Thus spake Democracy…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 2:34 PM

The election drama that began a few weeks back when the poll dates were announced by the EC ended in a fitting climax today. The Indian voter came out to vote and made his voice heard. In an India of rickety coalition politics, the voter braved the scorching heat to decisively vote for a stable government.

Stability was the keyword that was reflected in today’s verdict. While psephologists across the board were busy churning out unsure numbers, the voters stunned them all by passing a near-majority verdict in favor of the UPA. The Congress in alliance with its partners (DMK included, SP excluded) closed at the 261 mark, just 11 seats short of a simple majority. Most exit polls were proved wrong with Congress garnering 206 seats alone and emerging as the single largest party.

Game changers and Surprises

Tamil Nadu
The southern state that had expected to see a resurgence of Jayalalitha’s AIADMK lost ground to Karunanidhi’s DMK yet again (once before in the assembly elections). The victory added a major number of seats to the UPA’s kitty. Jaya’s hopes to be a kingmaker in central politics were rudely shattered. As was the three-woman-syndrome.

Uttar Pradesh
Behenji Mayawati disappointed with a weaker than expected show in the state. Placed behind Congress and SP, her party BSP failed to garner any major seats in the 80-seat state. With misplaced Prime-Ministerial ambitions, seems Maya overlooked the essentials of winning on home turf. Her extravagant birthday ‘bash’es only made things worse. The three-woman-syndrome was further weakened. Congress on the other hand, managed to gain equal footing as Mulayam and Maya. Its decision to go it alone in the state seemed to have paid off. No castles in the air, here. The UP verdict was a rightful slap on the face of regional politics.

West Bengal
We saw the Left biting dust with the Trinamool-Congress alliance racing past them to gain major seats in the state. Karat and Yechury’s Third Front lost ground with this defeat. Congress must be patting its back for staying put with Mamata Banerjee in the race. Seems at least one lady out of the three-woman-syndrome managed to play well in the battlefield.

Kerala, usually an alternate swing state, swung in the direction of Congress this time. Shashi Tharoor won Thiruvananthapuram with a heavy margin. The Left front bore hefty losses. Although also facing Assembly elections, the results there were slightly different.

Compared to last time, the Congress gained almost 16 seats in this 25-seat state. With a tally of 20, it lost only 4 seats to the BJP (17 down from last time) and 1 to an independent. This was a tectonic shift that contributed to swinging the scales in the direction of the UPA at the centre. The result was much in line with the Assembly elections last year where Congress had displaced Varundhara Raje’s BJP government and made heavy gains.

Astounding as the result was, the Congress swept all 7 seats in Delhi this time. From amongst the winners, Kapil Sibal and Sandeep Dikshit registered the largest margins of victory from their Chandni Chowk and East Delhi constituencies respectively.

Modi’s BJP won the state, but the difference in seats from the Congress was smaller than what was expected. UPA seemed to be closing in on the NDA in this key state as well. Not a spectacular landslide as was projected by many psephologists.

Madhya Pradesh
A scene similar to the one in Gujarat played out here. BJP won the state but the actual margin of victory was narrower than what had been projected by several political commentators.

Other states

Naveen Patnaik’s BJD swept this state, both in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The BJP paid heavily for its disassociation with Patnaik. In Orissa, it was almost a one-man spectacle.

Another one-man show state, Nitish Kumar reined major power here by winning 32 seats (12 of the BJP) out of the 40 available in this state. Lalu and his supposed ‘Fourth Front’ faced a serious browbeat. Last we checked on him, he was regretting his decision to break away from the UPA.

Andhra Pradesh
The Congrees, once again, beat popular sentiment by delivering a better than expected performance in the state by picking 35 of the 42 seats that were up for grabs. Film star Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party also put up a decent show.

Congress was way ahead of the NCP here, something that came as a dampener to Sharad Pawar and his Prime-Ministerial ambitions. NDA only did marginally well than was expected. In South Mumbai, Milind Deora thankfully beat the threat posed by ABN-AMRO’s Meera Sanyal (if you look at the numbers, it was in fact hardly a fight) and registered a clean sweep for the Congress. Priya Dutt also won from Mumbai North Central constituency.

What worked for the UPA?
The obvious answer to this question is its projection of itself as an alliance concerned with developmental politics. With main focus on infrastructure, the UPA won over several hearts by its promises to build the nation. Another factor that contributed to its win was its secular image. Indian voters did not want communal parties to rule at the centre to aggravate an already cumbersome mess created by class politics. Aggressive campaigning by the Gandhi scions also helped the UPA in scoring crucial points. People’s need for stability in governance at a time when grave dangers like volatile neighbors and economic recession were facing the country also compelled voters to turn in the Congress’s direction. Tired of the challenges thrown by coalition politics, the voter recognized the need to vote a national party back in power. In light of BJP’s eroding goodwill, the only sensible option was that of the UPA. Congress also managed to play the NREGS and RTI cards well. Along with these factors, what also worked for this alliance is what failed to work for the other alliances.

