Are Elections like Poker -Dr S S Mantha

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Elections in Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu are due in a few months’ time. How will the story pan out in time? Will BJP win? Will it make a remarkable dent in the TMC fortunes? Can the incumbent party win in the three states? Equally interesting to see will be the strategies adopted by these parties. Nationalism, Religion, people connect, temple politics, development work have all come to occupy centre stage. These in themselves may not win elections but an innovative strategy that binds them all into an appealing story does.

Four kinds of people make this world. Some are proactive and don’t need anybody’s prodding to get going. Some are active and will follow a narrative. Some are reactive and some inactive. 90% of them however are reactive whose reactions are studied sometimes and contrived most of the times. Political parties too are similar. That most of the opposition parties, are chasing the political narrative set by the ruling party is telling. It defines a steep fall in intellectual capital and values.

When the Chief Minister of Bengal shared the dais with the Prime Minister a few days back on the occasion of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s 125th anniversary, she cut short her speech amidst some sloganeering, allowing the BJP to question her Hindu credentials and her patriotism. Netaji Bose, though from Bengal, was a national leader and hence restraint was needed, but she ended up antagonising a section of people. A better strategy would have been to continue the speech, hail the slogans and the sloganeers, and invoke the tenets of all other religions in the spirit of ‘sarva dharm samabhav’. Reactionary outbursts can never be productive, for no longer States and Countries are ruled by elected governments, but by their political parties and affiliations.

Whatever be the narratives set, technology will continue to disrupt the engagements. Engaging the public via live video, fact checking before publishing, counting even the younger social platforms, making trusted fund raining efforts, effective dealing with trolls, allowing people their space since not everyone may be interested in politics, consistently asking relevant questions, sharing visual content and posting daily only positive and nonpartisan posts are all good practices every party must follow. The question however, is will they in these charged times?

The opposition parties are on a self-destruction mode. When it is needed that they come together, they seem to be going apart in multiple directions. Ideologically similar parties, if fight as separate entities, will only end up splitting the vote. Parties like AIMIM are rising too. Is it a reaction or a challenge to subtle polarisation? The division of votes they caused was there for all to see in Bihar elections. Similar can happen in other States as well going to polls in the next few months. While some ideological polarisation can happen in all societies, the ambitions of individual leaders can drown them all. One only needs to widen the cracks so blatantly visible, to win.

BJP has a great advantage of being in power at the centre. They therefore set the narratives the way they conceive and execute plans. Be it the massive network they command, which extends right up to the last mile or the financial meat they enjoy, they are in an unenviable position and can defeat any dispensation however tightly knit. Add to the might, their success stories and benefits of development to various sections of the society, they become invincible. Further, a very charismatic leader, who could probably win ‘everything under the sun’ as the metaphor goes, binds the people together who swoon at his oratory. An ‘India Today’ survey a few days back gave 327 seats to BJP if the elections were held today. That some old allies have parted ways and yet the party commands the number is truly remarkable. That said, can the leader deliver in the three states that go to polls?

A meticulous plan put in place a year ago, is being executed in all the three states. In Bengal, nine districts, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Kolkata, South 24 Parganas, Bardhaman, Birbhum and East Medinipur delivered 19 of 22 seats for the Trinamool Congress which translated into 138 seats or two thirds of the TMC tally in the last assembly election held in 2016. This time round, each MLA and MP of these places switched sides. BJP’s studied onslaught and raw power is awe inspiring. TMC may react saying the leaders were of no consequence. Would the replacements be as effective as the originals in an anti-incumbency State? The strategy should have been to see the storm winds and make amends rather than react in a petulant way, for TMC has everything to lose and BJP has everything to gain

The INC car has been hurtling toward a cliff edge in Assam. Having lost out to BJP the last time round, they will need to reinvent themselves. Their strategy must be disruptive innovation if they have to make a dent in the BJP citadel. Their aligning however, with AIUDF and four other political parties is neither disruptive nor innovative. The BJP strategists are promising no flooding and no infiltration if they return to power. It certainly will be great if they achieve even half of what is promised. Earthquakes, landslides, Bank erosions, manmade dams uphill, some of them in China, encroachments, and a nonstarter of a project to dredge almost 900 km, cause floods in Assam. How rational then, that Assam flooding can be stopped? Even the promised industries in their last sojourn have not been forth coming. Modi charisma will need to bail them out this time notwithstanding a great move of honouring a deserving Tarun Gogoi with the second highest civilian award of the Country.

Tamil Nadu is a unique case with two major groups DMK and AIADMK vying for the spoils. Both of them seem to be going nowhere with no public or a charismatic figure to handhold. Rajnikant factor is a nonstarter though his tacit support could tilt the balance. Kamalahaasan factor can be disruptive. In this melee, BJP would look to make inroads into the southern state which has never been theirs. They will need the indulgence of one of the Dravidian parties to succeed. AIADMK has been flexing its muscles without its ear to the ground. The mystery will only get more intriguing with Sasikala out of the prison. Will the AIADMK split with one part aligning with her? Will DMK too split around the Alagiri axis? Whom will the BJP align with for a share in power? Will someone engineer a third front with both the Dravidian breakaway groups invoking Tamil ‘Asmita’, Rajnikant the X factor and Vijay the Dalapathy”, in tow? The dilemma for BJP truly is that of a King maker or being the King himself.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.