RBI: In and out in a snap

RBI: In and out in a snap

The suddenness of the resignation of Urjit Patel as RBI Governor was matched by the government when without lingering for a moment it filled the vacant post. It can be praised for this, though it ought to have avoided the circumstances which force Patel’s exit. Shaktikanta Das, a key Finance Ministry secretary when demonetisation was sprung on the nation, has obviously been picked up to man the sensitive charge in the hope that he would carry to Mint Street his low-key, order-taking bureaucratic persona. Experience, however, belies that hope. Before Das, several IAS officers have become RBI governors, but all ceased to be pliant on stepping into Mint Street.

D Subba Rao, who was P Chidambram’s Finance Secretary, before being made the RBI head had a running battle with his former boss over repo rate and other things. He refused to buckle under pressure. So much so, Rao recorded in his book how Chidambaram angrily snubbed him at a dinner when the two were in Washington for the annual IMF-World Bank meeting. This is not to suggest that Das would be, or should be, confrontational vis-à-vis the government, but merely to put in perspective the vastly different nature of the responsibilities of the RBI Governor as against those of the ruling politicians who always have one eye fixed on the popular pulse. In the immediate, of course, some easing of liquidity, funds for the micro, small and medium entrepreneurs, and even a small cut in the basic lending rate can be expected. The government wants these ahead of the parliamentary poll early next year. The share markets gave Das a huge thumbs-up on Wednesday believing he would do the needful. We will keep our fingers firmly crossed.


Let MLAs pick CMs

Let MLAs pick CMs

Rahul Gandhi may not yet have acquired the power and status of Indira Gandhi. But his party men, so used to crawling when expected only to bend, cannot help being, well…Congressmen. Why we say this, especially when it is supposed to be the finest hour for the Congress boss? We have good reason to. The report that both in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the newly-elected Congress MLAs are to leave the choice of the leader to Rahulji leads us to our conclusion.

That is, the ‘high command’ culture is still alive and kicking in the party, even if it has long lost its grip on the popular pulse. Death of internal democracy in the Congress was a direct outcome of the high command culture. Strong provincial leaders were humiliated in favour of the handpicked nominees of the coterie surrounding the party chief. Now, the question whether Sachin Pilot or Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, or Jyotiraditya Scindia or Kamal Nath in MP should head the respective State Congress Legislative Party should be left to the MLAs. And in no case to Rahulji. It is natural for them to be ambitious for becoming chief minister. The right way, nay, the democratic way is for the MLAs to elect the new leader through a secret ballot.

The stratagem that the Congress chief would arrive at a consensus after consulting each MLA personally before nominating the lucky winner leads to avoidable bitterness and dissidence. A transparent contest between rival contenders in the best democratic traditions not only reflects the free will of the MLAs but allows the winner and the loser(s) to reconcile their differences and accommodate one another. Of course, as things are, it is almost certain that Gehlot is set to be nominated for chief ministership in Rajasthan while in MP the chances of Nath seem to be greater. This is also because both Gehlot and Nath are seen to be able to manage the numbers game better. In both, Rajasthan and MP, the Congress was short of the half-way mark. Political skills of the unspoken kind are needed to bolster the CLPs and for this favour Gehlot and Nath are considered better operators than their challengers.

Meanwhile, Shivraj Singh Chouhan deserves praise for resigning instead of trying to cobble together a majority with a few footloose legislators. Given how fickle politicians’ loyalties are, the soft-spoken Chouhan made no effort to ‘manage’ six MLAs he needed to stake claim for government formation. Maybe he realizes he may not have to wait long, given the ways of the Congress Party and its reliance on independents and others for simple majority. It is one of those vagaries of the electoral system that though the BJP polled a slightly higher percentage of votes, it fell short of the Congress tally of MLAs. Despite running a good administration, greatly boosting farm output, improving rural infrastructure and urban areas, Chouhan paid a price for the police firing last year on agitating farmers in Mandasur, a region where the BJP suffered major losses.


