The Battle of Seventy Chairs

Dilli shahar. Legend has it that it was inhabited three thousand years before Christ although it became the capital of modern India only about a hundred years ago in 1911. An inscription from the era of Emperor Ashoka (273-235 BC) was found in 1966 near Srinivaspuri, which means “the place where God resides.” It’s close to where I went for math tuition. Today, 11 million people live in the city making it the second most populous in India. These people are divided into 70 Vidhan Sabha constituencies. A few hundred people and three major parties will aspire to rule Delhi for the next five years, although the last government only lasted 49 days. That is less than the duration of ten fully played test cricket matches. Less than a day per member of the Vidhan Sabha.

The Delhi junta will go in to cast their votes on the 7th of February. Its a Saturday, my favorite day. The Delhi winter will be on its way out and I can imagine a day of mild sunshine with the subtle promise of spring. Polls are showing that people are likely to choose between the BJP and the AAP with the Congress lagging far behind. In the previous elections in December 2013, the Congress lost 35 of its 43 incumbent seats. An 81% decrease. The last time I saw an 81% decrease was when my friend had to repeat class XI.

Campaign strategy has been interesting. The AAP has pursued an aggressive campaign led by party convener Arvind Kejriwal both on the ground and social media with an agenda consisting of corruption in the power sector, resettlement of displaced colonies and a dialogue on health and education. No mention of Lokpal. The BJP seems ambivalent about wanting to ride the Modi wave in Delhi. In a dramatic tweak in strategy, they have brought Kiran Bedi into the fray as their candidate for the Chief Minister position. Kiran Bedi has exalted the “leadership qualities” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in her move to join the party. In another exciting election development, Shazia Ilmi who had previously defected from the AAP following their abysmal showing in the Lok Sabha elections has joined the BJP proclaiming that “it is time to go beyond identity based politics.” AAP member Vinod Kumar Binny who had become disgruntled with the party earlier has also moved to the BJP along with former Congress party minister Krishna Tirath. On another note, composer Anand Raaj Anand has also joined the BJP. Remember the song Maahi Ve with Malaika Arora rocking the poles? That was him.

To counter those acquisitions by the BJP, there is movement the other way into the AAP. For example, Ved Prakash who is contesting the elections in Bawana on an AAP ticket, was earlier a member of the BJP. Other examples include S.K Bagga (Krishna Nagar) from the Congress, Kartar Singh (Chattarpur) from the BJP and Sharad Chauhan (Narela) from the BSP. The AAP is fielding a candidate in every single constituency. The Congress party has released 49 names and the BJP is yet to release any.

The stage is set for a showdown in Delhi. A win for the BJP will give them unprecedented authority in the country and a win for the AAP will create a counterpoint to the Narendra Modi government at the center. A win for the Congress will create history of a different sort by putting most pollsters out of business. Exciting times lie ahead.

Saif Ali
Team Netapedia

The 64th Republic Day of India

As we have just set up the New Year calendar of 2013 neatly on the tabletop, it’s already the time of the year when we look forward to celebrate the 64th Republic Day of India. Of course, the routine celebrations at the Rajpath would be the highlight of the day, but a concerned crowd would expect a meaningful speech from the President of India. With the end of an eventful year in the world of finances, business and politics it was also a year full of social turbulences causing resentment and deepening anxieties in the people. This year will seek answers, settlements, overhauling of the system, above all, a clear conscience of the gigantic political establishment.

This feature of Netapedia would take you through the pages of 2012, deduce the implications and gradually forecast 2013 through the binoculars.

The Highlights of 2012:

1. The Triumphs: In the last year, Pranab Mukherjee walked the red carpet to India’s highest office on 25th July, 2012 as he was crowned the 13th President of India. In Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party carried the chief ministerial baton in March 2012 who is largely seen as the game changer in UP politics. An exuberant Narendra Modi proved that he rules the hearts of Gujratis by his historical win in the Gujarat election polls for the third time in a row. When Vijay Bahuguna was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand on March 13, 2012 he became the first ex-high court judge to be sworn in as a Chief Minister. Prakash Singh Badal sworn in as the Chief Minister of Punjab and Virbhadra Singh as the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh for the fifth time. Manohar Parrikar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the smallest state of India, Goa.

2. FDI In Retail: The government has managed to successfully navigate the most recent crisis created over allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail trade. On 7 December 2012, the Federal Government of India allowed 51% FDI in multi-brand retail subject to approvals by individual states, confronting a massive repercussion from the opposition lawmakers who had kept the Parliament paralyzed for days till the Speaker agreed to admit the motion to discuss the issue, demanding the government to roll back its decision on allowing FDI in retail. Even the Trinamool Congress pulled out of the UPA in September 2012 opposing the decision to give the green signal to FDI in multi-brand retail, reduction of subsidy in cooking gas and rise in diesel prices.