What went wrong for the NDA?
The confusion that erupted regarding the Prime Ministerial candidate must have cost the BJP quite a few votes. With Modi’s increasing unpopularity after Godhra, the people got averse to voting for the party with the fear of seeing him occupying the PM’s post. Varun Gandhi’s hate speeches in Pilibhit also corroded the party’s leftover secular credentials. Generally, as well, people refused to vote for the BJP due to its communal image and a no-apology stand regarding 2002. A break up with major coalition partners like the BJD in Orissa also cost the party dear.

What went wrong for the Left and its Third Front?
The flip-flop between offering a non-Congress non-BJP alliance, and also offering any support to the Congress to ‘keep the BJP out of power’, came back to hit the Third Front hard on the face. Never really a force to reckon with, the idea to provide such a front failed miserably when the results were announced. Compared to last time, the Left lost almost half its seats. The unpopularity could be due to the Left’s opposition of the Indo-US nuclear deal and its subsequent withdrawal of support that led to a show of strength. Also the voters this time seemed to oppose any kind of extremist ideologies, left or right.

What went wrong for the Fourth Front?
Lalu-Mulayam-Paswan’s Fourth Front proved to be the ‘shame of the season’ with a dismal tally of 27 seats, as opposed to 64 seats last time (approximate figure, keeping in mind the delimitation changes). In a scenario like this, I am sure the trio must be condemning the day they decided to break forces with the UPA and embark on a political journey with three separate Prime-Ministerial aspirants running amok.

Crux of the discussion: What do the results imply?
All “Prime-Ministers-in-waiting” were shown the dust with people opting for national parties instead of regional ones. The two biggest parties that emerged were the Congress and BJP, much to the surprise of glorified psephologists who had predicted the trend in favor of a hung parliament. The ‘landsweep’ by the UPA proved all conservative estimates wrong. The Congress must be patting its back for going at it alone in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Trinamool and DMK alliance too bore fruit.

The voters were smarter than what we would have thought them to be. Undeterred by showy campaigning, they took the spotlight away from regional players and put it back on national parties. By doing so, they cut oversized political ambitions back to size and ensured stability for the nation. Now, once the UPA is sworn back to power we hope that it delivers on the promises it made in these elections. The people have put immense faith in Dr. Manmohan Singh by voting him back, and what awaits him is the onerous task of fulfilling these expectations. We hope that he has a successful tenure as a re-elected Prime Minister and manages to live up to the task entrusted to him.


Six Degrees of Separation

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 3:36 PM
Aloha everybody!

This place has been barren for so long that I now realize that people will stop visiting it soon if I don’t post something new. What better than a heads up on what I’ve been up to? Currently in Rajasthan with family, your author feels baked like a cookie in the scorching desert sun. Temperatures @ 45 degree Celsius are 7 degrees above normal for this time of the year and I am very certain that global warming is fast catching up. Winters this year were unusually short and the summers are proving unbearably hot (that rhymed!). Anyway, yours truly has never seen warmer years.

Next, a lot of my time is being spent on the two IPLs:
1) the Indian Phoren League and
2) the Inland Political Lacuna.
These are the flavors of the season and I am leaving no stone unturned to get generous ‘bytes’ on both.

Six degrees of separation?
If I could, I would rename it the ‘Two degrees (or maximum three degrees) of Separation’. Beyond that the connection is indecipherable and it’s all a mumbo-jumbo of “face book”ings.

So anyway, this happened when I was traveling back to Jaipur from Delhi in a Volvo last month. The journey is almost 5.5 hours and disinterested as I usually am, I quickly lost interest in my surroundings, and switched on my laptop to play Pacman. After exhausting ten minutes there, my babylike-attentional memory needed a change and I switched to an episode of Prison Break. Ten minutes into the episode, I was starting to yawn (it could’ve been my sloth, or it could’ve been motion), when my co-passenger got inspired and turned on her own laptop. The activity caught my attention and the yawns momentarily stopped. She took out a hard disk (like me), plugged it in her computer and started watching ‘Friends’ (again like me!). In that instant I realized that there was conversational-potential between the two of us. As soon as she stopped watching the episode for a couple of minutes, I pounced and started a conversation:

Me (pointing at her hard disk): “So you have a lot of Friends in there?”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Yup, I got all the seasons with me.”
Me (excited, cause I am a huge Friends fan too): “Hey that’s great! I have them all right here in my disk too and I never get tired of watching them!”
Interesting Co-passenger (excited as me now): “Really?! Neither do I. Must’ve watched all of them almost n number of times! I even remember the dialogues now!”
Me (almost wiping away a tear of joy): “Cool so do I! Awesome. So what else do you watch?”

