Published : Apr 09, 2004 00:00 IST

NEARLY three weeks after the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) announced its list of candidates to the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala and went into campaign mode, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), especially its lead partner, the Congress(I), was fighting bitterly over the choice of its candidates and threatening to wreck the coalition's chances in several of its strongholds.

At the time of writing, the list of Congress(I) candidates drawn up after the election-eve rapprochement between Chief Minister A. K. Antony and octogenarian party leader K. Karunakaran ignoring the interests of several leaders and group loyalists had led to widespread resentment within the party unit.

Karunakaran, who was till the other day demanding a leadership change in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) and was threatening to split the party, and Antony, who was the eventual rallying point for all those who resented the vaulting political ambitions of Karunakaran's family, reached a none-too-surprising, seat-sharing formula under the supervision of the party high command. The formula trampled on the aspirations of many "loyalists" but ensured a Rajya Sabha seat for Karunakaran and the Mukundapuram Lok Sabha seat for his daughter Padmaja Venugopal. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat went to V. Balaram, who resigned his Assembly seat recently to facilitate the entry of Karunakaran's son and Electricity Minister K. Muraleedharan into the Assembly. (Muraleedharan will contest from Vadakkancherry Assembly seat in Thrissur district, the seat Balaraman had vacated, in a byelection to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat is currently held by Muraleedharan.)

In the Ernakulam Lok Sabha byelections six months earlier, the Congress(I)'s official candidate and Antony loyalist M.O. John was defeated, thanks largely to Karunakaran's rebellious actions. John, a natural aspirant for Ernakulam, could not find a place in the Antony-Karunakaran list. Instead the new formula suggested as the candidate Edward Edezhathu, a Karunakaran nominee, a college lecturer new to politics. Similarly, in Kasaragod, the claims of several prominent Congress(I) leaders were ignored and a Karnataka-based industrialist N.A. Muhammed was selected as the party candidate.

Several close associates of Karunakaran came out openly against what they called the "son-daughter promotion venture" of Karunakaran and the wholehearted compromises Antony seemed to make in order to prevent the veteran leader from sabotaging the party's chances in the elections. Key Karunakaran loyalists Rajmohan Unnithan and Saratchandra Prasad, among others, raised serious allegations of corruption against Muraleedharan in the selection of candidates and in the fund-raising that preceded the anti-Antony rally organised by Karunakran's "I group" in Ernakulam some months earlier.

Widespread resentment within the Congress(I) has therefore provided an edge to the LDF in the elections scheduled for May 10. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF won nine of the 20 seats in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, with the CPI(M) itself winning eight seats (Kasargod, Kannur, Vadakara, Palakkad, Ottappalam, Kottayam, Kollam and Chirayinkeezhu) and the Kerala Congress(Joseph) one (Idukki). The CPI(M) has now renominated all but two of its sitting MPs. In Kasaragod and Vadakara, the sitting MPs, T. Govindan and A.K. Premajam, have been replaced by P. Karunakaran and P. Sati Devi.

The Opposition coalition is in a fairly good wicket in all the nine seats it won in 1999. In addition, the LDF candidates at Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Mukundapuram seemed to have the odds in their favour, as their Congress(I) rivals are likely to bear the brunt of the renewed factional war within the party. Moreover, in Mavelikkara and Alappuzha, considered Congress(I) strongholds and where party general secretary Ramesh Chennithala and former State Minister V.M. Sudheeran were the likely candidates, the CPI(M) has found good candidates in C.S. Sujatha (Alappuzha district panchayat president) and Dr. Manoj Kurisinkal (independent, a doctor by profession and president of the Alappuzha Latin Catholic Association).

The CPI had lost all the four seats it contested in 1999. The party is contesting all the four seats this time too, with more hope.

The UDF, then in Opposition, had won 11 of the 20 Lok sabha seats in Kerala in 1999. Eight were won by the Congress(I), two by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and one by the Kerala Congress(Mani). The Kerala Congress(Mani) 's MP from Moovattupuzha, P.C. Thomas, later quarrelled with his leader, K.M. Mani, over the latter's attempts to promote his son Jose K. Mani in politics. Thomas formed the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), joined the NDA and became a Union Minister. It is therefore a tough three-cornered fight in Moovattupuzha too. However, P.C. Thomas, who used to win with record margins from the constituency, is now the NDA's candidate fighting Jose K. Mani, the UDF candidate, and the LDF's P.M. Ismail.

