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India: Congress reduced as a minor party, BJP growing nervous

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It appears, the neutral Tamil voters without party affiliations and who had earlier voted for any party just freely: either AIADMK, or DMK or Congress or BJP or some other parties in order not to waste their franchise, now seem to think favoring the newly formed PWF, making it to emerge a strong coalition to take on the ruling AIADMK and leaving the DMK-Congress stay far away.

These neutral voters would welcome the emergence of People’s Welfare Front (PWF) as a genuine party to work for the welfare of Tamils and the state and as such consider the Vaiko-Vijayakanth led coalition as giving to public a natural hope of popular identity and real progress.

The arrival of the DMDK led by the matinee idol in Tamil films Vijayakanth to align with PWF led by Vaiko has not only considerably strengthened the coalition, but also annoyed DMK and BJP – both were eager to get Vijayakanth to their side to be used for elections and thrown out after the poll, sooner or later. BJP as a genuine people’s party with similar ideology, is worst affected by Vijaykanth’s decision to join the Vaiko’s PWF

Not only the Hindutva BJP but even the Congress party, abandoned by the ruling AIADMK, is placed much better than BJP in Tamil Nadu is now reduced to be a minor player in the ongoing poll scenario.

Worse, having been kept away by two major Dravidian parties AIADMK and DMK, the BJP which declared it would form government in the South Indian state for the first time is nowhere in the picture.

In fact, the BJP is the now worst affected, rather “betrayed” party as not only Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi but even Vijayakanth could not trust its hidden agenda as part of Hindutva ideology. Politicians in Tamil Nadu, who had earlier promoted the Hindutva party for their own marginal benefits, now, after knowing that BJP has used them to increase its vote banks and seats in the state, is fully aware of poisonous BJP agenda and have distanced themselves from the BJP. In fact BJP has no real partners to get votes while those that have nowhere to go for alliance have decided to transfer their meager votes to BJP which makes no difference to the emerging poll equations in the state.

Earlier BJP had no presence in Tamil state and no seats in the TN assembly as Tamils did not like the party but later BJP floated a proxy Hindu Front in Southern part of the state in Kanyakumari district and won an MLA seat from Padmanabhapuram constituency – a traditional Congress (Kamaraj faction) and communist fort but BJPs’ propaganda machinery succeeded in poisoning the Hindu minds, winning the seat. BJP applies the RSS formula to catch the Hindu attention by insulting Muslims straight from the public platform. The policy of Islamophobia and terrorization of Muslims simultaneously worked well as a usual powerful strategy for the Hindutva party as it began getting party cadres to work for an overtly Hindu party and increase Hindu vote bank. Later, BJP’s alliance with AIADMK and DMK alternatively at state level helped it increase its vote share as well as seats in assembly; it even sent MPs to parliament. Today the Modi government has a minister representing Kanyakumari district who had won the seat by its alliance with DMK. BJP would fear that it would lose its place in the state soon.

The two main Dravidian (DMK and AIADMK), national (Congress and BJP) and Left (CPI and CPM) parties have watched helplessly as a string of Tamil nationalist and caste-based parties ate into their vote-shares but sought to make amends by co-opting them through electoral alliances. Though the Narendra Modi wave of 2014 saw the BJP-led NDA create a powerful third alternative, the coming together of the BJP, Vijayakanth’s DMK, S Ramadoss-led PMK and Vaiko’s MDMK has also unraveled.

Earlier, Congress, ruling the Centre, used DMK and AIADMK alternatively for electoral gains. BJP also used the same strategy to but increased its presence in the state. The Congress’s decline that began in 1996, after the split and the formation of the Tamil Manila Congress by Mooppanar, eroded Congress base in the state and it has continued unabated in the ensuing two decades. Though the BJP made some gains in the 1999 and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it can be safely said that national parties, including the Left, which was the main Opposition party in the 1950s before the ascent of the DMK, have lost the plot in Tamil Nadu. However, the party has retained some seats in the assembly.