Infrastructure spending has been great under NDA government

Infrastructure spending has been great under NDA government

One of the major achievements of the BJP led NDA government is the huge step forward it has made in respect of central sector infrastructure projects. CARE Ratings recently brought out a report on such projects that cost the national Rs 150 crore or more.

The report, thus, deals with the status of 1,361 such projects that have been gleaned from the Quarterly Status Report of Central Sector projects published by the Infrastructure and Project Monitoring Division of MOSPI. The most commendable performance indicator is the surge in the number of projects under implementation — from 727 in April 2014 to 1,361 in August 2018. That represents an average compounded average rate of growth (CAGR) of 20% during the past four years (see chart).

Out of these, as many as 400 are mega projects. They have an individual outlay of over Rs 1,000 crore (77% of total project development outlay). The number of projects delayed has been kept under check at 296. But what is worrying is the large number of projects which are under implementation, but have no timeline specified against them (71% of total projects).

Maharashtra has been the biggest recipient for such projects — accounting for 9.2% of projects by value being implemented in India. (This does not include value of projects which are a part of the multi-state projects). The state has 129 projects being implemented at a total original cost of Rs 1.72 lakh crore. The other State beneficiaries are Uttar Pradesh (6%), Tamil Nadu (6.5%), Andhra Pradesh (5.1%) and Odisha (4.3%). Together, these five states account for 30.2% of the total projects being implemented by value and 29% of the total number of projects being implemented.

Steel, power & transmission, atomic energy, petroleum & petrochemicals and urban development projects were the major sectors which witnessed most completions during the year. 34 major projects have been completed between April-July 2018.

Time overruns have been kept under control. In fact, they have declined tremendously when compared to the projects implemented by the previous government. But there have been attendant cost overruns — of around 20% — a bit higher than the cost overruns during the previous government. The anticipated cost for completion of these projects has grown from an original cost outlay of Rs 16.78 lakh cr to Rs 20.16 lakh crore.

The biggest challenge for the government will be meeting the residual cost for completion of projects under implementation. According to the CARE report, the costs incurred as of February 2018 was Rs 7.86 lakh crore or 38.1% of the total anticipated cost of all projects. That means that the cost for the balance — of around Rs 12.3 lakh crore (Rs 20.16 lakh crore less Rs 7.86 lakh crore) will have to be provided for. It remains to be seen how much of the cost will be left for the next government to take care of.

The best record for containing both time and cost of projects must go to the roads sector. This sector accounts for as many as 543 or 40% of the total projects. It suffered a cost overrun of just 1.7% of the total outlay. One wishes that other ministries could have been equally diligent and painstaking about meting time and cost deadlines.

The railways accounted for 32% of the number of projects and 32% by value as well. Most of the projects in the sector are for doubling of lines especially in north-east, laying of new lines and addition of 3rd and 4th line for network decongestion. Interestingly, certain projects under implementation for extending routes and laying new lines, date back to as far back as 1981 like (eg Nagal Dam-Talwara line, Guna-Etawah (1986), Muzzaffarpur-Sitamarhi  (1991). These projects are still under implementation and not yet completed. As many as 185 projects or 53% of the projects in the sector are facing cost overrun. Time overruns afflict 65 projects are delayed.

In terms of breakup of costs, the largest share was grabbed by the railways (32%), followed by power (18.7%), roads (18%), petroleum and gas (11%) and coal (4.5%). Other miscellaneous projects accounted for 16% of total costs.

Clearly, one is left with two lingering thoughts. First, why can’t more ministries be run as efficiently as the roads sector (run by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari)? Second, how will the government rustle up the additional Rs 12.3 lakh crore? It is possible that a few more major projects may get announced. That could be a big albatross round the neck of the next government.

RN Bhaskar is consulting editor with FPJ.


Taj Mahal entry fee hiked from Rs 50 to Rs 200 to protect monument

Taj Mahal entry fee hiked from Rs 50 to Rs 200 to protect monument

Agra: Those wanting to see the main mausoleum at the Taj Mahal will need to buy an additional ticket of Rs 200 from Monday. Vasant Swarnakar, Archaeological Survey of India’s chief archaeologist in Agra, said domestic visitors will have to pay Rs 250 and foreign visitors Rs 1,300 to see the main mausoleum at the 17th-century monument.

