The 2009 Indian General Elections: A Preview
Crystal-gazing the Indian elections is not an easy task at all. The 2004 General Elections and the 2007 UP elections are indicators of how wrong forecasting can go. Nevertheless, here is my attempt through a less conventional process.
The objective of writing this is to understand what each alliance needs to do to win in 2009. Therefore, I plan to update this forecast as and when notable events happen. At some point in time I hope to convince a few ‘Star’ pollsters I know to contribute as well.
This is an opportune time to forecast primarily because major state elections are out of the way and the next decisive election is the General Elections of 2009.
My forecast is based on a mix of quantitative and subjective data. Specifically, I have considered the following criteria
- Current Seat Status
- Current Assembly balance
- Current and likely alignments (Political, Caste and Religion)
- Subjective evaluation of state and central Governments
To quickly get on with the numbers, my forecast is as follows (applies if the election were held today)
Third Front* - 122+
BJP - 155+
*The Third front includes BSP, SP, ADMK and TDP.
The numbers clearly indicate the interesting situation we are likely to be in 2009. The UPA will be on the edge of a majority but will need all or part of the 3rd front to support. Practically that would mean support from Mayawati’s BSP. In other words, the Queen of UP in 2007 could well be the Queen/Queenmaker of India in 2009. The NDA alliance are not in a positive position as one critical element of the third front- SP are highly unlikely to support them. This being the scenario, let me elucidate what the various parties need to do to win in 2009.
I expect reversals for the Congress in AP, Delhi and Haryana and gains in MP, Gujarat, Orissa and Rajasthan. Overall, I expect the Congress to increase its tally from 142 to 177. This will make the Congress a much more powerful entity within the coalition. However, since the overall alliance tally is likely to remain at or lower than 266, they will need to be dependent on Madame Maya. There is no doubt that providing Maya with any access to the central Government has huge disadvantages. Anybody tracking Parliamentary elections over the years would have notice the rapid consolidation of Dalit votes in favour of BSP across the country. In many seats this would mean defection from voting to the congress. Therefore, the challenge for the UPA and partners in the near future is to take a considered view on who to tie-up with - Mayawati or Mulayam. As they say, between the devil and the deep sea.
In terms of its strategy, the UPA will need to do the following
a. Ensure reduction of interest rates and control inflation for the next 2 years. This will protect it from losing middle class voters in states that still vote Congress
b. Increase the reach of the NREGA to all the districts and clean up areas of deficiencies. During the last 3 years an estimated 16 million families benefited. Now that’s a lot of votes in just 200 districts.
c. The Congress [of late - Ed.] has been largely untainted by corruption scandals. The RTI is a major achievement and the congress should expand RTI to make it even more people friendly. They should consider the option of all Government accounts being available online. This would position them strongly as a ‘clean’ Government. What with Sonia having relinquished the post of PM, the congress will be seen as providing honest and clean leadership. This will ensure high turnouts and some middle class votes
d. Agriculture is a major area where the Congress has mostly failed. It needs to come up with creative ideas to reach out both landowners and labour. I am not an expert here but I guess offering easy credit, education scholarships, launching water and healthcare projects could be of great help. They could achieve great returns if these activities are focussed at swing constituencies (Constituencies that usually having+_5% vote share)
e. One of the pitfalls of being in power for a long time is overconfidence. The Congress should avoid the overconfidence of the BJP Govt in its dealing with allies and instead should look at strengthening its alliance in TN, Bihar and Maharashtra
f. The big states to win for the congress in 2009 are MP and Rajasthan. It is no exaggeration that without campaigning, Congress is still likely to win both these states. Having just argued against being arrogant, I will suggest that the Congress retain its pressure on both Governments in terms of demonstrating their non-performance as well as identifying alternate message(s) to attract voters. All these activities must commence at least 12 months before the election
g. In Gujarat, it would be futile to focus on Narendra Modi. It is a well known fact that muslim votes are in the congress bag, therefore the effort should be on attracting new voters from castes who did not benefit from Modi’s economic policies.
h. As the UP election shows, the appeal of the Gandhi family is not as high as it was 20 years ago. In many ways, the Congress party needs the Gandhi family more than the country does. Therefore, Congress party workers should spend less time hoping for Sonia or Rahul to come to their constituency and instead put in efforts to spread the congress message amongst potential voters
i. Lastly, apart from getting voters to vote it is important for the Congress to ensure most Christian citizens are registered as voters. With an estimated 3-5% of the population, this group can greatly help the Congress cause in 2009
As things stand today, the BJP is heading for a massive defeat in the next election. The party is in a difficult situation for more than one reason. Apart from an insipid leadership by Rajnath Singh, the BJP is in a difficult situation of having its own Governments in many states – Karnataka, Orissa, MP, Gujarat, Bihar and Rajasthan. Non-performing Governments like Karnataka, MP and Rajasthan are a huge liability. These 6 states have more than 170 seats between them and BJP and allies will need to defend more than 120 seats in all these states combined. Only Gujarat and Orissa offer some hope. On the other hand, the BJP has very few states that it can play on to add to its 2004 seat tally. Apart from Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi and Haryana there are hardly any states that BJP can add seats. Uttar Pradesh will be a major play state but the BJP performance will depend on a whole host of facts, some that they can control and some that they cannot.
Here are my recommendations for the BJP.
a. Change in leadership. Get rid of dodgy Grandfathers and get somebody young and energetic. Arun Jaitly is definitely the man to lead the BJP in the 2009 election. He Symbolises energy and will appeal strongly to the average BJP voter
b. Come out with clear cut plans in the next 12 months that will substantially differentiate the BJP from the Congress and allies. Example
a. Offer Tax reductions to the middle class
b. Promise lower interest rates to farmers, home buyers and businesses
c. Offer lower taxes to Small and medium sized businesses
d. Promise larger budgets for Education with a promise to achieve 100% literacy in the 5-10 age group
e. Promise higher prices to farmers for their crops and promise a more effective supply chain for traders
f. Promise doubling transport and power infrastructure to eliminate most transport and power problems across the country during the next 10 years
g. Promise a boom in single bedroom homes across the country through tax benefits to builders and buyers alike
h. With nearly 100 constituencies in Urban areas, the BJP will need to focus a lot of their vote planning effort in these constituencies through some or all of the above messages. However the message is in itself is not enough. The next two years will have to be spent on ensuring that BJP voters have registered and actually turn out on Election Day. That will mean increasing election turnouts from 30-40% in most cities to 50-60%. With a whole host of benefits (mentioned above), most registered voters should definitely turn up
i. Work with all its existing Governments to identify weak constituencies and carry out targeted programs (not symbolic) that will protect them from any swings against the incumbent state Governments
j. The most critical element of the BJP strategy will be to give up the minority bashing that was so successful in the past. Over the last few years, the minority bashing has led to the loss of allies like Chandrababu and Jayalalitha. It is increasingly proving to be less of a vote winner. The disgusting minority bashing in the UP election did not prevent a significant shift in upper caste votes in favour of the BSP. At the end of the day, the BJP can win in 2009 if and only if it is able to create a coalition. It can do that be reducing barriers for parties like TDP and ADMK and reducing the consolidation of minority vote that happens when the BJP goes about abusing minorities
To summarise, the UPA alliance is well positioned to form a Government in 2009. Only a Tsunami like economic or corruption crisis OR an aggressive campaign by the NDA can prevent this from happening
The 2009 Indian General Elections: A Preview
- » Published on June 30, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
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