Psephology is a difficult job at the best of times and in the most homogenous of states. In India— with all casteist, religious, ethnic and regional fault lines—it is doubly so. So, every state and central election is preceded by opinion polls and exit polls, most of which, in recent times, have proved to be wrong. So, it is well nigh impossible to predict whether the BJP’s victory in the Karnataka Assembly elections is a pointer to the General Elections due a year hence. But what it does, emphatically, give the saffron party and its allies in a year packed tight with elections, is momentum. That, more than the verdict itself, is bad news for the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance it leads.Already, the wolves are out, and even responsible people have started labelling the Manmohan Singh government at the Centre a lame duck one. It is fairly certain now that Messrs Singh & Company—never particularly known for their spunk—will now be even more diffident about pushing through contentious, but important, measures like the Indo-US nuclear deal, FDI in retail, insurance reforms, etc.
The two most important issues exercising the mind of the Indian voter today are inflation and fuel prices. The two issues are inter-related and have, in the past, spelt doom for many a government. Rising onion prices paved the way for the late Indira Gandhi to sweep back to power in 1980. Then, almost 20 years later, the BJP government paid a heavy price for rising onion prices and lost the Delhi Assembly elections.
This time around, it is more than just onions whose prices have begun to bring tears to the eyes of the aam aadmi, who brought the UPA to power in 2004. And the BJP-led NDA is the only political formation that can benefit from the brewing voter anger. This is where the Karnataka elections can play an important role. It is now clear that no party—neither the Congress, nor the BJP—is in a position to come to power on its own. India now has a tri-polar polity— with the UPA, NDA and regional parties, including the Left, as the three poles. The grouping that can cobble together and retain the broader coalition will be the one more likely to triumph at the next polls. And the Karnataka results, by giving the BJP momentum, will make the NDA a more attractive magnet for still undecided regional satraps to throw their lots in with.
How the two groups reach out to the smaller parties, will, thus, go a long way in deciding the outcome of the next General Elections.