The visitors from SAARC countries will have to pay Rs 740 instead of Rs 540. The new ticketing system will help reduce the human load on the main structure. Visitors who buy the Rs 50 ticket would not be allowed to enter the main mausoleum, but would be able to move around the Taj and see the rear side, the Yamuna river front at the back. The Taj Mahal is considered one of the finest specimen of the Mughal architecture. In 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

Killing over cows in Uttar Pradesh

Killing over cows in Uttar Pradesh

Four people were arrested for the violent attack on a police station in Bulandshahar district for the death of the police station house officer and a bystander following the discovery of a few carcasses of cows in a nearby agricultural field earlier this week. Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh died from a bullet wound when someone from among the agitated crowd opened fire. One of the arrested is associated with the local unit of the Bajrang Dal.

The police said that anti-social elements in the crowd were responsible for the violence. The discovery of carcasses of cows in a field incensed local people who soon gathered to march towards the police post. They accused members of the minority community of cow slaughter and demanded stern action against the guilty. Even while Inspector Singh was trying to calm down the agitated crowd, someone attacked him with a blunt object followed by firing from an unlicensed firearm. He died while being rushed to the hospital. Whether or not it was a mere coincidence, the deceased police officer had first investigated the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in a Dadri village in 2015 on the suspicion of cow slaughter.

All the accused in that case are now out on bail. The killing of the police officer has elicited condemnation from all parties. UP chief minster Yogi Adityanath has expressed deep sorrow at Singh’s murder. Other ruling party members have been equally forceful in condemning the heinous crime. No police force in the world takes lightly an attack on fellow members of the force. And Yogi has particularly relied on the state police to try and sanitize the streets and mohallas of various criminal activities. His virtual carte blanche to the police to neutralise known criminals, which has often led to complaints of fake encounter deaths, has shown some positive results as well. Maybe that is the reason why the chief minister seemed most upset and announced an ex-gratia payment for the victims.

He also met members of the deceased’s family, and committed to recruit the deceased’s son in the police force. Meanwhile, the anti-cow slaughter campaign has to guard itself against conspiracies by various elements keen to rend the society apart on religious lines. In the latest case, it is not known who left the carcasses in the open field and why? In all probability, the objective was to create trouble. Which it did when some villagers finding them lying there in the open raised hue and cry, soon gathering a goodly crowd and marching to the nearest police post. The investigation ordered by the State government hopefully will answer all these questions. Meanwhile, thanks to the no-nonsense stance of the local administration, peace has returned to Bulandshahar. Both communities need to maintain calm and ensure that neither causes another any provocation.

Editorial By FPJ.

No surprises as RBI did not change basic lending rate

No surprises as RBI did not change basic lending rate

written by RN Bhaskar FPJ - As widely expected, the Monetary Policy Committee of the RBI did not change the basic lending rate. The repo rate, or the interest rate at which the central bank lends money to banks, remains unchanged at 6.5 per cent. No change was expected either, though some people had begun to hope for a small, 25 basis point cut, arguing that both inflation and the rupee were now under control with the global crude prices dropping by nearly 30 per cent from the highs of earlier this year. Besides, after the recent open spat between the government and the central bank over its tight money policy, especially the neglect of the micro, small and medium industries, a small cut was widely expected.

It would have pleased some nominated members of the RBI Board itself, notably, S Gurumurthy, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch ideologue. But the MPC made its own decisions on independent inputs, unmindful of the recent skirmishes between the central bank and the political nominees on its board. Calibrated tightening, a phrase used by RBI Governor Urjit Patel, was the MPC’s stance. It meant that the bank would watch the behaviour of global crude markets and domestic inflation before embracing a more relaxed stand. There was no easing of liquidity either, with the bank maintaining the same cash reserve ratio. A half-a-per cent cut would have freed over Rs 60,000 crores for the banks to disburse to bona-fide borrowers. The central bank, clearly, was unimpressed by the incessant talk of a cash crunch and paucity of funds with the micro, small and medium sector entrepreneurs. Unless, of course, a new window is under consideration for serving the credit needs of this segment of businesses which, though in the informal sector, still employ a large section of the working population. Interestingly, the bank has left the basic rate unchanged while projecting a lower inflation, which was expected to fall further from 3.3 per cent in October to below three per cent by the year-end.

