Dear Atal Behari Vajpayee,
Your partymen are celebrating your election victories in three major states Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, and claiming it points to victory in next years general election. Dead wrong. The real message from voters is that you are in danger of losing the general election, not winning it.
Some of your colleagues believe that the BJP is enjoying a wave of popularity, and so want an early general election. In fact your party has lost so many state elections so often that any talk of a wave is pure delirium.
Till the latest elections, your party ruled only in three states ( Gujarat , Jharkand and Goa ), a pathetic performance. If indeed state elections are a guide to a general election, then you have no hope at all, since the Congress still controls 12 states and you control only 6.
There is no pro-BJP wave. Rather, we have further confirmation that incumbent governments tend to be voted out. What is called the anti-incumbency factor is more properly called the misgovernance factor.
The quality of governance continues to be so poor that, save in exceptional circumstances, the incumbent government gets voted out. Gujarat re-elected its ruling party in the exceptional communal climate following Godhra.
Delhi re-elected its ruling party because of exceptional performance, exemplified in the Delhi Metro.
Elsewhere, whether your party lost (as in Himachal Pradesh) or won (as in the three big states last week), people voted against the incumbent government.
Now, yours happens to be the incumbent government in New Delhi . You can hardly claim that the quality of governance nationally is exceptional. So, as the incumbent, you are in deadly danger. Don\’t even think of any early election. Savour your current term to the last possible day. It may be your last ever.
Pundits favouring early elections say that you should not take a risk with the monsoon. The country enjoyed a very good monsoon this year, and agricultural production and employment have boomed.
So why not go for an early election instead of waiting for your term to end next September, ask the pundits? Why take the risk of going to polls after another monsoon, which may fail?
The answer is that the current round of state elections has just disproved the electoral importance of the monsoon. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh are all rain-fed states, where the monsoon matters hugely.
The bumper monsoon was supposed to translate into bumper votes for the ruling party, the Congress, in all three states. In fact the party lost all three states by large margins. It won only in Delhi , an urban state where the monsoon does not matter at all.
It is not my case that the monsoon is completely irrelevant. Rather, what matters far more is the quality of governance. And that has been dealt a cruel blow by the last Pay Commission award, which has bankrupted all state governments and destroyed their ability to finance development. A greater portion of state revenue than ever goes to service old debts and pay salaries.
After that, very little is left for purposive development. Digvijay Singh and Gehlot tried to overcome the fiscal bind by resorting to innovative schemes of decentralisation, which were widely praised in the press. These, alas, proved insufficient to overcome the effects of an empty treasury.
Sheila Dikshit also resorted to decentralisation, empowering neighbourhoods to collect garbage and have a say in municipal planning. She took credit for building several flyovers.
Yet flyovers are insufficient to win urban elections, as MK Stalin can tell you from his Chennai experience. Indeed, a fast-growing vehicle population means that traffic moves more slowly in Delhi despite new flyovers.
The one thing Sheila Dikshit could truly boast about was the Delhi metro, which has been built to schedule and without gruesome traffic interruptions, as was the case for the Calcutta metro.
However, the Delhi metro is actually financed by your government at the Centre. Delhi state by itself could never have produced the cash needed for such a big project. It is ironic that the one project which your government can really be proud of has ended up benefiting the Congress.
In sum, your big victory in the state elections does not provide much comfort at the national level. The mood is anti-incumbent. So, expect to see your shares of votes (and seats) fall in the coming general election.
Despite this, you may still come back to power. In many states, the main foe of regional parties is the Congress.
These regional parties would prefer to ally with you. You could win fewer seats than the Congress and yet return to power because you are a more attractive coalition partner. This, rather than any pro-BJP wave, is your main advantage.
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