The conversation proceeds in similar fashion and we realize we watch almost the same kind of soaps. We thought about exchanging movies but there wasn’t much scope as we both had almost the same titles. Next, I asked her what she did and she told me she had started working four days back. Fair. When asked about education, she tells me she’s an English graduate from Miranda House and is two years my senior. Fair again. She asks me about my college and as soon as I say Daulat Ram, she quickly springs up and asks: “Do you know Titir?”

Ofcourse I did. She was my Dramatics Society senior in freshman year. I tell that to my interesting co-passenger and she tells me that Titir now works in her office. Wow. Same interests and now a common university connection… seems my college senior is her colleague. I am bemused, but not stunned, because Delhi University is a vibrant place to be and due to its vastness alumni keep bumping into each other. We discuss Titir for a while, and then I ask her about her interests. Turns out she was an active participant in inter-college events (so was I) and enjoyed Dramatics. Although she was the President of her college Dramsoc in the final year (and I had been kicked out in the first year itself due to my ‘tragic’ acting skills), we hit another note and the conversation refuses to end.

I had cleared Hindu for English honors, she had graduated in English. I am interested in media, she is dating a media person. My family stays in Jaipur, her job has taken her to Jaipur for two years. I am a social butterfly, so is she. I help her draw out a two page MS Word sheet of all the places she should see in the city. She thanks me for all the help.

Bus stops at midway, we get down together. We keep chatting… until the 20 minutes stoppage becomes 40 minutes. The angry bus horn outside breaks the spell and we run to catch the bus (and face the ire of a very angry bus wallah). We settle down, keep talking… laptops are back in the bags and almost 3 hours of the long journey are already over. Conversation refuses to cease.

We speak of college; try to establish more common links. Talking of Miranda House, I happen to mention that my mom is a graduate from the same college. This is when it turns more bizarre.

Me (conversationally): “So you know my mom passed out of Miranda too.”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Really? Which course?”
Me: “Philosophy honors.”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Oh wow! My grandma (she meant nani) used to teach philosophy in the college till the 80s.”
Me (thoughtfully): “Hmmm”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Hey which year did your mom pass out?”
Me (calculating on fingers): “Sometime around 1985, I guess…”
Interesting Co-passenger: “That’s when nani taught there!! Shobhna Sarin!! Any chance she taught your mom too?? She retired in 1987. Has your mom ever mentioned her?”
Me: “The name does ring a tiny bell. But I don’t know for sure. Want me to confirm from mom?”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Yes, if you can!”

I called mom and wonder of all wonders… Shobhna Sarin HAD taught her in college in yesteryears!! Mom is thrilled… so am I… and so is the interesting co-passenger. I make them both talk and ma takes a quick lowdown on what her (strictest) teacher is up to these days. Interesting co-passenger sweetly sings it all on the phone to her. We hang up… and the excitement in the air is tangible. “Small world” is what we both exclaim!

I feel overwhelmed… less because of the similarities (same interests, friends, mom-grandma relationship) and more because of the fact that my interest hasn’t waned in almost 5 hours. This doesn’t happen too often! Destination is nearby and the time to de-board is drawing closer. Discussion is still as furious as ever. The past five hours have flown away in a jiffy. Mentally, I am labeling this my ‘shortest bus ride ever’. Thanks to the interesting co-passenger.

Jaipur arrives, we get down, exchange numbers and part ways. So much still needs to be discussed and we promise to meet up for coffee once the dust settles (she is new to the city). I have a grin on my face and so does she. When I reach home, ma tells me she spent the entire afternoon reminiscing about the teacher and the life that was college. My grin gets wider :)

Post script: (By now you know that P.S. forms an important part of my life. One, cause my disinterested brain refuses to concentrate for more than a fixed duration of time while writing my posts, so I always end up missing one thing or another…. and two, because the more I do it, the more these postscripts become ‘my thing’). So what was I saying… ah yes… this is a small world. We never know who we might come across while doing our routine chores in life. Be it traveling in a bus or sitting in a party (yes, its you I’m talking about :))… new relations come and hit you when you least expect them to. I (being me) can never rule out the possibility of bumping into someone familiar just round the corner. The bus incident is funny and the more I days I spend living on earth, the more I realize that my life is destined to be a series of many such incidents. As I say… its just two degrees of separation between us. Maybe three. Beyond that, its all “face book”ed :)

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