COVERAGE - India Election 2009

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Jai Ho

Short by 11, UPA confident to form new government

NEW DELHI, May 17: There was a certain smugness about the Congress on Sunday as its top decision-making body met to discuss — and savour — a resounding electoral victory and plan how to make it past the 272 mark.

It also looked in no mood to forgive and forget indiscretions by erstwhile allies Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan. In fact, the party seemed eager to keep them out, or, at the least, make them grovel for forgiveness.

There is also a strong view in the party against any association with the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the evening. The SP is obviously keen to support and participate in the UPA government.

At 261, the UPA needs 11 seats to reach the simple majority mark. Party leaders believe they will get there with the help of independents and less troublesome smaller formations.

The issue of alliances did not figure in the morning meeting of the core group that includes Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

But at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) later, Digvijay Singh, who is in charge of the UP wing of the party, and Ashok Kumar, special invitee to the CWC from Bihar, strongly argued for “no truck” with Lalu and Mulayam.

The party was reviving in UP and Bihar, they argued, and a tie-up with the SP and RJD would undo that. The party should focus completely on getting better in the two states.

Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmad Patel made a gesture to Digvijay Singh to take the floor. Then Gandhi asked Kumar for his views on the matter.

Kumar spoke about how Lalu blamed the Congress for the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.

While Lalu or Mulayam or Paswan may not have applied formally or informally for induction into the UPA or its government, the Congress has decided to take a call on them after discussions with it pre-poll allies.

And they are Sharad Pawar’s NCP, M. Karunanidhi’s DMK, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference.

“We will have consultations with our pre-poll allies,” said spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi.

The Congress Parliamentary Party will meet on Tuesday to choose Manmohan Singh as its parliamentary party leader and Gandhi as CPP chairperson.

Though much would depend on when the Lok Sabha is constituted and when President Pratibha Patil invites Manmohan Singh to form the government, the swearing in is likely on May 20 or May 22 (the day he took oath five years ago).

The cabinet will meet on Monday after which the prime minister will go to meet the president to submit his resignation. Patil is likely to ask Manmohan to continue as caretaker PM.

On Monday evening, the Election Commission will submit the list of members elected to the new Lok Sabha.

Congress-led UPA bounces back to power in India

NEW DELHI, May 16: India on Saturday delivered a resounding verdict for stability giving the ruling Congress-led coalition five more years to rule the world's largest democracy with economist Manmohan Singh at the helm.

As the Congress party was poised to win 206 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, confounding all expert predictions, Manmohan Singh appealed to all political parties to support his "secular goverment".

Even as the politically underrated Manmohan Singh, equanimous in victory, spoke at the 10 Janpath residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, thousands of frenzied supporters shouted slogans, danced and exploded firecrackers on the streets.

"We have an obligation to the people of India to provide a stable and secular government," he added, underlining the two core themes that helped the Congress retain power in one of most fiercely fought electoral battles since independence 62 years ago.

Saturday's thumping victory was widely credited to the unassuming Manmohan Singh, who only five years ago propelled to the top post after Sonia Gandhi refused the prime minister's job. With this, Manmohan Singh has achieved the distinction of becoming the first prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to be returned after completing a full term in office.

The Congress sweep surprised foes and friends. It shocked the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had hoped to return to power after a five-year gap, and also the Communist-led Third Front and groups that had ditched the Congress at the eleventh hour.

At end of day, the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) finished with 163 seats -- far less than the Congress individual tally and also far below what they had won in 2004 and, as party general secretary Arun Jaitley said, "below our expectations".

The Third Front, made up of the Communists and regional parties, was crushed, marginalising politicians who had till this morning nurtured fond hoped of dislodging the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The verdict, which followed five rounds of elections in April-May involving over 420 million voters, gave the Congress an overwhelming say in the multi-party UPA, reducing many of its troublesome partners to virtual non-entities.

The Congress, India's oldest political party, pulled off a spectacular revival in Uttar Pradesh, estimated to get 22 of its 80 Lok Sabha seats, three more than the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Chief Minister Mayawati who found her national dreams dashed - at least for the moment.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) was slated to get 23 seats in a result that was seen to be influenced by the tireless efforts of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress also improved dramatically in Kerala, where the party-led UDF had just one seat in 2004, by winning 16 seats and virtually decimating the Left Democratic Front.

The four Left parties, which managed only 24 seats overall, a sharp fall from its 2004 tally of 60-plus, also got a drubbing in West Bengal where the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine got 25 of the 42 seats.

In a dramatic turnaround for the Left parties, which till 24 hours earlier were expected to play a key role in government, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat admitted Saturday that it had suffered "a major setback".

"The CPI-M and the Left parties have suffered a major setback in these elections," he said, reading out a prepared statement. "This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party's poor performance."

The Communist Party of India (CPI), India's second oldest party, was expected to win just four seats -- its worst showing since the country's first general elections of 1952. CPI's D. Raja admitted: "We need to do some introspection."

The BJP was also forced to concede defeat. Its prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, who won Gandhinagar in Gujarat by over 120,000 votes, called Manmohan Singh to congratulate him. There were reports that a humbled Advani was planning to quit politics and had offered to step down as Leader of Opposition.

"The UPA has come out as the biggest alliance, so the mandate is in their favour. The BJP accepts this mandate of the people with full respect," Jaitley said, while refusing to point out the exact reasons behind the party's poll debacle.

