Saturday, April 5, 2014

Kuldeep Rai Sharma: One Chance Please!

Kuldeep Rai Sharma:
One Chance Please!

By Zubair Ahmed

Some people aspire for a political career, some drift into it and upon some it is forced.  Kuldeep Rai Sharma too had not thought of politics as a career. But it was thrust upon him. The circumstances that forced him are yet to come out into the open.

But he surprised everyone when he secured more than 20% of votes polled in 1998 contesting under his own Andaman & Nicobar Congress. The next year he teamed up with Bishnu Pada Ray and gave Manoranjan Bhakta the first taste of defeat. But it did not take long for the relation with BJP to sour.

Manoranjan Bhakta persuaded Kuldeep Rai Sharma to join Indian National Congress and succeeded. Essentially it was a move to defang Kuldeep Rai Sharma. But the cure proved worse than the disease.

Kuldeep Rai Sharma went on to become working president during 2004 election and eventually the State President. He has assiduously imbibed some of the sterling qualities of Bhakta as a politician. Shy by nature, he talks very less, keeps his council and bids his time for an opportune moment to strike. His vulnerability could be deceptive. Being an engineer by qualification, he has an analytical mind that is driven by logic and not emotion.   

In 2009, nobody had expected him to snatch the party ticket from the jaws of Manoranjan Bhakta, an eight time MP who had won the last election with one of the largest margin. But Kuldeep Rai Sharma did achieve that feat. But, he could not sustain the tempo. He reached very late on the scene and failed to achieve the bigger feat; taking the Bhakta loyalists along who would do anything to get him defeated. And they defeated him with a meager margin of 2900 votes.

His focus was never on consolidating the party structure, but gobbling up as many institutions as possible. The party at grass root level were in shambles till a couple of years back. And it took a while for the young Turk to wake up and tighten the belt.

He understood the dynamics of cooperative movement and unseated many goliaths and eventually took control of all unions and federations. He is as of now President or Chairman of as many as 10 to 15 unions or associations.

"Its a strategy of a shrewd politician. He will gradually loosen the grip on associations, federations and unions once he becomes Member of Parliament," said a senior Congressman.

The social service through Cooperative Bank seems to have done wonders for Kuldeep Rai Sharma. It is one asset even his adversary Bishnu Pada Ray does not deny. However, there is wide antipathy among the common account holders of the bank that loans have been sanctioned from the bank without any check and balance. It is also alleged that about Rs 70 crore loans were sanctioned in the last few months. But, Congressmen staunchly believe that the outreach programmes conducted by the bank will be surely translated into votes.

Elections are the time to make up with old foes. One makes foes in the open and at the fag end, finds time and reason to reconcile in secrecy. He made up with Chidambaram, once the Tamil face of Congress. He also patched up with Balakrishnan Nair, a staunch party man repelled due to favouritism by the party led by Kuldeep Rai Sharma. TSG Bhasker, President of Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry was his only challenger who gave him tough time. He too seems to be placated to all appearances.

This is the third time, Kuldeep Rai Sharma is going to face the electorate. Huge sympathy of the Islanders especially a group is with him. "Lets give him a chance and see," says a senior Congressman. "This is a do or die situation for Kuldeep," says another Congressman.

All internal differences had been conveniently slipped inside the carpet, and the decision of his candidature was made to look unanimous. There was wide disgruntlement among many senior Congressmen. They make you feel the 'There is No Alternative' (TINA) factor. With drooling faces they accepted his candidature, but won't let you know that.

The grapevine was that resentment among Tamils have become wider. However, Congress claims to have found inroads into the community.

Old and veteran Congressmen who once could not digest Kuldeep Rai Sharma have also started rallying behind him.

Initially BJP's indecisiveness gave Kuldeep time and space to leap ahead. And it also turned to be a windfall for him that Bishnu could not garner the support of his party for the election campaign. The visibility of Congress on the ground too gave it an edge over others.

However, the sudden over-confidence of the party might ring the death knell, if it harps on the mantra that BJP is trying to defeat BJP in the elections. With fragmented Bengali vote, and secure Nicobari vote, once again the 40% of voters in South Andaman may play a major role in the elections. Congress claims to have regained the lost ground in Ferrar Gunj Tehsil. But, how Port Blairians will vote is still an enigma.

It indeed seems to be a close fight with Kuldeep having an edge over Bishnu, but there are other dark horses like AAP and TMC, which might play spoilsport.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Linguistic Number Game

The Linguistic Number Game

By Zubair Ahmed

In the Parliamentary constituencies on the mainland, barring a few areas, the voters are generally found to be of a homogeneous nature. But not in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands! It is not for nothing that the Islands have earned the sobriquet of mini India!

Among the regional groups, Bengalis constitute over 25%, of the population that held sway over the electoral results since 1977 when Bengali candidates took centre stage in a big way with the rise of Manoranjan Bhakta. In the general election in 1967 and 1971 both the major contestants; late KR Ganesh and late PKS Prasad were out of the fold where the Indian National Congress had scored over an independent; PKS Prasad.