In Manjeri and Ponnani, where IUML candidates regularly win with a brute majority, the party has decided to change its candidates this time. IUML general secretary E. Ahmed, the sitting MP from Manjeri, is now to contest from the neighbouring Ponnani constituency, usually the preserve of party national president G.M. Banatwala. In Manjeri the party has decided to field former MLA K.P.A. Majeed. The CPI(M) candidate in the constituency is also a former MLA, T.K. Hamsa, which makes for a keen contest. The BJP has fielded Uma Unni (who shot to fame as a representative of Hindu fisherwomen at the communally sensitive Marad in Kozhikode district) as its candidate in Manjeri.

R. Krishnakumar

ALTHOUGH the phase of alliance-making is over in Karnataka, which goes to polls on April 20 and 26, the relative strengths of the three main political formations, namely the Congress(I), the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Janata Dal(Secular), are by no means clear. A major difference in the electoral scene between 1999 and 2004 is the contraction in the size and influence of the Janata parivar that traditionally attracted a sizable chunk of anti-Congress(I) and anti-BJP voting segments in the State. Today the JD(S) has consolidated itself around the person of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. The Janata Dal(United), the political legacy of former Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, crumbled after his death. A section of the party had transmuted itself into the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) even while Hegde was alive. After his death, the AIPJD split, with one faction joining the Congress(I), and the other led by S.R. Bommai, failing to make common cause with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), rejoining the JD(U). The electoral contest in the State is, therefore, essentially a three-cornered one.

Behind the Congress(I) government's decision to opt for simultaneous elections was a shrewd political calculation. Had the Lok Sabha elections been held before the Assembly elections, an NDA victory would have given the BJP a clear edge in the Assembly elections. By opting for simultaneous elections, the Congress(I) has denied the BJP that advantage and is going to the people on the strength of its own performance in office. Indeed, it appears to have upstaged the NDA in the propaganda war. The S.M Krishna government launched a major media offensive highlighting its pro-people schemes, a campaign that put the NDA's `India shining' crusade in the shade. The campaign had perforce to stop when the model code of conduct came into force, but the Congress(I) has been able to steal a march over its rivals through this state-funded voter outreach initiative.

The Congress(I) believes that it has reason to feel confident about being re-elected with a bigger majority. In 1999, the Congress(I) won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP seven, the JD(S) one and the JD(U) three. Whereas it had 135 members in the Legislative Assembly at the beginning of the year, by the time of the dissolution of the Assembly on February 23, its effective support base had gone up to 154, as nine members of the AIPJD and two independents joined the party, and eight expelled BJP members extended their support.

During its five years in office, the Congress(I) strengthened its base by sweeping the elections to the local bodies. In the October 2003 elections to 25 seats that had fallen vacant in the Legislative Council, the Congress(I) won 20, followed by the JD(S) and the AIPJD with two each.

These figures cannot, however, mask the extent of popular disenchantment with the government's performance, something the Congress(I) election managers are unwilling to recognise. The party has been claiming the credit for making Karnataka the hub of the Information Technology and biotechnology sectors in the country. It has highlighted its investment in major and minor irrigation, the success of its free midday meal scheme in government primary schools, its rural housing initiative and its health insurance scheme for the poor. The State has faced a severe drought in three out of the five years of Congress(I) rule, but drought relief has been inadequate and mismanaged. The government's attitude towards the phenomenon of farmers' suicides is seen as callous, particularly the tardy way in which compensation has been paid to the debt-ridden families of suicide victims. With reduced agricultural work there are mass migrations of peasants and agricultural workers to the cities. There have been job losses among workers owing to closure of industries and privatisation of the State sector, and growing poverty within the unorganised workforce. The discontent arising from these factors cannot but find expression in the way people vote.

But neither the BJP nor the JD(S) has been able to fully take advantage of this mood.