The DMK, a key Congress ally that was predicted to do badly because of its belated response to the Tamil humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, did well to come on top in Tamil Nadu, which accounts for 39 valuable seats. DMK leaders said voters had not been swayed by emotions raised over the war against the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which only in March divorced the BJP after 11 long years, swept Orissa. In Andhra Pradesh, actor Chiranjeevi's newly formed Praja Rajyam Party put up a strong showing, undercutting both the Congress and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party.

The Congress swept Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab in the north. It also had the upper hand in Maharashtra along with the NCP.

The BJP was on top in Karnataka and in Bihar with its ally the Janata Dal-United (JD-U).

Among the prominent candidates set to get elected to the 15th Lok Sabha were former UN under secretary General Shashi Tharoor, central ministers Kamal Nath and Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress, BJP president Rajnath Singh, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and Janata Dal-Secular leader and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Amongst those who lost were Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who was a union minister for steel, and fellow union ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar and Renuka Chowdhury.

Mandate rejection of caste politics, communalism: Rahul

SULTANPUR, May 16: Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said his party's victory was a rejection of politics of caste and religion and acceptance of "clean and honest" politics symbolised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

However, he parried questions on his joining the Cabinet which the Prime Minister had earlier in the day said he would like.

At an impromtu interaction with the media here, Rahul complimented BJP leader L K Advani on giving a "strong fight" in the Lok Sabha polls but said he differed fundamentally with his politics of "changing the secular traditions".

"This election is a testament of the fact that the youth of the country wants unification and believes in clean and honest politics that is what Manmohan Singh embodies," Rahul said.

He said he was happy that the "young and poor people" of the country have given the mandate.

Asked whether he would join the Cabinet, Rahul said: he has a job to help the youth of the country.

"I want to say that youth should come to politics and should change the way the present politics functions. I have got a job to do to help youth of this country," he said.

To a question whether his party got more seats because of his efforts, Rahul said: "People of Uttar Pradesh have rejected the politics of caste and religion and voted for development."

Asked whether the credit for party's victory should go to him, he pointed to his sister Priyanka standing by his side who said the full credit should go to Rahul.

However, he added that "One cannot do it on his own. If one has to achieve anything in life it has to be a team effort. Team work is important. The 100 per cent goes to our team."

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi retained the Amethi seat defeating his nearest rival BSP candidate Ashish Shukla by a margin of over 3.7 lakh votes by

Rahul Gandhi secured 4,64,195 votes while BSP candidate Shukla polled 93,997 votes.

Manmohan to remain PM: Congress

NEW DELHI, May 16: Congress on Saturday made it clear that Manmohan Singh will lead a government led by the party as promised during the campaign,scotching speculation on its prime ministerial candidate.

Addressing the press at 10, Janpath in New Delhi, party president Sonia Gandhi said that Manmohan Singh remains the party’s choice for heading the next government. She said the verdict reflects the wisdom of the Indian voter, who “always make the right choice.”

PM Manmohan Singh said he would try to persuade Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi family, to join the cabinet after the ruling Congress-led coalition's win in a general election.

"It is my wish that he should be in the cabinet. But I will have to persuade him," Singh told reporters.

Earlier, AICC media department incharge Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters here when asked who will lead a Congress-led government at the Centre: "Manmohan Singh is our PM candidate and he will become Prime Minister.

On projection of Rahul Gandhi as a candidate for the prime minister's post, Dwivedi said. "the PM's chair is Rahul's future and he is the future leader of the party.

"It depends on Rahul when he will desire and when such a situation will arise. But as of now, Rahul has other priorities," he said.

He also gave full credit to the 39-year-old scion of Nehru-Gandhi family for the party's unexpectedly good performance in Uttar Pradesh.

"It is just the beginning", he said and predicted the end of communal and castist parties in the future.

With the Left parties suffering a setback in their bastion West Bengal, the Congress hoped that they "will introspect whom they will remain with" and play a "different" role.

Rahul has all 'qualities and capabilities' to be PM: Scindia

NEW DELHI, May 16: Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia today said Rahul Gandhi should be the Prime Minister as he has all the "qualities and capabilities".

"I am not undermining anyone but I am saying that Rahul Gandhiji should be Prime minister. He has all the qualities and capabilities...he has actually shown that in this election...," he said.

When asked whether Manmohan Singh should resign and Rahul become PM, he said: "I never said that. I said that it is not the aspirations of the Congress party alone, aspirations not only of the youth of the country but all people of the country that he should get to the helm."

He said his maturity, his farsightedness and his political astuteness that he has shown in the last five years was exemplary. "That is the kind of leadership that this country was searching for."

Making it clear that it was his personal opinion, Scindia said: "Manmohan Singhji is the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress party and absolutely once again will be the prime minster of the country. You asked for my personal opinion and I gave you my personal opinion."

Batton of power may soon pass to Rahul

NEW DELHI, May 16: The Congress Party's victory in general election may see the baton of power soon passed to Rahul Gandhi and now tipped as a future prime minister.

While 76-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to stay in office, it is the 38-year-old bachelor who is being talked about as Congress's leader-in-waiting, bringing the same draw to Indian politics as a young Kennedy does in the United States.

"Voices are already there. It's a question of time," senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh told local television when asked about Gandhi's future as leader.

Like the Bhuttos of Pakistan and the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka, dynasties that have dominated South Asian politics since independence from Britain, Gandhi's name brought crowds and publicity.

"You cannot keep the Gandhi family away from Indian politics," said Congress supporter Avinash Chaturvedi as crowds let off firecrackers and played drums outside the party's headquarters.

"Rahul Gandhi has surprised everyone and this result proves his huge popularity ... The party is now reaping the reward."

