The nation wants to talk about nothing except the forthcoming election in 2019 and the BJP’s chances of a successful return. But before we get there we need to discuss the conduct of elections. The elections last week make one thing clear. It is time the Election Commission rethought the way in which voters are treated. The failure of EVMs tells an obvious story, and the Commission should listen. When elections take place in India, unless they are in the November to February period, it’s always unbearably hot. The government should grant enough money to the Election Commission to ensure that in every voting booth the temperature is tolerable for the EVMs as well as for voters. India has come enough distance in economic growth to be able to afford this. The voters deserve to be treated as well as the babus, ministers and legislators treat themselves at taxpayers’ expense. Install temporary airconditioners or electric fans in every school or whatever serves as a polling station.
This is especially important for the forthcoming general election, which is scheduled for the scorching month of April. Any faulty EVMs breaking down due to heat will lead literally to riots as a lot is at stake on all sides. No suspicion can be allowed to attach to the conduct of that election, which will be the most bitterly contested one in living memory.
The by-elections confirm what has been clear for a while. There is a revival of the Opposition. Predictably the BJP lost in Uttar Pradesh, as it did in the last round of by-elections. Yogi Adityanath may be a great ideologue but he has failed as Chief Minister. People want delivery of essentials, above all law and order, good hospitals, not promises of Ram statue. Amit Shah needs to move fast and change the face at the top. Or the BJP will lose half of its UP seats in 2019.
Even so, the path is not clear for the opposition parties. Ideally, they could come together, and if the contests were bilateral, then the BJP will have a difficult time winning an absolute majority. The difficulty however will not be at the base but at the apex. The issue of who is going to be number one and the face of the prime ministerial candidate will be divisive. Rahul Gandhi has jumped the gun and asserted his claim to be Prime Minister. That will not please Mamata Banerjee, who considers herself outranked by no one except perhaps Sonia Gandhi. It was her idea to have one on one. She has the Cabinet-level experience at the Centre and successful tenure as Chief Minister. Rahul has no experience of holding any post. There are other hopefuls. Chandrababu Naidu has legitimate ambitions and there has been a coded message from Sharad Pawar that he is available.
The Congress will have to concede all the seats in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh to its respective leaders and a large chunk in Maharashtra to the NCP. It has no claim to any seat in UP or Bihar nor will Odisha or Telangana yield. Punjab looks safe for the Congress though the Aam Aadmi Party may run there. It will need Jignesh Mewani to win Dalit votes, though BSP chief Mayawati will be upset by that.
Message for Rahul: Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.