The BJP has emerged as the principal opposition to the Congress(I) in coastal and northern Karnataka, while the JD(S) is in a strong position in its traditional areas of strength in the Old Mysore region comprising the districts of Hassan, Kolar, Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore and Chamarajnagar. The disintegration of the JD(U) has left a political vacuum in northern Karnataka.

A prize political catch for the BJP has been former Congress(I) Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, one of the few mass leaders left in the State. His induction will improve the prospects of the party in Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts where Bangarappa has a substantial following among the backward castes and minorities. But this is a political crossover that is seen as both unprincipled and opportunistic. Bangarappa, whose name is associated with major corruption scams, and who is known to have little compunction in shifting his political loyalties, was the target of the BJP's criticism until the day before he joined the party.

It is Deve Gowda who carries the mantle of the "third front" in Karnataka, or what remains of its once strong presence. The JD(S) is slowly consolidating its position through the induction of new members and through a low-key mass contact programme by its leaders, particularly Deve Gowda. Deve Gowda is known for his ability to revitalise swiftly his support base. There has been a steady flow of people from various fields of public life into the party. Former Ministers and leaders of the erstwhile JD(U) M.P. Prakash and P.G.R. Sindhia, popular Kannada actor Ananth Nag, Pramila Nagappa, wife of H. Nagappa who was kidnapped and killed by forest brigand Veerappan and Mahima Patel, the son of former Chief Minister J.H. Patel have joined the JD(S).

Parvathi Menon

PROMISES, counter-promises, games of one-upmanship and the announcement of a series of populist measures have marked the beginning of the election season in Maharashtra. It is an unusual sort of beginning to a campaign: unlike previous occasions, there are relevant issues to be addressed, but all parties seem to have decided to ignore them at least for the time being. A drought in several districts, scarcity of drinking water even in certain urban areas, issues related to the marginalised and minority communities, increasing debts of farmers, the demand for the creation of a separate State of Vidarbha and housing problems in Mumbai are just some of them. The State, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, goes to the polls in two phases on April 20 and 28.

However, the battle lines are clearly drawn. So far there has not been any major political realignment in the State. Rumours of a possible tie-up between the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have been proved wrong. The Sena continues to be an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the NCP that of the Congress(I).

While the BJP hopes to make substantial gain in eastern Maharashtra because of its support for the creation of Vidarbha, the NCP continues to place its hope on western Maharashtra. The BJP plans to attack the NCP on its home ground by focussing on the problems faced by the sugar cooperatives. In rural areas, the politics of sugar cooperatives is expected to play its traditional role of influencing voting. A BJP activist said: "Onions made us cry in the 1998 elections. This time we will make sugar turn bitter for the Congress(I) and the NCP." The absence of any coherent drought relief plans is expected to play a pivotal role in the 11 drought-affected districts of the State.

Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP have announced that their main quarry is Sharad Pawar's NCP. The BJP has targeted the NCP by enticing away NCP leaders. The Sena, on the other hand, is waiting for former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who had quit following the stamp paper scam, to be back in the public eye to attack him. The biggest blow to the NCP has been the stamp paper scam. Although its genesis is traced back to the days of the Sena-BJP coalition government, the Democratic Front (D.F.) government of the Congress(I) and the NCP has borne the brunt of the criticism. Although Bhujbal's resignation was ostensibly provoked by an attack by his supporters on the office of a private television channel, it is increasingly believed to have been a pre-emptive move by the NCP to prevent embarrassment in the wake of allegations linking Bhujbal and Abdul Karim Telgi, the alleged mastermind of the scam.

The BJP too is facing internal problems. When BJP Member of Parliament from Beed (which includes State BJP president Gopinath Munde's Assembly constituency) Jaisingrao Gaikwad Patil left the party to join the NCP, he said: "When alcohol permeates the body, reason automatically leaves." He added that Munde and former Union Minister and party general secretary Pramod Mahajan were "drunk with power", had made the State BJP "money minded", "ignored the power base of the BJP, the cadre, and gave importance only to fund-raisers".

