back its brahmin voters who had deserted it for Mayawati, plus some dalits and Yadavs voters too. All of a sudden, 20 additional seats were no longer a distant dream. So, it backed Varun "conditionally" and quietly organised the great surrender drama in Plilbhit to make him look like a great Hindu martyr. It is the BJP now, more than the Congress, that wants to keep the issue alive and the media frenzy about Varun going.

Mayawati was initially not inclined to give the Varun CDs any importance, knowing fully well what the game-plan of the Congress was. But when the issue continued to hog the limelight and it appeared that Varun Gandhi was rallying most Hindus behind him, she slapped the NSA on him. That, she thought would silence him and limit the erosion of her upper caste voters. More importantly, by acting so tough in a manner that no one else would have dared, she reckoned that she would also win over the Muslim voters of Mulayam that the Congress was looking for. That was all that was needed for her to strike those vital 20 extra seats, may be more.

Mulayam Yadav did not give any importance to Varun Gandhi to begin with, alive to the dangers he posed to his party indirectly. But when he saw that impressive "surrender ceremony" with a huge crowd turnout, he saw his 20 seats being taken away. So, he panicked and accused Mayawati of being in league with the BJP, an accusation he continued to make even after the NSA was invoked by her. Essentially, he is trying to tell his Muslim voters that they would do well to stay on with him; he is the only one they can trust, the others are just playing games to con them.

The latest is that even the D Company has joined battle. As per the police of BJP ruled Karnataka, Chhota Shakeel has given a "supari" for Varun Gandhi and Pramod Muthalik. Five of his operatives who had been told to kill Varun have been arrested. The UP police moved Varun from Pilbhit it to Etah late last night apparently for security reasons, after being informed by its Karanataka counterparts. But today, alive to the political impact that this news might have in polarising Hindu votes, it has denied that there is any threat to him.

This T20 tournament is sure heading for a great climax. At stake is the PM's Chair. The next six weeks, till the last match is played on May 13, are going to see many more dramatic twists and turns that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats 24/7. Is any team going to win or lose those vital 20 seats, or is it going to some sort of a tie? A huge audience is already hooked to what many people initially thought was going to be a dull, issue-less election.

No matter who wins or loses, the media is going to emerge a winner. And you and I are going to have a great time!

UPDATE 8:43 PM

Things are really moving. News is coming in that Sharad Pawar, who has entered into an alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra, sharing the 48 seats 22:26, is going to share a platform with Prakash Karat and Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar tomorrow. He has already said that Dr Manmohan Singh is the candidate of the Congress, not the UPA. Pawar clearly wants to see the Congress get weaker. One can be sure that his NCP voters are not going to vote for Congress in the 26 seats that the party is contesting in Maharashtra. This means that the Congress will not get the 13 seats it got last time or even the 10 projected in the TOI survey.

The slide of the Congress, at this rate, may well turn out to be some sort of an all India rout by the time elections are held. Voters sometimes do not bet on a horse that they know is going to lose. If the BJP does not benefit from this, then that T20 tournament in UP will be decisive.

The real IPL T20 is on in UP! -2
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Readers may also read:
1. The Varun fiasco: Congress scores another self goal
2. Rahul, Varun and the politcs of hate
3. Say sorry to India Varun
4. Marginalisation of the Congress gathers momentum
5. It's a two-horse race to Race Course road