In this election, the Congress party youth leader had put his reputation on the line, criss-crossing India by helicopter.

His refusal to allow Congress to ally with many regional parties in northern India despite pressure from senior party officials appears to have paid dividends. He insisted Congress should fight alone, free of compromises with regional chieftains.

Gandhi sees himself as a democratic reformer among the elderly politicians, using tech-savvy blogging and texting to win over the 100 million first-time voters aged between 18 and 24.

His boyish looks may have won over many voters in an election in which the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was led by the 81-year-old L.K Advani.

Over the last year, Gandhi has made well-publicised visits to poor villagers, often staying the night in farmers' homes under the glare of camera lights.

With the prime minister undergoing heart surgery in January, many Indians feel Gandhi will replace Singh sometime in the next five years.

Gandhi is not without his detractors. A few weeks ago he was being slammed for what was seen as a lacklustre campaign.

Critics say the political freshman is too young to deal with complex problems like Pakistan, and that as a member of an elite family he was disconnected from much of India.

But his mother Sonia Gandhi, Congress party head and India's most powerful politician, has helped push him to the forefront.

Unlike many Indian politicians, he has time on his hands.

"India is a young country. What India youth wants is empowerment," he told reporters after one campaign rally.

"We are not going to see it after three months, but give it seven years," he added, referring to the rise of a new generation of younger politicians in the Congress party.

Trinamool-Congress alliance pays dividends: Pranab

KOLKATTA, May 16: West Bengal Congress chief and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said the alliance between the Trinamool Congress and Congress had paid dividends with the people positively responding to it.

However, he refused to describe the election results as an expression of people's "no confidence" on the ruling Left Front government.

"This is not an Assembly election, but Lok Sabha poll. I am not saying the results showed people's no-confidence on the LF government."

Coming back to the alliance, he said, "People of the state wanted this alliance for the Lok Sabha polls and they have responded positively to our fight in the election together," Mukherjee told the news agency over telephone.

On the verge of his convincing win in Jangipur constituency for the second time in a row, Mukherjee said, "We formed this alliance to honour people's expectations. People have positively responded to it."

Not fighting poll in alliance with Cong a big mistake: Lalu

PATNA, May 16: After a dismal showing in Lok Sabha polls, RJD president Lalu Prasad on Saturday said not contesting elections in alliance with Congress was a "big mistake" and the people of Bihar had "rejected" the Fourth Front.

"The decision to contest elections without Congress on our side was a big mistake and I acknowledge it. However, it is a matter of great happiness for me that the UPA is all set to form its government at the Centre," Prasad told reporters while reacting to the poor performance of Fourth Front.

Prasad said RJD would continue to be part of UPA.

"Our relations with the Congress remain as they were before the polls."

"It is true that the Fourth Front comprising RJD, LJP and SP has been rejected by the people of Bihar. I humbly accept the people's verdict and vow to continue to work for the betterment of the state," he said.

The RJD chief said he would review the reasons for the defeat and the leaders of the Fourth Front would meet in Delhi on Sunday to discuss their future course of action.

He, however, did not agree with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's argument that it was a positive vote for the state's NDA government's development agenda.

"In electoral politics, it is not always development that fetches you good results. At times the politicians sit atop the ship and at times are down in the sands," he said.

Asked what role he saw for himself now that RJD and Fourth Front were decimated in Bihar, Prasad, who retained his Saran Lok Sabha seat, said, "I am strong enough even when alone. I have been fighting for Bihar's cause and will continue to do so".

He described Nitish Kumar's insistence on special status for Bihar as an "eyewash" and said when the Rabri Devi government sought it during NDA regime at the Centre, her demand was rejected.

EC to meet Prez on Monday to submit full list of LS members

NEW DELHI, May 16: The Election Commission will formally submit the list of newly-elected Lok Sabha members to President Pratibha Patil on Monday since the new House is constituted by the Election Commission which does that job within two to three days after the results are declared.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan official said the three-member Commission headed by Navin Chawla and comprising S Y Quraishi and V S Sampat will call on the President at 6 PM.

The President will make the customary address to the first and brief joint session of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha marking the beginning of the new House.

Before convening the new session, the President will administer oath to pro-tem speaker, the senior most among the elected members, for swearing-in of new members.

Indian President has a plan, if elections throw split verdict

NEW DELHI, May 14: Twenty two months after Pratibha Devisingh Patil stepped into Rashtrapati Bhavan and history books as India’s first woman President, she is up for her first big challenge: choosing India’s next Prime Minister.

And it is likely to be a tough first test. All major and minor exit poll results announced on Wednesday were similar: no clear winner; get ready for a hung House.

Rashtrapati Bhavan officials suggested that she was already on the job.

“The President is closely observing the pre-election scenario… she is taking note of the media reports,” Officer on Special Duty at the presidential office, Archana Dutta said.

“She will hold consultations with legal and constitutional experts at an appropriate time.”

Government functionaries familiar with the line of thinking at Rashtrapati Bhavan suggest that the single largest political party — rather than the largest pre-poll alliance — may get the first offer to form the government.

But it will be a week or so before she is called upon to take a call. The results will be known on Saturday and then it would be another two or three days before the Election Commission formally closes the election process. For now, Rashtrapati Bhavan is hoping that when the votes locked away in the 12 lakh electronic machines are counted this Saturday, they deliver a clear verdict.

But India hasn’t seen a single political party getting a simple majority of 272 seats, or close, in two decades.