In the Sena the rift between cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray continues to pose a problem for the party though, with the elections round the corner, they are frequently seen on the same platform. Meanwhile, the Sena has been working hard to get rid of its reputation as being a party prone to violence. An important component of the strategy is the "Mee Mumbaikar" campaign, which is designed to promote the spirit of being a resident of Mumbai and which promises to create more employment opportunities. Even the attack on Biharis who had come to Mumbai for a Railway Recruitment Board examination in November 2003 is all water under the bridge as far as the Sena is concerned. Interestingly, after disassociating itself from the vandalism at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, the Sena has accepted the support offered by the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, which claimed responsibility for the act, to the alliance. The Mahasangh is an influential body representing the State's Maratha community and has about 35,000 life members. The development is expected to divide Maratha votes between the Hindutva parties and the Congress(I)-NCP combine.

Both the Congress(I) and the NCP have promised to give Mumbai top priority in their campaign. They have promised to construct more link roads to lessen the traffic congestion, hasten slum redevelopment, provide homes to unemployed mill workers and provide more funds to revive the city's economy. The Shiv Sena has halted all drives by the party-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to remove encroachments. The Mumbai-centric plan is seen as an attempt to reinvigorate the sources in the city that used to fund the Congress(I) but, of late, seem to have run dry. For its part, the BJP has been working at strengthening its base. The party claims the support of big business houses but declined to name any.

The BJP started its campaign as early as October 2003 and is the only party that has come out with some sort of a campaign plan. Munde said: "Speedy and equitable development; Vajpayee's character, capacity, calibre and conduct; and `India on the move' will be our three guiding points." The three-point programme also indicates whom the BJP considers as its priority target groups. The first is a direct appeal to the middle class and the industrialists. The second alludes to Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin" issue. And the third aims at non-resident Indians (NRIs) whose financial support has increasingly been made available to the BJP.

In February, Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde brought nine castes and sub-castes under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and the nomadic and denotified communities list, thereby awarding members of these communities land that was partly paid for by the government. In another move, Shinde also announced his intention to rename Nagpur airport as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Dikshabhoomi International Airport. Both moves are aimed at the voters in two regions where the Congress(I) and the NCP have either been traditionally weak (as in the Konkan, where the Gamit community has received an OBC status) or been steadily losing ground (as in the case of Nagpur, where the BJP has been gaining ground largely owing to its pro-separatist stance on Vidarbha).

This was followed by the move to prevent bars from being named after a religious figure. The plan, it turned out, was the brainchild of the wife of Minister of State for Home Kripa Shankar Singh. However, the ban was lifted even before it was applied. Another populist order of the State government was to allow liquor shops to do business on Holi, when they have traditionally remained closed to discourage anti-social behaviour.

Perhaps the most bizarre election gimmick was the sudden announcement by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray that stray dogs kept him awake all night by their barking and should therefore be killed. However, popular opinion was against it. A letter to the editor in a local paper noted that it was "Bal Thackeray's conscience and not the strays that were keeping him awake at night".

Lyla Bavadam

WILL the Bharatiya Janata Party repeat its performance in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, when it won 16 of the 25 seats in Rajasthan? This is the question doing the rounds in political and media circles in the State, which witnessed a BJP victory in the Assembly elections of December 2003.

The Lok Sabha contest, by and large, will be a bipolar one - between the Congress(I) and the BJP. Observers point out that a third front is not likely to emerge. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) too are likely to field candidates. The BSP has, at the time of writing, announced candidates for 14 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Amra Ram, the sitting MLA from Dhod, from the Sikar parliamentary seat and Sheopat Ram Meghwal, vice-president of the Students Federation of India (SFI), from the reserved seat of Ganganagar.

The Congress(I) seems to have learnt some political lessons since the 13th Lok Sabha polls, when it had to be satisfied with just nine seats. The first thing that it did post-Assembly elections was to appoint veteran legislator Narain Singh, a member of the Jat community, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee(I) president. Currently the legislator from Danta Ramgarh, Narain Singh won with a comfortable margin in the Assembly elections. His appointment is attributed to the perception that the Jat community had voted against the party in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Moreover, the reservation to the Jat community, promised by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his campaign and the lacklustre performance of the Ashok Gehlot-led government had helped the BJP gain the upper hand in 2003.

The Congress(I) released a chargesheet against the BJP on March 18, the day Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia completed 100 days in office. The party is also planning an elaborate campaign by its president Sonia Gandhi in the coming days. The PCC president emphasised that special attention will be devoted to the reserved constituencies, given the erosion of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe base of the party.