Though the Congress was ousted from power in Tamil Nadu in 1967, it has, for the larger part of subsequent decades, been a significant political presence in the state. The Congress contested alone in 2014 and secured just 4.3 per cent of the vote share and drew a blank. After it gave up ambitions of retaking Tamil Nadu on its own steam, the Congress reconciled to playing second fiddle to the two main Dravidian parties through an arrangement where it cornered a lion’s share of the Lok Sabha seats. Both the DMK and AIADMK were keen to woo the Congress, mindful of its stature at the Centre and its power to dismiss democratically elected state governments under the much-misused Article 356 of the Constitution.

The Congress is now truly a shadow of its former self. The DMK, even while renewing ties with the Congress, was keen on enticing Vijayakanth and offering him a significant share of the seats. However, Vaiko, a former firebrand leader of the DMK who was expelled to make way for Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin, making him ‘rise’ politically to replace his father in due course, has kept the idea of the third alternative alive through the People’s Welfare Front, which includes the Dalit party, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Kachi (VCK), the Left parties, and now the Vijayakanth’s DMDK also.

Between 1977 and 1999, both the DMK and the AIADMK aggressively pursued alliances with the Congress. This resulted in a situation where the Congress won 14 out of 15 seats it contested in 1977; 20 out of 22 in 1980; 25 out of 26 in 1984; 27 out of 28 in 1989 and all 28 seats it contested in 1991.

The Congress under Rahul Gandhi launched a talent search across Tamil Nadu to rope in youngsters but the plan fell flat in the absence of a concrete political agenda for the future. The BJP in Tamil Nadu has also offered little beyond the tired slogans of Hindu consolidation. An AIADMK win in 2016 will not signify the consolidation of political space, but the fragmentation of its bipolar politics.

The charismatic leaders like MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi on the one hand and competitive populism on the other have shaped the agenda of the AIADMK and the DMK. The newer Dravidian parties have also imitated this strategy of leader-centric parties and populism. More damagingly, they were quick to enter into alliances with the DMK and AIADMK, and are no more seen as credible alternatives.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s remark that the Congress has been reduced to playing a tail-ending role to regional parties rings true in the context of Tamil Nadu. Its southern ally, the DMK, is hesitant to part with the 63 seats that were offered to the Congress in 2011. The Congress had come a cropper in that election winning only five seats forcing the DMK to rethink the utility of this alliance in the Lok Sabha elections.

While the Third Front is unlikely to win too many seats, it will snatch away many anti-incumbency votes from the DMK, but a couple of analysts say that might help the AIADMK improve the chances of retaining power.

In order to win the poll against the powerful AIADMK, rhetoric alone may not be sufficient, the PWF has to work more with a proper strategy, get votes of those who think they are unnecessarily supporting the corrupt parties in the state and they must consider a credible alternative to change their fate. People should now know why they should use the poll to change their destiny under threat from the DMK and AIADMK and also Congress and BJP. Vaiko should not miss the bus.

People of Delhi removed both the Congress and BJP, powerful national parties that were ruling Delhi state alternatively, with just one stroke last year and replaced them with a new common people’s party – Aam Aadmi party (AAP). While Congress party which rueld a few term consecutively couldn’t win even one seat in current assembly while BJP somehow managed just 3 seats in the 70 seated Delhi assembly. AAP got a historic mandate from Delhiites for its selfless service to the state.

People of Tamil Nadu can also do the same by choosing the People’s Welfare Party. Yes, why not?

Meanwhile, Dr Ramdoss’s PMK party needs to ponder over its decision to go it alone in the poll. If its key goal in the election is to change the corrupt DMK/AIADMK alternative governments, his party would be able to secure the majority need for a government formation. But by entering into poll alliance with a likeminded PWF, it can achieve it. That would give considerable hopes for other states with corruption index very high to opt for genuine pro-people government. Still there is time PMK for rethoughts!

The poll process in Tamil State has just begun with each party and coalition beginning to screen the candidate for each constituency and choosing the “right” persons for the contest. AIADMK, DMK and PWF seem to have completed much of the selection process, while BJP, still in a state of confusion, stands confused even at this stage.

Whether or not Tamil Nadu would succeed in choosing a truly new party or people’s coalition to rule the state would work for the people – and not for the parties, leaders and families – remains to be seen.

Tamil Nadu requires a fundamental change.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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South Asia

Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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