Here, lying is done through giving a spin to the issues and, above all, lest you forget, the use and abuse of money power is the undisputed reality, so shut up and vote!
To understand how standards of public morality, clean image and such unfashionable things get lowered without any debate go no further than tony Mumbai South, considered India's [ Images ] richest constituency.
Here, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora's son Milind is facing off against the Shiv Sena's [ Images ] Mohan Rawle, a former bodyguard of Bal Thackeray [ Images ]. Incumbent MP Milind has performed just average in the last five years, and his voters are holding out the pending list of unfulfilled promises.
Obviously, the rich young boy is nervous and has got the official support of no less than HDFC [ Get Quote ] Chairman Deepak Parekh. Anybody would be proud to get Parekh, a superman of Indian banking, on his or her side in the election, but Deora hasn't stopped with that. He has also got former gangster Arun Gawli, who is in jail, to withdraw from the fray in his favour. We hope, in the near future, Parekh won't have to share the podium with Gawli in order to facilitate Milind Deora [ Images ].
The message that is emerging from what is going around us is not limited to campaigning where wise voters also understand the realities of democracy and politicians' desperation to attract crowds, but from Sonia Gandhi [ Images ] to L K Advani [ Images ] and Mayawati [ Images ] to Dr Ramadoss are scaring us that 'After elections we will make sure that we cut such a win-win deal that we will remain relevant in New Delhi's [ Images ] power structure.'
The flavour of the season is to be nasty as much as you can. Here's a teaser:
If Varun Gandhi [ Images ] wants to chop off the hands of Muslims, Sonia Gandhi is dubbing the BJP as worse than 'foreign terrorists.' And racist Prabhunath Singh of the Janata Dal-United, who is contesting from Maharajganj in Bihar, says he does not like the face, voice and language of Sonia Gandhi.
In the dirty mess of political campaigning and unholy alliances, everybody knows this election is difficult to predict. There is no Bofors or Kargil [ Images ] or Ram mandir to grab pan-Indian attention, and that has left the field free to Narendra Modi [ Images ] to make 'budhiya' and 'gudiya' out of the Congress.
What election is it where not only has the BJP failed to hit the government hard for its so-obvious non-performance in many crucial fields, but the people are just not responding angrily even to allegations of black money hoarded in Swiss banks by corrupt Indians. Even Narendra Modi with his playful, cunning and well-rehearsed speeches is not able to build and sustain the tempo against the UPA's lacklustre performance.
Even after the brazen Mumbai terror attacks [ Images ], the BJP's charges against the Congress on the issue of terrorism is not making any dent. On the issue of terrorism it seems people are more serious and wiser than the political leaders.
Bottomline: Neither the Congress nor the BJP leaders sound credible.
For four years the UPA has been guilty of lax security management but the Congress is trying to turn the tables on the BJP. Years after it released three hardcore terrorists in exchanged for the hijacked Indian Airlines passengers, Kandahar has come back to haunt the BJP. However, it's good to see that the issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots has revived due to the Congress high command's insincerity. The Sikhs have not got justice, the guilty have not been punished, but the shoe hurled at P Chidambaram [ Images ] has done its job.
As the reports from the rediff.com teams from hinterland suggest, in the last five years not enough national highways were built, power supply in deficit regions have not improved (states need the Centre's backing in many ways), drinking water supply is still erratic in many parts (despite the Centre's national drinking water mission) and, above all, there is massive 'disguised unemployment' in many parts of India among the poor and lower middle class (the Centre manages the macro-economic fundamentals).
But nothing catches the Congress by its collar and put it in the dock. Even the UPA's flagship welfare programme, the NREGS -- popularly known as the rural employment guarantee scheme, as a teacher in Chandrapur, Vidarbha, puts it -- while it stops the poor from turning into beggars, it does not guarantee an honourable life for the hungry and poor.
When one visits the interiors what is quite noticeable is that there is not an inch of improvement in the public delivery systems. rediff.com saw in Vidarbha and at some other rural areas that Manmohan Singh [ Images ], who was originally a bureaucrat, has not left behind any lasting impression or fundamental change in Indian babu-dom or on the mammoth structure of the Indian bureaucracy.
The effect of 9 per cent growth is seen only in bits and pieces. Still, in the election campaign all of us don't get serious and buy the theories of spin masters of the BJP and the Congress.
Both are trying their best to trap each other to gain favourable emotions that can attract voters to the polling booths, but by and large the election is dull and the people remain uninterested.
Still, in spite of the absence of a focused attack against the incumbent government there is a pattern emerging from the complex play of events. More or less, it is apparent that Election 2009 is an 'anti-Congress' election. The heat is less against the UPA and more against the Congress.
Like never before, regional parties are putting their best features forward in this election.
They are gunning for the Congress and are not going to tolerate its political arrogance anymore. In UP, Maharashtra [ Images ], Orissa, West Bengal [ Images ] and Tamil Nadu, the regional parties are fighting with confidence. Leaders like Mamta Banerjee, Sharad Pawar [ Images ], Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav [ Images ], M Karunanidhi [ Images ] and J Jayalalithaa [ Images ] are not going to give an inch more to the Congress after the election.