Maybe the factor that kept it from revising the repo rate was the uncertainty in global crude market, given that prices have yet again begun to creep up after the thaw in the US-China trade war and the on-going effort to stop the multistate armed hostilities in Yemen. Curiously, despite the GDP growth falling to 7.1 per cent in the second quarter of the current financial year, RBI has stuck to its forecast of 7.4 per cent for the whole year. Undoubtedly, the investment climate has improved, the rupee has recouped much of its recent losses, GST has been made glitch-free, notebandi is now an old story, but still empirical evidence abounds about employment-intensive sectors far from recovering their old growth rates. Following the management-made crisis in the ILFS, the entire real estate sector has taken another hit. One of the most attractive instruments of big-time builders to sell space in commercial towers at handsome assured returns has been blunted. Developers do not have the capacity to service their commitment of assured returns due to the paucity of funds triggered by the ILFS heist. Since the sector accounts for a large chunk of the unskilled labour, and is a big consumer of steel and cement, its continuing slowdown is worrying. Agriculture is the biggest labour-intensive sector, accounting for more than half of the working population. It too continues to be sluggish. The point is that a 7-plus point growth under the circumstances seems rather optimistic, especially when things are far from rosy in the export sector as well. The response of the markets to the monetary policy reflected the popular stance. Which is neither here, nor there. Both the Sensex and the Nifty ended lower, but this indicated no panic but a stoic acceptance of what was factored in already.

Economy leaves worst behind

Economy leaves worst behind

FPJ : It is unlikely that the monetary policy committee of the Reserve Bank of India will change the rate when it reassembles for its bimonthly meeting this week. All economic indicators point to the maintenance of the status quo. In its October meeting the rate was left unchanged, though in the previous two meetings in June and August it was revised upwards. The confidence to retain the current rate would stem from the fortuitous turn in the global oil markets.

At its last meeting in October, the MPC was concerned with the relentless rise in the price of crude oil and the resulting depletion of the value of the currency. Crude oil ruled at nearly $85 a barrel while the rupee had slumped to about 75 a dollar. This was a scary scenario for a government which had had the immense good fortune of benefiting from a benign global oil price regime till then. Both the fisc and the rupee seemed to be under pressure in what was the beginning of the election year.

But as suddenly as it had begun, the global oil market underwent a sea change on the back of a relatively lower global growth prospects and the on-going US-China trade wars. Easing of the global oil prices, though these have seen a small uptick in the last few days, have had a salutary effect on the value of the rupee as well. With crude oil now ruling below $ 60 a barrel, the rupee has staged a smart recovery, from the high of nearly 75 to a dollar, it now rules below 70 to a dollar.

This should generate confidence among all economic actors. It is, therefore, most unlikely that the experts who sit on the MPC would upset the current equilibrium by tinkering with the rate. It is so also because consumer inflation is at a very comfortable level of a little over three per cent while non-food, non-oil inflation had creeped up to nearly six per cent following the spurt in the global oil prices. Even the latter should register an appreciable fall once the impact of the lower oil prices and stronger currency gets factored in.

RBI’s clear remit is that it should try and contain consumer inflation at about four per cent with a plus or minus margin of two per cent. It is well within that government-set parameter. Indeed, the RBI policy-makers have other positive developments to factor in such as the yields on bonds and other financial instruments which have come down following the reduction of stress on crude oil and the rupees.

A far more positive development which should spread cheer among all investors, domestic and foreign, is the handsome growth in year-on-year credit disbursals. Banks registered a growth of 14.9 per cent till early last month as against 8.3 in the same period last year. In percentage terms, investment rose nearly 32 per cent in the first half of the current fiscal as against 30.9 per cent in the corresponding period last year.