Patil already has a bunch of papers that tell much the same story. And how her predecessors dealt with the situation.

When faced with a hung parliament in 1989 - the first - President R Venkataraman sounded out the Congress, the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. But Rajiv Gandhi knew that the Congress would not be able to muster support and declined. The offer went next to VP Singh, who formed the National Front government with support from the Left and BJP.

Shankar Dayal Sharma followed the same principle when he invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government as leader of the single largest party in 1996. Unlike Rajiv Gandhi, Vajpayee took up the offer, but failed to get the numbers. This turned out to be the shortest central government ever.

It was in this backdrop that K.R. Narayanan set the precedent in 1998 - he stuck to it in 1999 too - that required claimants to the prime minister's seat to produce evidence that they could provide a stable government.

Narayanan believed the president had "full discretion" in appointing the prime minister. So he introduced the practice of issuing detailed communiqués to explain the reasoning of his exercise of discretion.

There is no clear view at Rashtrapati Bhavan if Patil should stick to this precedent and ask the largest party to produce evidence of support from their coalition partners.

Though the Congress too had submitted letters from supporting parties before Manmohan Singh got a formal invite from President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2004, a strong case is being made out for the President to not get into counting heads. She should instead ask the Prime Minister to take a floor test.

Lok Sabha exit poll puts Congress-led UPA ahead

NEW DELHI, May 13: The curtains came down on the staggered Lok Sabha elections on Wednesday with millions of Indians voting peacefully in the fifth and last round covering 86 constituencies, and the first exit polls putting the Congress-led coalition on top of a fractured verdict.

Even as both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed they would finish as the number one, an India TV exit poll telecast after balloting ended said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) could end up with 195-201 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha.

This tally could go up to 227-237 if the seats bagged by estranged allies such as Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party were to be included. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was tipped to bag 189-195 seats and the Third Front 113-121 seats, it said.

But political leaders and analysts kept their fingers tightly crossed, with the expected cliffhanger verdict forcing both the Congress and BJP -- the two main contenders for power -- desperately scouting for new allies. As the voting progressed, some parties switched loyalties, making it one of the most difficult electoral battles to predict.

Election officials estimated that some 55 per cent of the 714 million electorate - which is more than the combined population of Russia and the US - had voted over five phases starting April 16. The result will be known on Saturday.

Wednesday's polling was overwhelmingly peaceful but for the murder of a political worker in Tamil Nadu and clashes in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, two key states whose outcome will have a bearing on government formation in New Delhi.

The exercise involved all 39 seats of Tamil Nadu, all four seats of Himachal Pradesh and all five seats of Uttarakhand besides two in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 11 in West Bengal and 14 in Uttar Pradesh besides one each in Chandigarh and Pondicherry.

The most notable of the 1,432 candidates included Home Minister P Chidambaram of the Congress (Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu) and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee (South Kolkata).

Fearing uncertain times, Indian markets turned edgy on Wednesday, with a key index losing 138 points from its last closing figure at end of trade. The 30-scrip sensitive index of the Bombay Stock Exchange opened at 12,201.93 points and fell 138.38 points or 1.14 per cent from Tuesday's close.

"I'm fully confident that a BJP-led government will be formed at the centre. We will get new partners (after the polls)," BJP president Rajnath Singh said confidently. Within hours, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh asserted that his party would occupy the number one slot.

Not to be left behind, the Third Front - made up of the Communists and regional parties - announced they would meet in New Delhi Monday to decide the future course of action. The meeting would be attended by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is widely expected to win around 40 seats, said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and a key mover behind the Third Front.

With neither the UPA nor NDA expected to cross the magic figure of 272 in the Lok Sabha, the Congress and BJP tried to outsmart one another in order to woo leaders of smaller and regional parties.

AIADMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha, a key Third Front partner, said in Chennai: "There are feelers from many places. I am not responding to them now. Everything depends on the results. If the results are as expected, then I will go to Delhi."

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who in 2004 pulled off a coup by most unexpectedly worsting the BJP-led alliance in general elections, Wednesday telephoned estranged ally Ram Vilas Paswan after a fire in his house which adjoins her own in the heart of New Delhi.

Elections to the 15th Lok Sabha got off to a violent start April 16 leaving 19 people dead in coordinated attacks by Maoist guerrillas during the first round of balloting. The rest of the polling days were, however, largely peaceful.

Tamil Nadu to bowl deciding final over

By Kamesh

NEW DELHI, May 10: The Indian Political League is poised for an exciting last over decider by Tamil Nadu poll result. What ever be the permutations and combinations discussed by media, particularly the electronic channels, the formation of new government seems to be largely dependent on the outcome of crucial Tamil Nadu polls scheduled for May 13.

In 2004 also, the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu swung the fortunes in favour of UPA despite the media hype about BJP’s impending victory. This is so because, the electorate of this Southern state always gave a one sided result defying the poll predictions.

The emotional, hyper reactionary and decisive voter will never express his/her preference before hand. That is why almost all poll surveys in earlier elections could not capture the under current.

In the present election, the Srilankan Tamil issue and the role of LTTE have been debated by the media extensively indicating a pro-AIADMK swing.

However, the reports suggest that basic necessities like power, water and employment opportunities are the deciding factors for the voter’s preference and not the fate of LTTE or Pirabhakaran.

There is no doubt that the DMK alliance which swept the polls last time is facing anti-incumbency. The question is to what extent? Is it sufficient to blank the ruling alliance or are we going to witness a split verdict? perhaps for the first time in Tamil Nadu elections.
There is no doubt that Karunanidhi continues to be popular leader. But the performance of his government in the state and corrupt image of his ministers at the centre are crucial factors seriously impacting the poll outcome.

