Ahead of the elections in five states, some pollsters have predicted BJP win in key states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan while some forecast a Congress victory. Going by the recent electoral history, the Congress should hold its horses. The party lost Gujarat despite a high voltage campaign giving BJP a run for its money.
In Karnataka, its performance was below expectations as the BJP managed to recover some lost ground in the final leg. It will be daft to believe that the huge anti-incumbency against BJP will automatically propel Congress to power in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Since 2014, the BJP has crafted a multi-pronged election strategy that includes propping up independents as dummy candidates and funding splinter parties that can chip away the rival votes. In Gujarat last year, the Congress lost as many as 16 seats by thin margins of 200-2000 votes. “Vote katwa” parties played spoilsports in over a dozen constituencies; for instance, in Godhra the BSP candidate polled 898 votes and the Congress lost by 258 votes.
Of the 182 seats in Gujarat, the BJP bagged 99 and formed the government while the Congress and allies won 80. In the absence of “vote cutter” parties, the Congress could have bagged a dozen more seats bringing the BJP tally down to 87. The BSP contested 138 seats, polled just 0.7 per cent votes and drew a blank. NCP was in fray in 57 constituencies, won a solitary seat securing a measly 0.6 per cent votes. The Aam Aadmi Party tried its luck in 30 seats, got 0.1 per cent votes and lost deposits in all but two constituencies. And to cap it all, some 700-odd independent were in the fray, majority of them allegedly funded by cash-rich BJP.
In the 2008 Madhya Pradesh elections, the NCP had contested three seats and drew a blank forfeiting deposit in two and yet, undeterred by the pathetic show, it contested 72 seats in 2013, secured 0.3 per cent vote share and lost deposits in all damaging Congress prospects in some constituencies. Last month, defying logic, Pawar’s party announced that it will contest over 200 seats in MP. It has till date not released the list (perhaps some bargaining is on). In 2013, the NCP contested three out of the 90 seats in Chhattisgarh, secured 0.52 per cent votes and drew a blank. Defying logic, the NCP has now fielded 28 candidates.
A third front headed by former CM and renegade Congressman Ajit Jogi and BSP chief Mayawati is expected to make BJP’s job easier as it bids for the fourth consecutive term in office. Apparently, astute political animals like Pawar and Mayawati are trying to contain Congress in these states so as to constrict the Grand Old Party’s pan-India clout for post 2019 manoeuvres.
In Rajasthan, the BSP fielded 195 candidates and won three seats securing 3.37 per cent votes five years ago; a week ago the party said that it will contest all the 200 seats in the State. A third front called “Rajasthan Democratic Front” comprising the CPM, CPI, CPIML, Marxist-Communist Party of India, RLD, JDS and SP has been floated “to defeat” the BJP but it is also likely to end up helping the saffron party by splitting secular votes. In 2013, the CPM polled 4.46 pc, the SP 1.40 pc, CPI 1.47, JDS 0.39 pc, RLD 0.32 pc and the CPIML 0.65 pc votes and none won a seat. Call it height of megalomania or audacity, these parties (that collectively polled less than nine per cent of votes), have declared CPM leader Amra Ram as their CM candidate. The BJP is facing rebellion in its ranks as Hanuman Beniwal, a Jat leader and legislator, who quit the party to form Rashtriya Loktantrik Party plans to field candidates in all the seats. Another BJP rebel and MLA, Ghanshyam Tiwari, has also floated an outfit called Bharat Vahini Party to contest the polls.
Over the years, parties and independents seeking to contest the polls have mushroomed. Many of them are in the fray not to win but either to defeat or help a particular candidate for pecuniary or ideological considerations making a mockery of parliamentary democracy. Six national parties, 54 state parties and 1650 unrecognised parties and 3100-odd independents had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but candidates of only 36 parties got elected (of which 12 parties bagged just one seat each) and hundreds of others polled laughable number of votes.
A party called Jaganmay Nari Sangathan got 226 votes. A few years ago, an exasperated Election Commission tried to weed out “non-serious” parties and candidates proposing an amendment to section 29A of the RPA Act, 1951. “The section suffers from certain looseness by which just about any small group of persons, if they so desire, can be registered as a political party, by making a simple declaration under section 29A(5) and this has resulted in mushrooming and proliferation of a large number of non-serious parties, which causes a considerable systems load in the management of elections,” lamented then chief election commissioner T S Krishna Murthy in a memo to the Prime Minister.
He said these candidates put avoidable stress on the management of elections, expenditure on security, balloting units of voting machines and law and order. “This tendency of small groups of individuals, who have no serious interest or desire to contest elections, should not easily be allowed to get the official stamp…hundreds of candidates file nominations with the intention of upsetting the election process…” the Commission said.
The government, however, did not take any serious action. In the vitiated atmosphere, the only solace is that the vote cutters and independents cannot play spoilsports if there is strong wave for or against a particular party or front. However, in the waveless elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, they could queer the pitch for the Congress.
Kay Benedict is an independent journalist.