Empirical evidence supports these indices with most economic actors exuding hope that the negative impact of the notebandi and the disruptive implementation of the GST are finally behind us. However, due to lower yields for farm produce and a continuing crisis in the mining sector following the unwise blanket cancellation of fresh coal licenses, the growth rate declined to 7.1 per cent in the September quarter as against 8.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2018-19. Slow growth in the urban market for two-wheelers and cars has the dealers and manufactures worried.

Partly the auto sector slowdown might reflect the high interest rate regime put in place by the central bank to try and rein in inflation and partly it may reflect the growing digitisation of the economy with the taxmen keeping a hawk-eyed watch on cash transactions. Another key input when the wise men of the MPC deliberate the policy rate would be the stressed fisc, with the government reaching the whole year deficit target in mere seven months.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is confident of staying close to the target at the end of the financial year, but the intervening parliamentary poll might well force his hand unless he is careful. Or there is help from the RBI and other contributors of cash in the public sector which can transfer a greater than usual share of dividends and bonuses to the exchequer. However, the overall economic situation is turning for the better. And this should boost the sentiment all around.


Maratha issue has a boomerang effect

Maratha issue has a boomerang effect

written by Bharatkumar Raut FPJ : Even as Ram has started making waves again on the political horizon in India, in Maharashtra the powerful Maratha community has succeeded in being officially recognised as ‘backward’ and, in return, has got a Bill passed that reserves as many as 16 per cent jobs in the State government, semi-government and local self-governments, and 16 per cent reservations in educational institutions.

The Bill to this effect was passed in both houses of the State Legislature on Thursday evening and was promptly dethatched to the Governor’s House for his final consent. The governor C Vidyasagar Rao spared no time and signed the documents within 24 hours to convert the Bill into an Act. By getting the long standing demand converted into an Act, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis not only exhibited his quickness in administration but also came out winner in this powerful game. He silenced all opposition members within a minute and forced each party to stand in a row in support of the government Bill without uttering a word.

Very rarely in the parliamentary history of any state has this happened when all Opposition parties, small and big, have unitedly supported a government action, that meant to provide a huge political mileage to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — BJP and its leader Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Not that the Opposition giants like Ajit Pawar of NCP and Dhananjay Munde of the NCP, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress had any love lost for the BJP move but they found themselves in deep waters and were left with no choice but to allow being towed by the BJP. This is because the all-important Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and no political force is in a position to rub the electorate on a wrong side as any such action is feared to prove fatal in the elections.

Now uncomfortable?

Till then, Fadnavis was riding on a big horse comfortably. He was so confident that within hours after the Bill was passed in both the houses, the CM went on record to state that he had taken enough care to ensure that the Bill would not be challenged in the Court of Law. However, within next 24 hours, a challenge petition has been submitted in the Bombay High Court and the Court has put it for hearing on Monday (today).

Though Maratha organisations have promptly filed Caveat to restrict the Court from ordering any stay for the implementation of the provisions of the newest law, it is for the Court to decide now, on honouring this caveat. If the judiciary takes a view that the implementation of the provisions of the new Act be kept on hold till the arguments and counter arguments on the provisions of the petition are heard, Fadnavis’s decision would be in jeopardy and, in turn, it would not benefit the ruling party in the coming elections. Secondly, it would be difficult to predict the time frame as in the recent example; the judicial process took good 25 years to come to any verdict on the Ayodhya Ram Janmaboomi temple matter.

To bit the earlier view taken by the Supreme Court in connection with the reservation matter, Fadnavis played an intelligent trick. the Court had directed the State and the Central governments not to exceed the reservations beyond 50 per cent. Maharashtra already had 52 per cent seats ear-marked for socially and economically backward class. If the entire Maratha community was allowed to enjoy 16 per cent reservations, the reservation category would have swollen to 68 per cent.

If the State government adhered to the provisions of the new reservation policy, the number of seats under reservation would have crossed 68 per cent, thus invited action under the provisions of the insubordination by the State government. To overcome the threat, Fadnavis Government carved out another category ‘Social and Educational Backward Class’ for Marathas and brought them under reservations without tampering the existing reservations.