Congress has much more higher stake in the state as it is now contesting 16 seats as against 10 seats won under Karunanidhi’s tsunami in the last elections. Jayalalitha very carefully crafted the alliance (PMK, MDMK and Left) and is poised to reap rich harvest in the polls.

With national parties banking on two Dravidian outfits, the fate of Congress is in the hands of DMK’s performance. Only silver lining for Congress is presence of Ghulam Nabi Azad as general secretary in charge of the state for congress.

“Azadu” effect brought congress party to power in 2004 when Congress trounced TDP in a landslide victory in Andhra. Can this lucky Muscat of Congress repeat the trick in Tamil Nadu?

The possible scenario after polls will be: In case the AIADMK alliance sweeps the polls, the present combination of UPA (INC, DMK, NCP, TNC, JMM, NC, Muslim League, Kerala congress and RPI(A)) and NDA (BJP, Shiv Sena, JD(U), SAD, INLD, RLD and AGP) may end up with 176 seats each (a tie). The third front and fourth front will garner 137 and 36 seats respectively. Then it will be any body’s game.

In case the DMK alliance sweeps the polls, then the present UPA will get 216 seats while NDA ends up with 176 seats. With third and fourth front not in contention, the UPA is expected to form the government with ease.

The third scenario which is uncommon for Tamil Nadu is a split verdict. In this case, we assume that DMK alliance gets 14 seats and AIADMK alliance will manage 25 seats. In this third scenario, the UPA may get 190 seats while NDA 176. With the support of Fourth front (RJD, LJP, SP and PRP) and Left, the UPA may form the government.

In any case, the NDA forming the government looks distant possibility. Of course, politics is an art of possibilities. We never know. The last over will be bowled by Tamil Nadu voters to decide the winner in the Indian Political league 2009.

* Kamesh is a freelance journalist

Rahul tries to strike a chord with Ludhianvis

LUDHIANA, May 9: The All-India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, who came to the city to campaign for party candidate Manish Tewari tried his best to strike a chord with the locals. He not only used the Punjabi religious slogan but also raked up local issues to seek votes.

Addressing an impressive rally at the grain market near Jalandhar Bypass, Rahul started his speech with “Wahegur Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.” The audience went berserk after hearing this.

In his speech, Rahul tried to touch the pulse of the city by raking up the city-specific issues including the Buddha Nallah. Making a special mention of the pollution caused by the Budha Nallah, Tewari promised that the Centre will ensure that the drain gets cleaned and Ludhianvis get a healthy environment.

The AICC General Secretary said the UPA government led by Dr Manmohan Singh had given a grant of Rs 200 crore to Ludhiana under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNURM). He regretted that thousands of crores granted by the central government remained unutilised due to the sloth and inefficiency of the state government.

Rahul Gandhi also urged people to send Tewari to the Parliament as he was young. Listing out five young leaders contesting from Punjab, he said, “The composition of the new government would be entirely different and it is your responsibility to make these young leaders win,” he said. He added that to make India strong, “We need young and dynamic leaders.”

The rally was also addressed by the party general secretary and in charge Punjab, Mohsina Kidwai and the working president of the PCC, Lal Singh.

Congress had hired famous Punjabi singer Babu Mann to entertain the audience till the time Rahul arrived at the venue. Mann belted out his popular numbers to keep the audience glued to their seats. As soon as Rahul climbed the stage, he was honoured with a turban and a sword.

Rahul Gandhi’s long term strategy unveiled

By Kamesh

NEW DELHI, May 6: The battle for 15th Lok Sabha elections is heading for an exciting finish with no clear winners. With the Congress and BJP are fighting to hold their ground, the regional parties are sensing an opportunity for enhanced bargaining power if not dreaming formation of government themselves with outside support from Congress or BJP.

If we consider the statements made by Rahul Gandhi at the press conference in Delhi on Tuesday with a pinch of salt, it is evident that Congress is looking for a long term solution than finding out allies for heading an unstable government.

Whether it is a pre planned idea or by compulsion, the “Ekla Chalo” strategy of Congress in UP and Bihar seems to have worked to some extent of rejuvenating the cadres in many constituencies. Rahul Gandhi admitted that Congress may get increased vote share in UP but may not be translated in many gains in seats as predicted by senior party leaders or a section of media.

Reports from ground level indicate that Congress is better placed in 12 to 14 constituencies and the overall vote share may increase from the present 12 per cent (2004) to about 19 per cent (2009). For fear of losing power, the old war horses in Congress camp may be thinking of short term solutions by forging alliances with any like minded party, but, the young brigade led by Rahul Gandhi has enough time to strengthen and expand the party base across the country in two to three years.

In any case, in the absence of any visible anti incumbency, if we look at the recent mood and results in recent assembly polls, the Congress may not lose its present position as a single largest party. There will be significant gains in Orissa, Kerala, Rajasthan and Punjab. Marginal improvement is expected in UP, West Bengal and Chattisgarh which can compensate losses in AP, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Assam. The Congress party may end up garnering 155-160 seats.

On the other hand, The BJP strategy of projecting strong leadership and better governance did not seem to have cut much ice with public. The premature projection of Narendra Modi as successor to Advani may allow the allies to drift away from NDA besides giving confusing signals to cadres. The current strategy or not having it shows more frustration than a plan.