3. Hike in Fuel prices: With pressure from global rating agencies such as Fitch and Moody’s and to tackle the 5.3 percent fiscal deficit which has been looming large the prices of both petrol and diesel were raised significantly over the year. Experts had varied reactions to this move. While some were of the opinion that it will put too much pressure on the economically underprivileged sections of the society others felt that giving subsidies on the non renewable fuels is just not right for the country in the long run. It is still to be seen that whether there would be further rise in fuel prices in 2013 and what impact do these current rises have on the country!!

4. Railways Passenger Fare hikes: The railways witnessed a hike in fares after a decade. Dinesh Trivedi, who presented the railway budget proposing the hike, in March 2012 had to resign following backlash from his party. After the resignation the hike was rolled back for all except for those travelers who travelled in ac compartments. Mr Trivedi’s party finally left the UPA Government in Sep 2012. Subsequently Pawan Bansal, the current railway minister effected the across the board hike in passenger fares in Jan 2013 citing the fiscal condition of the railways as was cited by Mr Trivedi.

5. The Coalgate Scam: CAG alleged that the government should have auctioned the coal blocks to the private and public sector companies, which would have brought more money to the government coffers than the process they actually adopted of constituting a screening committee who would pass or reject proposal on the basis of a set criteria. There were both opinions and counter opinions for the CAG claim. It can be said that though the Government may not have made an actual loss of 1.86 lac crore in the grand scheme of things but there can be no denying the fact that a more transparent and stringent process should have been followed in allocating this important natural resource. (More can be read about this here

6. Aam Aadmi Party: Activist Arvind Kejriwal opened several cans of allegations against Nitin Gadkari, Robert Vadra, Salman Khurshid blaming them of being involved in corrupt malpractices. In his political feat, he launched political party in Delhi naming it Aam Aadmi Party 26 November 2012, a decision which led to a parting of ways with his mentor, Anna Hazare. The party’s vision is to realize a dream of Swaraj that Gandhiji had envisaged for a free India — where the power of governance and rights of democracy will be in the hands of the people of India.

7. Direct Cash Transfer Scheme: The Government of India pushed for its ambitious direct benefits transfer (DBT) scheme throughout 2012 rolled out in 20 districts on January1,2013 is said to be a ‘game-changer’ with regard to governance and the way the government provides subsidy to people. The mandatory pre-requisites for the beneficiaries to avail the cash transfer scheme are to have an Aadhar number and a bank account. However there are still concerns left over the full proof preparedness of the government functionaries for launching this scheme. (The details about the scheme can be read here

8. The Delhi Gang rape: The gang rape that took place in Delhi on 16 December 2012 of a 23-year-old female in a bus, shocked India and lead to public outcry against the convict. This horrific incident galvanized an entire nation into a flurry of protests and demands for justice. The victim succumbed to injuries on 29 December, 2012 in a hospital in Singapore. It has become the wakeup call for the whole society as it has thrown a socio-cultural question, questioning everything from our collective mindsets, law and order situation, safety measures etc. The government is in the process of formulating regulations to make India a safer place for women.

What to look forward to in 2013:

1. Union Budget 2013-14: As the Government begins to prepare for the upcoming elections next year, with formulating the Union budget, the FM has been instilling a lot of confidence in not just the markets but investors as well. Adding that this year’s Budget will be a responsible one, the FM is positive that next year’s fiscal deficit target will be lowered to 4.8%. While keeping a firm focus on economic revival, fiscal consolidation and boosting India’s allure as an attractive investment destination we expect P Chidambaram’s first budget (in the current government) will see a stable tax regime, more reforms, and better fiscal management in the budget for 2013-14. It is also left to be seen that whether UPA’s last budget before the 2014 elections would be a populist budget or will the Government’s primary focus be on continuing with the reforms measures it has initiated. Overall the country will be looking forward to a budget which would be able to achieve the golden double of bringing the economy back on track and being popular with the masses.

2. Assembly Elections 2013: A total of 9 states (Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, NCT Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh) are going to polls in 2013. The parties of these states are toiling hard, as it would be a precursor for the 2014 general elections and whosoever wins these will have stronger chance of winning the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

3. The Prime Ministerial Candidate for 2014 elections: By the end of 2013 it will be amply clear who all will be vying for the position of the Prime Minister of this great country in the 2014 elections. Will it be the recently appointed vice president of the Congress party, the current leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, the current Chief Minister of Bihar, the Chief Minister who won the Gujarat Assembly Elections third time in a row, the current Finance Minister of India or someone else altogether whose name might not be making the rounds as of now, this only time will tell!

One factor which is worth a remark is the way we have stood against the odds wearing different colours of skin, caste and creed. A wave of awareness has touched upon the crowd of the country that shows we are now, a concerned lot. We care for the way we are being treated, having a better understanding of ourselves, we are empowered to make changes and to build on the areas of strength as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements. But isn’t it for us to think why we need multi billion dollar scams, gruesome incidents to unite and why 6000 year old civilization still need shows like Satyameva Jayate!