Will this trick work this time? If yes, the CM would emerge victorious in this risky game. But he fails at the end of the arguments; Fadnavis would be held responsible singularly and would be forced to face the music at the time of the next Assembly elections. Is the CM ready and prepared to play such a risky game? And if failed, what price he and his close confidents would pay? The answer to this question would decide not only the fate of the reservations for Marathas but also the political career of Fadnavis and his men along with the fate of the BJP.

Uncertainty & frustration

Apart from politics, what else is important in this matter is the hopes and aspirations pinned on the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. If the Maratha Reservations Act remains strangled in judicial wrangle for a longer time than desired, it would bring in an atmosphere of uncertainty and disappointment amidst Maratha youth that has worked overtime for the last three years to sustain state-wide peaceful agitation to press for the demand.

The spell of disappointment and, thus, frustration has the unfortunate potential of leading the Maratha community anywhere; from another rounds of agitations to street violence and finally an unbridgeable wide gap between the militant Marathas and the rest of the population.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

Maratha quota is vote bank politics

Maratha quota is vote bank politics

The unanimous passage in both Houses of the Maharashtra Legislature of the Bill providing for 16 per cent reservation to Marathas in Government jobs and educational institutions is a reminder that vote bank politics today permeates the entire body politic in the country. With the passage of the bill, the total reservations in the State would rise to 68 per cent, way beyond the ceiling of 50 per cent laid down by the Supreme Court in a nine-judge ruling in a 1992 case.

Barring Tamil Nadu where the ceiling was circumvented by the Centre putting specific reservations there under the Ninth Schedule which is non-justiciable, the ceiling has been zealously guarded by the judiciary in all instances of attempts to pass it over. This time it was the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by a retired judge, Justice (retired) N G Gaikwad that suggested a way to get over the ceiling by carving out a new, independent category called Socially and Educationally Backward Class under which the Marathas were classified. It now remains to be seen whether this passes muster.

The Marathas who constitute 31 per cent of Maharashtra’s population have been identified as upper castes for the last seven decades. Now, under the proposed law, they are sought to be identified as backward. The final hurdle would be conferment of status as a backward class by both Houses of Parliament after which the Bill will go for presidential assent. The Justice Gaikwad commission report favouring separate quota for the Marathas followed three previous rejections by different bodies.

The Mandal Commission report placed Marathas in the category of Forward Hindu Castes and Communities. The National Commission for Backward Classes Report in 2000 rejected Marathas claim of being backward. Again in 2008, the MSBCC “categorically rejected the demand for inclusion of Marathas as OBCs for benefits of reservation policy.” Indeed, Maharashtra is not alone in this attempt of forward castes to be included in the backward category. I

n Rajasthan and Haryana, the Jats, another forward caste is agitating for reservations and has got some assurances while in Gujarat the whole edifice of Hardik Patel’s campaign against the State government is on reservation for Patidars or Patels. The Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra has taken the populist route which will be tested in court.


Congress need not be sorry about soft Hindutva

Congress need not be sorry about soft Hindutva

written by Kay Bendict FPJ : After Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s temple hopping in Gujarat and Karnataka and his recent Amarnath yatra, party’s Madhya Pradesh manifesto promised cow sanctuaries, commercial production of “gaumutra” and cow dung, develop Ram Van Gaman Path and laws for conserving sacred rivers etc. Senior party leader C P Joshi went a step further to claim that only a Congress prime minister can build the Ayodhya temple.

Understandably, the Congress has come under attack from a section of Left, liberal and intellectual class for pandering to “Hindutva” and trying to become a BJP clone. Is the criticism justified? Has Congress discarded secularism? Why is it that even as the left-liberal commentators attack the Congress for “betraying” the secular cause, the BJP and even some regional parties are growing nervous over the Congress’ bid to reclaim its lost Hindu support base?

If the Congress has to remain relevant as a political party it ought to tweak its century-old tactics and strategy without fundamentally altering its social-liberal-secular ideology and the Left-of-Centre position. It can remain inclusive and secular even while embracing Hinduism to defang BJP’s militant and corrupted Hindutva. Politics is not as usual since 2014 and the Congress can no longer win elections playing conventional politics.