The BJP did a mistake of attacking Sonia Gandhi in 2004 elections and paid for it. Advani perhaps committed same mistake now attacking Manmohan Singh who is seen as a moderate and honest leader and middle class likes him.

The global economic downturn squeezed the opportunities to youth in urban areas and the rural economy is throwing up opportunities for investments.

Instead of coming up with better strategies to appeal this section of voters, the strategy of BJP going back to personality bash and Hindutva may isolate the party and ultimately prove costly while cobbling the allies in post poll scenario. Their tally from the current position of 138 seats is likely to dwindle further to 125 seats in the absence of significant improvement in UP, Bihar and Karnataka.

In case of BJP getting below 110 seats, they may finally end up playing the supporting role in government formation by Third or Fourth front. In this scenario, it will be a clash of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi sooner than 2014.

AICC welcomes high-level panel on ‘One Rank One Pension’

By Deepak Arora

Capt Praveen DavarNEW DELHI, May 5: The AICC Ex-Servicemen Department has expressed its deep sense of gratitude to the UPA government, especially the Defence Minister A. K. Antony for constituting a high level committee on the issue of ‘one rank one pension’.

That the committee will have representatives of Ex-Servicemen, besides senior secretaries of concerned ministries, is all the more commendable, according to Capt Praveen Davar, Secretary, AICC Ex-Servicemen Cell.

Capt Davar said the Defence Minister also deserves compliments for taking speedy measures to correct anomalies arising out of the recommendation of the VIth Pay Commission, like pensions of Majors Generals, pay band of Lt. Colonels and lowering their age for promotions to substantive rank. Earlier, the government had announced the setting up of a separate Pay Commission for Armed Forces.

Capt Davar said the morale of both the serving soldiers, with almost three times hike in their pay and allowances, and of Ex-Servicemen, with the latest announcement of a high powered committee ‘for one rank one pension’, has gone sky high and there is tremendous enthusiasm amongst them. With the removal of 33 years conditionality clause all Ex-Servicemen belonging to PBOR category are entitled to full pensions at the rate of 50 percent of last pay drawn.

The AICC Ex-Servicemen Department, which has during the past one month, organized nearly 20 meetings of Ex-Servicemen in Ex-Servicemen dominated districts of the country, has found great support for the Congress amongst Ex-Servicemen who are not going to be misled by the false promises of BJP in their manifesto pertaining to serving Defence personnel and Ex-Servicemen.

At a meeting held in Ludhiana on Monday in which Capt Praveen Davar, Secretary, AICC was the Chief Guest, the 3000 Ex-Servicemen present pledged to support the Congress candidate Manish Tewari as a ‘vote for the Congress is a vote for Ex-Servicemen welfare.’

The Ex-Servicemen are fully aware that the BJP which promised “one rank one pension” in their 1999 manifesto rejected the demand outright in 2003 when it set up an inter-ministerial committee to go into the matter. In any case the BJP’s assurances have no meaning as the party has no chance of coming to power and is making only false promises to garner votes by hoodwinking innocent people.

Take strong action against attackers of Sikhs in Pak: PM

NEW DELHI, May 3: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said India has requested Pakistan to take strong measures to stop atrocities unleashed against a "handful of Sikhs who have remained" in the neighbouring country.

"Recently, you have heard the atrocities being unleashed on the handful of Sikhs who have remained in Pakistan. Indian Government has requested Pakistan to initiate strong measures to stop such atrocities," Dr Singh said in New Delhi.

The Prime Minister was addressing an election rally in west Delhi's Hari Nagar, where a sizeable population of Sikhs reside, wooing voters to exercise their franchise in favour of Congress.

His comments came in the backdrop of incidents of Sikhs being attacked in Pakistan and asked to pay "protection money".

Reports said that Sikhs are being asked to pay Jaziya (protection tax imposed on non-Muslims under Shariah law) and houses of 11 Sikh families were destroyed after they failed to pay Rs 50 million each when the deadline expired on 29th April.

Referring to the lack of peace and stability in India's neighbourhood like Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Dr Singh said India can be affected by these factors and only Congress has the experience to deal with such challenges.

Total TV poll survey predicts 195 seats for Congress

Deepak AroraBy Deepak Arora,

a senior Indian journalist


NEW DELHI, April 14: Total TV, India’s leading private news channel, has predicted a thumping victory for the ruling Congress party at the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Its pre-poll survey gives the Congress a whopping 195 seats and the leading Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), mere 131 seats. In the 2004 Parliamentary elections, the Congress had won 145 seats and the BJP 138 seats.

While most pre-poll surveys by different Indian newspapers and magazines and TV news channels give the national parties seats varying between 110 and 145 with the Congress having an edge over the BJP, Total TV is the only channel that sees major gains by the Congress.

Another survey, conducted jointly by Star News and pollster Nielsen, survey predicts that the Congress, on its own, would win 155 seats followed by the BJP with 147.

While India is set to elect yet another hung parliament, there is little doubt that the Congress party on its own will emerge the single largest party.

While other pre-poll surveys reportedly had smaller size surveys, the Total TV had the largest pre-poll survey done in the history of India. “We have had a different approach. We gave the people of 46 Lok Sabha constituencies translating to over 300 State Assembly seats a ballot with the party symbols and we asked them to vote ‘live on camera’ and these ballot boxes were opened ‘live in the studio’ each day, clearly demarcating transparency in the process,” said Vinod Mehta, Director of Total TV.

Vinod Mehta also claimed that Total TV’s opinion poll was the most scientific. “We took opinion of 3.15 crore voters across 46 constituencies. The outcome is amazing for the Congress party. Besides other factors, one of the reasons for the Congress party doing well is that people want to vote for a national party and Congress has emerged as their first choice," he added.