Meanwhile, though the BJP camp seems upbeat, the delay in announcing candidates indicates that all is not well in the party. A four-member panel comprising Vasundhara Raje Scindia, State party president Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, Cabinet Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and party organising secretary Prakash Chandra are to finalise the names of the candidates. The first blow came when Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, former BJP member and nephew of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, joined the Congress(I). Khachariyawas was an aspirant for the BJP ticket for the Bani Park Assembly seat in the Jaipur Lok Sabha constituency but was denied that despite the backing of Vasundhara Raje Scindia. Although Jaipur is a BJP stronghold given its strong urban middle class population, Khachariyawas, if given the Congress(I) ticket, may prove to be a tough contender. He polled more than 70,000 votes contesting as an independent in Bani Park in the 2003 Assembly elections.

The second major problem for the BJP emerged over the nomination of the candidate for Banswara, considered a stronghold of the Janta Dal (United). It was learnt that while the BJP's central leadership was keen to give the seat to its ally, the State unit had some problems.

"The BJP will win," says Pushp Jain, the sitting MP from Pali. He says, joined by Pradyuman Kumar, a party secretary, that there is no anti-Central government feeling among the people and that it was felt that there was no alternative to the BJP. Pradyuman Kumar says that the BJP's electoral success will also depend a great deal on booth management by its cadre, as was evident in the December 2003 elections. "We got a direct benefit from that," he said. As for the BJP's new-found presence in the tribal constituencies, he said that the party's strength had been on the rise for the last several years. "The activities of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Ekal Vidyalayas made us politically active in these belts. Culturally, too, we tried to bring ourselves closer to them by adopting their ways and customs. That's how we won their hearts," he said.

Two events of political significance took place in the State in the second week of March. One was the annual Pratinidhi Sabha of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and the other was a convention of the Sewa Dal, a volunteer organisation of the Congress(I). The RSS meeting, held in Jaipur for the first time, endorsed the "India Shining" campaign and praised the five-year tenure of the BJP-led NDA government.

The meeting, in the words of RSS Sahkaryavah Mohan Bhagwat, was meant "to firm up the direction of our future work, review and critically appraise it and also prepare plans in order to enhance the pace of our activity". However, it ultimately turned out to be more about shoring up organisational support for the BJP in the coming elections. The Pratinidhi Sabha consists of RSS representatives from all over the country and assumes significance in that all its senior functionaries are present.

If the Sewa Dal meeting is any indication, the Congress(I) too seems to be in a mood of introspection. Senior leaders such as All India Congress Committee(I) member Janardan Dwivedi and former Chief Minister Jagannath Pahadia addressed the Sewa Dal workers and emphasised the need to work jointly. Mohammad Mahir Azad, the MLA from Nagar in Bharatpur district, went to the extent of saying that the Congress(I) may have lost owing to its arrogance and that now it was the "BJP's turn to learn a lesson". Dwivedi pointed out that while the Gehlot government had done good work, the electorate was peeved by the activities of some leaders in the party. He also tried to draw a distinction between the economic liberalisation policies of the Congress(I) and those promoted by the BJP.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

ABOUT the only sign of the Congress(I)'s presence in Jammu are a few tattered plastic flags strung across the road from the airport to the city. The flags, it turns out, were put up to greet visiting party dignitaries after the party's sweeping triumph across the Jammu province in the 2002 Assembly elections. Now, they are evidence of how much more durable polyvinyl chloride is than political fortunes.

Battered by the furore generated by furious debate over the rights of women in Jammu and Kashmir to marry outside the State, the Congress(I) is witnessing the wages of vertical communal polarisation. In the Kashmir Valley, its ally, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), is working overtime to displace the Congress(I), and emerge as the sole voice of opposition to the National Conference(N.C.). In Jammu, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Panthers Party (NPP) are charging the Congress(I) with having sold out to Kashmiri chauvinism, and of having failed to defend the region's interests. In this emerging four-horse race, the prize is most likely to go to aggressive regional and communal chauvinists.