The year 2013 will be a significant year where the vital assessment and bold resolutions are expected which would determine the India’s future for the rest of the decade. Keeping the spirits high let’s welcome this year with stronger hearts and hope to have a prosperous economy, fine governance and peaceful times.

Wishing you all a Very Happy Republic Day and let us make the largest Democracy in the world, the Democracy of our dreams!!

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Take on Assembly Elections 2012

In the recently concluded assembly elections, five states of the country witnessed the crazy dance of democracy as political parties used everything ranging from the charm of the Gandhi family hierarchy to satirical cartoon characters to establish their vote-bank and satiate their thirst for power. The elections bought a mix of happy and disappointing surprises for one and all.
However, before we get into a detailed analysis of the results, let us take a short de-tour into the basics of the state assembly elections, for the benefit of politically naive individuals.

State assembly elections determine the political party or coalition that will form government at the state level. The elections are held at the state level every 5 years and require loads of prior planning. Just to give a rough estimate, an approximate of Rs. 2000 crore was spent by the election commission and the central and state government agencies alone, on the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. State assembly elections are no less demanding.

For the purpose of assembly elections, each state is divided into several assembly constituencies. These are different and independent of the parliamentary constituency. The assembly constituencies elect the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) at the state level. The number of assembly constituencies in a state is decided by the number of existing seats in the State Legislative Assembly. While this is so, the division is based on several factors such as geography of the areas, population, etc. Accordingly, electorates vote in their respective constituencies and winning candidates (MLAs) represent their constituency at the State Legislative Assembly (or the Vidhan Sabha). The Chief Minister is then elected by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding an assembly majority.

So far, so good. Now let us move on to a deeper analysis of the facts and figures for the assembly elections in the states of Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Goa.

The first reward for the Election Commission who umpired the gigantic exercise came in with the percentage of polling in most states registering above the existing maximum. While Punjab saw an increase of 3.57% in the number of voters casting their ballot from the previous highest of 75%, in Uttarakhand 67.22% of the state population had exercised their franchise, another highest for the state. While Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand witnessed unprecedented polling percentages breaking all historical trends, Manipur failed to do so and saw around 80% voters as against 84.7% in the 2007 assembly elections. Yet, in view of the emergent violence, this percentage seemed good enough.

Owing to several complaints about proxy voting and consequent confirmation of such ill practices, the Election Commission was forced to consider re-polling. Accordingly, re-polling was ordered at 67 polling booths in 5 cities across the state and was peacefully concluded almost a month after the assembly elections. Congress proved the analysts wrong with a simple majority win in Manipur who predicted otherwise. With a clear win in 42 constituencies in the 60-member assembly, the ruling party now remains undefeated for the third consecutive time.

In what turned out to be a close contest between the ruling alliance and the Congress party, SAD-BJP alliance safeguarded its government against incumbency disadvantage in Punjab winning in 68 out of total 117 Assembly seats while Congress managed to win 46 seats. While several Congressmen dreamed of dislodging the BJP rule in the state with the well-established anti-incumbency habits and polling analysts largely predicted the same outcome, SAD-BJP alliance has now broken the jinx.

In a neck-to-neck battle in Uttarakhand, Congress won 32 seats of the total 70 seats, where as the BJP followed closely with 31 seats.

All efforts of The Congress to establish some hold on the nation’s most politically significant state have been undermined as the Samajwadi Party led by the Yadav father-and-son duo broke through seemingly impenetrable barriers and gained a simple majority to form government all on its own. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been voted out bagging a win in just 80 constituencies while SP sweeped over 224 seats emerging as a single largest party in the Uttar Pradesh. Akhilesh Singh Yadav is all set to be coronated the youngest chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The shameful defeat of Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the long considered ‘crucible of Indian politics’ might have far-reaching effects on their hold at the Center. In face of the disastrous defeat after the highest polling percentage of 60% in the most populous state, several have opined that the national government could cripple.

In what may be a big setback for the ruling Congress party, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to form its government in Goa having bagged 21 while Congress lags far behind with only 9 seats. Goa, this year, recorded the highest polling percentage of 82.8% as against the previous highest percentage of 70.51 in 2007. While Congress attributed this phenomenal increase in the polling percentage to its good governance and positive campaign; it has instead proved to a good omen for BJP and an indication of the dissatisfaction and complete rejection of the ruling Congress government by the public. Looks like the Congressional confidence has been miserably shattered.

In view of three resounding defeats for Congress, and re-assuring victories for the Opposition, several analysts have expressed concern that governance at the center is bound to get more difficult. Many believe that the mythical Gandhi family charisma will no longer work for Congress. While experts differ on the impact that the election results will have on the budget session and other aspects of the economy, Netapedia invites your analyses of the elections, winning strategies that emerged dominant, flaws and fallacies of political parties or future impact of the results either in terms of comments or blog entries.