Over four-year-old Total TV had ventured into the pre-poll survey for the first time during the last Assembly elections held in November last year and it gained appreciation for its accurate predictions for Assembly elections in New Delhi and Rajasthan.

In the current survey, Total TV has projected 22 seats to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh that elects 80 law makers to the Parliament.

The biggest losers, according to Total TV projections, would be the Left Front, as their combined strength would come down to 30 from 58 seats it had won in 2004. It is shown as winning just five out of 20 seats in Kerala and 18 out of 42 seats in West Bengal. The CPM would win 19 seats, CPI Seven and Forward Bloc and RSP two each.

Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh is down to 19 seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party could barely win 17 seats.

Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav may win just 14 seats, the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan only two, Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar may have to remain content with 12 seats while DMK may be down to just nine seats. Trinamool Congress has been projected to get 16 seats.

Left Front appears to be in real trouble as its citadels in West Bengal and Kerala could collapse.

Jharkand Mukti Morcha has been given 4 seats, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) 8; TRS Four; PRP Two; AIDMK 14; MDMK Four; Shiv Sena 14; AGP Five; AUDF One; PDP One; National Conference One; JD (S) Three; Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Eight; Akali Dal Two; and others have been given 10 setas.

State-wise: Bihar: RJD + LJP - 15, JD(U) + BJP - 18, Congress - 05, Others - 02; Uttar Pradesh: Congress - 22, BJP - 18, Samajwadi Party -18, BSP - 17, Others - 04; Jharkant: Congress - 03, BJP - 04, JMM -03, RJD - 01, JD(U) -01, Others - 02; Andhra Pradesh: Congress - 25, TDP -08, TRS - 04, PRM - 02, CPM - 01, सCPI - 01, MIM - 01; Tamil Nadu: Congress - 06, DMK - 09, AIADMK - 14, MDMK - 04, PMK - 04, CPI - 01, CPM - 01; Karnataka: Congress - 10, BJP - 15, JD(S) - 03; Kerala: Congress - 14, CPM - 03, CPI - 02, Muslim League - 01; Maharashtra: Congress - 12, NCP - 10, BJP - 12, Shiv Sena - 14; Madhya Pradesh: Congress - 06, BJP - 23; Chhatishgarh: Congress - 04, BJP - 07; Orissa: Congress - 10, BJD - 08, BJP - 02, JMM - 01; Delhi: Congress - 06, BJP-01; Himachal Pradesh: Congress - 02, BJP - 02; Gujarat: BJP - 16, Congress - 10; Assam: Congress - 04, AGP - 05, BJP - 04, AUDF - 01; Punjab: Congress - 09, Akali - 02, BJP - 02; Rajasthan: Congress - 15, BJP - 10; Jammu and Kashmir: Congress - 02, National Conference - 02, BJP - 01, PDP - 01; Uttrakhand: Congress - 04, BJP - 01; West Bengal: Congress - 07, Trinamool Congress - 16, CPM - 12, CPI - 02, RSP - 02, Forward Bloc - 02, BJP - 01; Arunachal Pradesh: Congress - 01, BJP - 01; Tripura: CPM - 02; Meghalaya: NCP - 02; Mizoram: Congress - 01; Nagaland: Congress - 01; Manipur: Congress - 01, Independent - 01; Sikkum: Congress - 01; Goa: Congress - 01, BJP - 01; Andaman Nikobar: Congress - 01; Chandigarh: Congress - 01; Pudducherry: PMK - 1; Dada Nagar Haveli: Congress - 01; Daman Diu: Congress - 01; Lakshdweep: Congress - 01.

Will Chiru be the King maker in Andhra?

By Kamesh

ChiranjeeviHYDERABADAD, April 28: In Andhra Pradesh elections, if the trends and opinions emerged after the polling are any indication, then only one thing is confirmed i.e Confusion confounded.

As a keen observer of politics, I preferred to visit myself to feel the heat of campaigning in East and West Godavari districts and Hyderabad. At the outset, the state election commission and police force have to be commended for their excellent vigilant acts. The candidates and their campaign managers were seen more alert under the watchful eyes of micro observers at village level which is clearly visible, although money, liquor and biryani were still on the menu in all the places I visited.

The regional media, both electronic and print, were sharply divided on party lines which were never seen before in Andhra politics.

Not convinced by media hype, I dared to feel the pulse from grassroots’ voters. When asked about his preference, a farmer Rajayya in Kanuru village in West Godavari district remarked “It makes no difference for us. All the leaders are same. Chandra babu ruled for nine years, Reddy ran the government for five years. Let us try Chiranjeevi this time.”

However, he admitted that the welfare schemes of Congress government like NREGA, Indiramma and Pension Schemes have benefited villagers. A house wife, Venkamma, in Anaparti, East Godavari district, was enthusiastic about the TDP promise of the money transfer scheme and free television sets.

At least in Coastal Andhra, I found every assembly segment is fought either on caste lines or on candidate’s ability to woo the undecided voters through his “own means”.

While the TDP and Congress cadres were seen working as well oiled machines, there were no visible signs of organized cadres of PRP which is crucial at the time of polling.

Very interestingly, the new player “Lok Satta Party” headed by J P Narayan found many takers in rural areas also. A young bank employee Raju in Nidadavolu wanted to vote for Lok Satta although he does not recall the candidate’s name. It seems that the spirited attack of opposition on corruption issues against ruling congress seems to have benefited Lok Satta Party more than the opposition.