The Congress(I)'s conspiracy theorists in Jammu have been murmuring about a tacit alliance between the PDP and the BJP, the two main beneficiaries of the Permanent Residents (Disqualification) Bill - a claim buttressed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's effusive praise of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It all began in October 2002, when a three-member Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court passed judgment on challenges filed by 12 women against their having been deprived of permanent resident status on having married men outside the State. Justices V.K. Jhanji and T.S. Doabia upheld the women's appeals and Justice Muzaffar Jan dissented. The N.C. government put off a debate on the issue by filing an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Soon after assuming power, PDP MLA and Law Minister Muzaffar Beig, himself a lawyer, quietly withdrew the appeal; legal consensus held that it had no chance of success. On election-eve, however, opportunism triumphed over legal sense. The PDP needed an issue on which it could show that the party was the sole spokesperson for ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, more committed to their cause than the N.C. In Jammu, the BJP needed an issue through which it could show that it, rather than the Congress(I), was truly committed to defending the rights of the region. In the Disqualification Bill, both parties found just what they needed.

Interestingly enough, all parties backed the Bill when it was presented to the Assembly in February, bar the BJP. The lone BJP member, Jugal Kishore, absented himself at the time of voting; immediately after the Bill was passed, the party hit the streets. Sustained BJP protests in Jammu have found considerable support, and the party's candidates for the Udhampur and Jammu Lok Sabha seats have made the issue a central motif of their campaign. Although the NPP has also attacked the ruling coalition on the issue, its case has not been helped by its presence in the government - and its voting record on the Bill.

On the face of it, the arguments surrounding the Bill are absurd - and the Assembly's course of action legally dubious. Contrary to the fulminations of the PDP, the BJP and the N.C., the Bill has relatively little to do with Article 370, which gives special status to the State. The only State to negotiate its terms of accession to the Indian Union, Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution. This Constitution grants special rights - to purchase land, for example, and to be elected to legislative office or hold State government jobs - to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

Yet, it has passed unnoticed that the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution itself nowhere debars women who have married non-permanent residents from holding on to their status. Section 6 of Part III of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution gives constitutional status to two notifications on permanent residents issued in 1927 and 1932. The notifications define as permanent residents (then called State subjects) all persons residing in the State before the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh, those who settled there before the Samvat year 1942, and those who both settled in the State before Samvat year 1968 and also purchased property.

Indeed, the notifications expressly record that "descendants of the persons who have secured the status of any class of the State Subjects will be entitled to become the State Subject of the same class." There is no qualification in the notifications about women marrying outside the State losing their status. All that exists is a mandate that women who acquire State Subject status through marriage shall hold on to this right as long as they reside in Jammu and Kashmir - a protective provision intended to safeguard the rights of women from outside the State. Quite plainly, the long-standing discrimination against women in Jammu and Kashmir has no constitutional sanction.

Just how politically driven the ongoing debate is also becomes clear from a study of the plain language of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. As Justice Doabia noted in his concurrence, Section 10 of the Constitution expressly mandates that "permanent residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India." All, quite obviously, includes fundamental rights, on which the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution does not have a separate chapter. Since the Constitution of India bars gender discrimination, women in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be denied rights available to men.

Where do things go from here? If the Congress(I) does stick to its guns on the Permanent Residents Bill, that ought to be the end of the affair. Section 9 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution notes that the Assembly does have the power to amend or alter the definition of who is a permanent resident, give them special rights, or modify their privileges. Such amendments, however, "shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if it is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House" - something chauvinistic parties supporting the Bill do not possess.

Congress(I) politicians are doing what they can to hit back. One key site of contestation is the Baramulla constituency. Soon after the PDP announced two alternative candidates for the seat, Congress(I) senior vice-president Abdul Gani Vakil noted that his party had won 80,000 votes in the Assembly segments comprising the constituency last year, to the PDP's 30,000. The Congress(I), Vakil said, was not willing to surrender all seats in the Kashmir valley to the PDP, in return for exclusive rights to contest the two seats in Jammu, and one in Ladakh.

If the feud is not resolved, all the members of the ruling alliance could end up contesting against one another - the Congress(I) and the PDP in Kashmir, and the Congress(I) and the NPP in Jammu. Nothing could suit the BJP, decimated just 18 months ago, better.