However, given a choice in 1977, it is safe to assume that the Bengali electors voted tactically giving Manoranjan Bhakta a resounding victory over the ‘invincible’ KR Ganesh. Thereafter, Bhakta dominated the election scenario till 1991 when another Bengali candidate Tapan Kumar Bepari gave him a run for his money. Finally, the only defeat that Manoranjan Bhakta suffered in his distinguished career was at the hand of another Bengali candidate; Bishnu Pada Ray. A Bengali was pitted against another. However, when the picture changed in 2009, when once again, Bishnu became MP defeating a non-Bengali candidate Kuldeep Rai Sharma.

Bengalis alone cannot be accused of favouring candidates of their own class in the hustling. Whenever there was a credible Tamilian candidate, he too garnered a very good support from his people. K Kandaswamy had secured from 13% to 31% of valid votes in 1967, 1980, 1984 and 1989 polls. That it was not enough to see him through is a different matter. Tamilians constitute about 17% of population.

The scenario this time is not very different. It is widely publicised by anti-Bishnu camp inside the party as well as his opponents outside that he tried the linguistic card this time too to get the ticket.

His focus it seems to be on Bengali and Tamil vote, a bonanza indeed, if his wishes come true. However, Tamilians are keeping the cards very close to their chests not revealing their preferences.

Meanwhile, TMC scored the first goal by getting AIADMK as its alliance, a very strange coincidence. But, how much potent AIADMK is a question everybody is asking. And, how much the local Tamils are going to follow their high command based in Tamil Nadu has to be seen. TMC too seems to be on same track with focus on Bengali vote and now AIADMK getting on to the wagon.

DMK on the other hand has reserved their inclination by declaring that they will go neutral. But, it is also rumoured that the sudden shift in the decision of BJP seat towards Bishnu had changed their decision. It might be advantageous for Kuldeep.

Bishnu is banking big time on Tamil and Bengali vote, and seems to be a bit unconcerned about the local vote, which might become a dangerous move for him with more than 50% voters belonging to other regional groups.

The table would show that there are other regional groups with a strong presence in the electorate. However, such groups never asserted their position and resorted to tactical voting. It is proved from the fact that they never projected their candidates in the elections.

A few experiments like Agapit Kujur and Henry; a Santhali (Ranchi) and a Nicobari tribal had failed miserably in the past. Prakash Minj, another young Ranchi candidate has already missed the opportunity of consolidating his vote bank by dilly dallying with Aam Aadmi Party. Leoba Vovo, a reluctant Nicobari candidate both forced to stand and withdraw from the elections show the disinterest of a community in political sphere.

Hindu, Muslim and Christian form the three major religious groups of population. But the legacy of communal harmony ensures that no passion is aroused nor tolerated in the electoral game. 

The contour and character of the voters has undergone a sea change over the years. The old family loyalty towards political parties is breaking down. The ethnic and religious barriers too do not hold the youth from exercising their democratic right to vote.

The impatient and disillusioned younger generation yearns for change; change for the better. They are looking for a generational change in the political arena too.

Will Kuldeep be able to break the jinx of the Bengali factor and become another non-Bengali MP after late KR Ganesh will decide how strong the linguistic dynamics actually work.

No doubt, both are trying to keep Bengali and Tamil voters entertained, but there are other game spoilers too in the arena this time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sanjay Meshack and Kuldeep Rai Sharma: Two Crorepatis in the Fray

Sanjay Meshack and Kuldeep Rai Sharma:
Two Crorepatis in the Fray

By Zubair Ahmed

The total value of movable and immovable assets of the Aam Aadmi Party candidate Sanjay Meshack is Rs. 5.74 crores, which makes him the richest candidate as per the affidavit filed for the nomination of Lok Sabha elections.

Sanjay has total movable assets of Rs 17.61 lakhs and his spouse has Rs 7.36 lakhs. He has immovable asset to the tune of Rs 5.50 crores. Sanjay Meshack's annual income is Rs 17.61 lakhs.

The total assets of Kuldeep Rai Sharma, the Congress candidate including his spouse's asset is worth Rs. 3.11 crores.

He has movable assets of Rs 37.33 lakhs and his spouse Rs 30.34 lakhs. The total value of immovable assets of Kuldeep is Rs 48.44 lakhs and his spouse Rs 1.95 crores. He has declared his income as Rs 4.14 lakhs.

He has declared  himself poorer than his wife. Moreover, one of the notable point in the affidavit is that he doesn't have any deposit in A&N Coop Bank, of which he is the Vice Chairman.

Bishnu Pada Ray, the BJP candidate has declared an asset of Rs 56.58 Lakhs in his affidavit.

His movable assets are valued at Rs 35.31 lakhs and his spouse has total assets amounting Rs 3.27 lakhs. He has immovable assets worth Rs 8.50 lakhs and his spouse Rs 9.50 lakhs The income of Bishnu Pada Ray as declared in the affidavit is Rs 6.70 lakhs.

Both Kuldeep Rai Sharma and Bishnu Pada Ray have no liabilities as per the affidavits filed by them.

Whereas, spouse of Kuldeep Rai Sharma has liabilities of Rs 50.34 lakhs including the term loan from A&N Coop Bank worth Rs 20.70 lakhs taken for construction of Hotel Sunrise and Whistling Wood.

Bishnu's wife has liability of Rs 1.75 lakhs.

Sanjay Meshack has declared his liability of Rs 38.80 lakhs and his wife Rs 2.45 lakhs.