The BJP had run a successful, but pseudo campaign against Congress’s “Muslim appeasement” that the latter failed to counter. Now, as though a course correction, the Congress is attempting Hindu appeasement. The party need not be apologetic about it as long as it upholds inclusivity, human rights and secular ideals and deal with divisive forces with an iron hand if elected to power.

Some Congressmen are of the view that anti-Congressism of Muslims in the heartland played a role in getting BJP absolute majority in 2014. In 2013 the Congress strategists had identified 180 Lok Sabha seats having 20 to 50 percent Muslim votes across UP, Bihar, WB, Jharkhand, Assam and Maharashtra and miscalculated that after a “divisive” leader like Modi was projected as BJP’s PM candidate, the minority community voters would consolidate behind the Grand Old Party but that did not happen and they rooted for regional parties in many states.

In bi-polar, Hindu majority states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the Congress got decimated due to various reasons. And these bi-polar states are now on the verge of becoming triangular with the emergence of new players much to the advantage of BJP. In Chhattisgarh renegade Congressman Ajit Jogi and BSP chief Mayawati have formed a third front that has the potential of derailing Congress’ electoral prospects.

The BSP has also been trying to emerge a third pole in MP with some generous helping from the saffron camp. The AAP has set its eyes on Rajasthan and Haryana among other states. With the emergence of YSR Congress, Andhra has a third pole. None of these parties has the potential emerge a pan-India force in the near future. More and more regional parties are good news for the political behemoth BJP.

In April this year, stung by their desire to bond together, BJP chief Amit Shah likened the Opposition parties to “snakes, mongooses, dogs and cats” struggling to save itself from the deluge unleashed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Six months later, as the Congress upped its Hindu ante and offered tough in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, the PM was forced to prune Shah’s Animal Farm. Addressing a rally in Nizambad Tuesday, Modi said Mayawati (BSP), Mamata (TMC), the Left and Akilesh (SP) are fine….”Congress is the only party which has to be banished from our country forever.” PM’s shrewd political comment praising regional leaders to isolate the Congress may not have the desired effect.

A compliment from him to these parties that depend heavily on Muslim vote is not a politically correct message. The Congress has been trying to convince the Muslims that “undependable” regional parties have time and again played footsie with BJP and Modi’s certificate to them only underlines the possibility of an open door policy post 2019.

As much as the Congress is responsible for catapulting the BJP to power, the left, liberal, intellectual and regional satraps are also equally responsible. They too contributed to the perception war against the “corrupt” Congress by joining the Anna Hazare bandwagon making the ground fertile for BJP take over. However, 2G, supposedly the mother of all scams, turned out to be a dud. The mainstream media is either co-opted or too timid to taken on the establishment. Several senior journalists including some television anchors have become unabashed cheer leaders of cultural nationalism.

Against this background the revisionist Congress tactic of wooing back the Hindus make sound political sense. Rahul Gandhi sent across a message by making as many as 27 temple trips during his Gujarat campaign (80 pc Hindus). And the Congress won 18 seats from these areas. MP has 90 pc Hindus, Rajasthan over 88 pc and Chhattisgarh 87 plus pc. In MP, making a radical change, Swami Namdev Tyagi, popularly known as Computer Baba, and several other religious leaders declared support to the Congress for the assembly elections.”When we can give fifteen years to them (the BJP), then we can surely give five years to Congress,” he told media persons.

A ToI report said CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had a past midnight 90-minute meeting with senior RSS leaders at Sangh headquarters in Bhopal on November 21 apparently “in the backdrop of negative feedback” from as many as 60 constituencies and sought Sangh help to intensify campaign.

Even as it reaches out to the Hindus, the Congress needs to reassure the Muslim community that their interests will not be sacrificed. Intellectuals do not fight elections, but are mostly on the side of winners. If the Congress wins the elections, all its sins will be forgiven. In 11 days the country will know if the Grand Old Party’s Hinduism gambit has worked in the states.

kay Bendict is an independent journalist.