Praveen Swami

THE fledgling State of Uttaranchal, with five Lok Sabha seats, will witness its first general elections on May 10. The hill people have always voted for either of the two national parties in parliamentary elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has held the four seats of Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Almora and Haridwar since 1991, is locked in a keen contest with the ruling Congress(I). (Chief Minister and veteran Congress(I) leader N.D. Tiwari won the Nainital seat in the previous elections. Mahendra Pal Singh of the Congress(I) was elected to the seat in the byelection caused by Tiwari's vacation of the seat on becoming Chief Minister.)

Despite its strong presence in the undivided Uttar Pradesh, and despite the fact that it was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre that created Uttaranchal in November 2000, the BJP won only 19 of the 69 seats it contested in the 2002 elections to the 70-member State Assembly and 25.45 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) won 36 seats, with 26.91 per cent of the votes. Now the situation seems to have changed a bit.

As the ruling party, one would expect the Congress(I) to be comfortably placed to win most of the seats. Surprisingly, this is not the case. The party has not consolidated its position. Two years after the Assembly elections, the BJP senses that the Congress(I) government's failures would work to its advantage.

The BJP is harping on the NDA government's achievements and projecting the clean image of Prime Minister Vajpayee. But the NDA's "India Shining" hype has not impressed the people. "It may be shining for them, but there is nothing here to make us feel so," said Kanwal Singh Rawat of Rainapur near Rishikesh, even as he professes support for the BJP. But surely one thing that could pave the way for the BJP's success is the construction of roads. "Even far-flung areas have now been connected with roads," says one village resident. And B.C. Khanduri, Surface Transport Minister and MP from Pauri Garhwal, is viewed as the man who did it.

Had the Congress(I) retained its edge it acquired in 2002, its prospects would have been better, but indications are that it has not. Even the party's internal survey, conducted in February, showed its chances were slipping. "It looks like 50-50 to me, if the selection of candidates is right," N.D. Tiwari said. He concedes there might have been shortcomings in meeting the people's expectations; he blames paucity of funds for this. "We cannot work miracles in two years. I had the job of laying the plinth and I have ensured that at least there is no negative factor against either the government or the party," says the four-time Chief Minister of undivided U.P. In fact he earned the sobriquet "Vikas Purush" for the unprecedented development work that took place in U.P. during his tenure.

He agrees that the laying of the roads, for which the Centre is getting the maximum credit, is the only achievement that the people seem to take into account. "There have been initiatives in the area of industry, tourism and Information Technology, which should start giving results in a couple of years. I have laid the foundation for them," he says. But lack of unity within the Congress(I)(State party president Harish Rawat is known to carp at Tiwari) and factionalism could detract the voters from the initiatives Tiwari claims to have undertaken. Except Nainital, which has been Tiwari's bastion, Tehri is the only other seat where the Congress(I) can look for some gains. Manvendra Shah, the BJP MP and erstwhile ruler of Tehri state, has represented the constituency since 1991, but now people have started complaining about his nonavailability and lack of performance. Sensing this mood, the Congress(I) has fielded Vijay Bahuguna, son of the late H.N. Bahuguna who was Chief Minister of U.P. In Almora and Pauri Garhwal, where the BJP has renominated Bachi Singh Rawat and B.C. Khanduri respectively, the Congress(I) has absolutely no presence. Khanduri gets thumbs up for the good roads and Bachi Singh Rawat holds his own turf having defeated Harish Rawat continuously since 1991.

In Haridwar, where the Congress(I) hopes to do well, the scale looks tilted towards the BJP. So there is no reason for the Congress(I) to feel optimistic. Interestingly, this is the only seat where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) holds ground. Of the nine Assembly segments in the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency, the BSP has won six and the BJP two. The ground realities now do not favour the Congress(I) in Haridwar. The one achievement that the Congress(I) tries to take credit for is the improvement of facilities for pilgrims participating in the Kumbh melas. But it is common knowledge that the NDA government provided Rs.135 crores to upgrade the facilities.

Above all else, the BJP's poll mascot, Vajpayee, has actually caught the people's fancy in the hill State. "(Congress-I chief) Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is no big issue, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee scores on experience and performance," said Sapre Ram, a retired school principal in Rainapur village.

Purnima S. Tripathi

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