At the pan-India level, the Congress's aggression is against the BJP. On Monday, in Kerala [ Images ], Rahul Gandhi [ Images ] said he stands by his mother Sonia Gandhi's statement that more than terrorists (from the outside), communal politics within the country poses a greater danger to India. He then went on to mention the BJP in particular, something that his mother had avoided doing.
In Mumbai, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeated his statement that, 'Among the minorities, particularly Muslims, if they are poor, then they should have the first claim to India's resources. I stand by my statement.'
The Congress and BJP are attacking each other all the time, but both are meek and weak in their political fight against regional kings and queens. One sees no sign of any improvement in the BJP's weak political position in Uttar Pradesh [ Images ] or absence in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. That gives the Congress hope in spite of its many weaknesses. Surely, in UP, some reliable reports have suggested that the BJP may spring a surprise on Mayawati and Congress by getting the Brahmin votes.
As of today the following options are being debated in New Delhi:
1. If the Congress gets 20 seats more than the BJP the momentum to form the next government will be with the Congress. But, if and when it tries to cobble together a majority of 272, it looks like the Congress will not bend over backwards to retain power. It may not compromise for short term gains and stake its future.
The way the Congress has handled Lalu Yadav [ Images ], Mulayam Singh, Sharad Pawar, Dr Ramadoss and Ram Vilas Paswan shows that it is firm in building up the party to secure its long term future. Meaning, Rahul Gandhi. Its insistence to go solo at the national level is being taken seriously, now.
2. Both the BJP and Congress are worried about the stability factor of the next government if the majority is attained after making heavy compromises. The Congress will surely give serious thought to staying out of power instead of accepting the Left's dictates. If the Congress is in the lead position on May 16, the day of counting, and if the Left has 35 or more seats, then post-election the first tussle will be between them.
3. If the combined strength of the Congress and BJP does not touch 272 seats then the Third Front will grab the leadership in negotiating new alliances and will try to present a cohesive facade. In that case the Congress will be surely the kingmaker. That's because any non-BJP and non-Congress Third Front can never have 272 seats: The DMK and AIDMK can't be in one group; the Left and Mamta can't be in one group; and, how can Mulayam or his man become home minister and, say, with Mayawati or her man as finance minister?
So, even if a new coalition is formed with a sizeable number of seats it will not be able to cobble together the 272 seats needed for a simple majority, without the Congress or the BJP's inside or outside support. This will give an edge to the Congress or BJP to dictate from the outside even if they lose the great game.
4. But, here is a rider. If and when the Congress sees that it is not in a position to form the government it may try to play kingmaker. The BJP can also enter the ring and sponsor Sharad Pawar, Jaylalithaa or Nitish Kumar. Backroom boys will ensure that the Congress or BJP, whoever lends support to the new formation, will take care of the national party's interests as well.
If the new alliance is formed without the Congress and BJP, both will try to play the role of an aggressive Opposition and the battle for next election will begin as soon as the new alliance comes to power.
5. If the BJP becomes the single largest party with some 25 or more seats than the Congress it will be a big surprise of this election. So far, there are no signals around to give such confidence to the BJP. But surprises are never ruled out in an Indian election. An X factor is also the delimitation exercise which has altered many constituencies drastically.
6. Another debate in political circles veers around Mayawati. Even if Mayawati gets 35 to 45 seats, she will be the most opposed leader after the election. The Left parties are livid that she has put up 48 candidates in West Bengal and they just don't want her to land in Kerala and cut into their core voter base. The so-called fourth front of Lalu-Mulayam-Paswan is essentially to stop her rath from rolling over their Dalit and OBC vote bank.
7. The beauty of this election is that the Congress, BJP and Third Front are all in the race at this stage. The momentum doesn't seem to be with anybody, so most news reports claim that local issues and the caste factor will decide the candidates' fate.
Like the last time, Election 2009 contains within itself actually 543 mini elections. But even then, one can safely say that if the Congress retains its seats or gets a few more seats than the BJP, then by May 18, Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, will start calling regional leaders from his three mobile phones to grab the leadership position.
8. As mentioned above, if the 2004 scenario is not repeated and if the Congress loses the driver's position, even then the Congress is likely to become kingmaker because the Third Front will not have 272 seats with them. And it is not difficult to predict who will never get Sonia Gandhi's consent to be prime minister of the new alliance.
Say, if Sharad Pawar, in spite of small numbers, manages by hook or crook to get sizeable parties in his favour, it is highly possible that Sonia Gandhi will not trust him. If, any such leader from the regional parties including Mayawati goes to the BJP to get its support from the outside or inside, it is argued that in such a scenario the Left will not support that government. The Left parties will stay miles away from any formation where the BJP is in a pivotal role.
But who knows what anti-Congress forces within the newly formed front can do! If in Mumbai Deepak Parekh can extend moral support from outside to Deora's candidature in spite of Gawali's political support to Deora, why can't the Left lend political support to a secular Nitish Kumar, Pawar or Jayalalithaa if and when they secure the BJP's support? The BJP is not as scary as Gawli, after all.
Just 48 hours before the first phase of the election gets underway, one gets a scary feeling.
Do you sense instability at the Centre?