When I visited Hyderabad and neighboring areas on the polling day on April 16, I found majority of middle class, educated women and youth preferred JP’s Lok Satta than the strong parties like Congress, TDP or TRS.

The increase of poll percentage of 3 to 4 per cent in both the phases may perhaps be due to the sustained campaign undertaken by Election commission and NGOs asking people to exercise their franchise and not certainly indicating vote for change in the absence of any significant anti incumbency wave. The real beneficiary of this increased vote percentage is JP’s party and PRP which will get significant vote share but may not get translated into seats.

An Auto driver in Secunderabad Rahim summed up the mood “Lok Satta is a good party but it is a one man show. I can’t trust Chandrababu. I prefer Congress as I don’t want Telengana which will effect my daily living.”

Unfortunately, the other National Party, BJP could give fight only in Hyderabad and to some extent in Visakhapatnam.

Despite confusing signals emanating from the election trends, all the three major parties were seen celebrating their expected victories. The violence in several districts in second phase polling was an indication of close contests in each Assembly and Lok Sabha segment.

The overall scene in 2009 is not looking too rosy for Congress party. The margin of victories will be narrower and PRP will cut into vote banks of both Congress and TDP significantly. With caste factor becoming an important ingredient in polarization of votes, it is hazardous to guess the outcome.

However, with congress contesting all seats, it will be single largest party with about 115-120 seats. The Grand Alliance led by Chandra Babu will gain significantly in Telengana and north coastal belt of Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram, Srikakulam and Krishna districts. The Mahakutami will be in a position to garner 110-115 seats in assembly. PRP will make major inroads in East, West Godavari and Srikakulam districts and Rayala seema. The party may end up with 35-40 seats although the vote share will be very high. We may see Chiranjeevi as king maker in Andhra Pradesh Assembly in case of hung verdict.

In my interaction with average voter, I could find the change of preference for assembly and Lok Sabha elections. For Lok Sabha, Mahakutami will gain in Telengana, Congress may maintain the edge in Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. There is visible cross voting in many constituencies. In any case, Congress tally of 2004 will significantly come down to 18-20 seats. Mahakutami may get 15 and PRP and Loksatta will make their debut with 4 and one seat respectively.

* Kamesh is a freelance journalist

Everybody will have to take Rahul seriously, says Priyanka

RAE BARELI, April 27: Priyanka Vadra, who is campaigning for her mother Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli, said that her brother Rahul Gandhi would have to be taken seriously by everybody in the future.

"Everybody has to take Rahulji seriously. If not today, then tomorrow. All will have to take him seriously," Priyanka said, when asked to comment on Left's alleged remarks that her brother could not become Prime Minister because Congress did not take him seriously.

She, however, refused to react when asked about her cousin Varun Gandhi's remarks that he would like to be known by his work, not by his name.

Sonia asks intellectuals to come out and vote

LUCKNOW, April 25: Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Saturday urged the intellectual citizens of Lucknow to cast their votes as every vote is precious.

Addressing a closed-door meeting to which the media was not allowed, Ms Gandhi, according to Congress sources, interacted with the intellectual citizens of Lucknow on her return from Rae Bareli and urged them not to shun voting.

She said the intellectual class feels a lot for the country and also thinks a lot for the country but when it comes to voting, the class rather shuns it. Hence, they need to come out of the houses and go to polling booths, she added.

During the nearly 40-minute meeting attended by almost 150 people, Ms Gandhi urged the intellectuals to create awareness so that more and more people cast their vote.

During their interaction with Ms Gandhi, the intellectuals requested her to ensure grant of status of central university to University of Lucknow, to which the UPA chairperson assured them she would look into the matter.

The UPA chairperson also got a request from advocates to consult them before any reform or law pertaining to the judiciary is tabled in Parliament, said the sources.

Filmmaker Muzaffar Ali was also present in the meeting.

Rahul Gandhi emerges as lead Congress campaigner

NEW DELHI, April 21: Rahul Gandhi may have ruled himself out as a contender for the Prime Minister's job, but he has turned into Congress's chief campaigner,taking much of the burden off his mother, party chief Sonia Gandhi.

By the time campaigning came to a close on Tuesday for the second phase of the general election, Rahul Gandhi was on the verge of a personal milestone: he had already addressed 65 poll rallies.

The youthful Congress general secretary is all set to crack a century when the remaining stretch of the electioneering is completed in the middle of May.

It is a big change since last year's assembly elections when he still came across as tentative and at the most evoked curiosity. If there are no last-minute cancellations, Rahul will have addressed 86 election meetings by April 27. Clearly, he is the lead campaigner of his party, taking much of the burden off Sonia Gandhi.

Though Sonia is travelling all over the country, Rahul's mobility is much higher.

"He plans his programme meticulously and is addressing four election meetings everyday on average," an aide said.

Since the campaign took off, Rahul has logged an estimated 50,000 poll km hopping from one part of the country to another.

When he campaigned in some of the states for the assembly elections six months ago, according to an observer, he came across as an "idealistic do-gooder".

Now being projected by his party as part of a troika along with PM Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, he is a more mature campaigner, attacking the opponents and giving short shrift to estranged allies.

Congress insiders ascribe this `coming of age' to his intense work with the youth and students as the party functionary handling the affairs of the Youth Congress and NSUI.

Over the past few months, he has conducted elections for the office-bearers of these two party wings in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Gujarat. His idea was to "reopen the door of the party to those from ordinary homes". In the process, he gained in grassroots experience.



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