9 OCTOBER 2018
This round of polls has more than one thread; using them to spin a forecast for 2019 is risky
As five States go to the polls with just months left for the Lok Sabha election, the temptation to read the results as pointers will be great. What makes the contest in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan even more interesting is that these will witness a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress, the principal players at the national level. Whoever wins would have hurt the opponent twice over. Additionally, the Congress is a big player in Telangana and Mizoram too, raising the stakes in this round further. Without a doubt, the results will have a bearing on how the issues are framed and the campaign is run in 2019, not to speak of the effect on the morale of party functionaries and workers. But it would be a mistake to ignore the particularities of each State while reading the results as indicators of how 2019 will turn out to be. In the Lok Sabha election of 1999, for instance, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan voted overwhelmingly for the BJP after having elected the Congress in the Assembly elections just a year earlier. The BJP at that time cashed in on the widely held perception that the Vajpayee government was brought down unreasonably. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP has been in power since 2003; Shivraj Singh Chouhan is completing 13 years as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, and Raman Singh 15 years in Chhattisgarh, and anti-incumbency will be a factor, more than in the Lok Sabha poll. But the Congress appears to have its best chance in Rajasthan, which chooses alternately between it and the BJP.
Telangana is the new State added to this batch of elections as Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao chose to recommend dissolution of the Assembly almost nine months before its term was to end. Mr. Rao clearly wanted to uncouple the Assembly election from the Lok Sabha. There was no proximate event that could have resulted in a surge of support for his government as was the case when N. Chandrababu Naidu tried to advance the Andhra Pradesh election after surviving a landmine blast in 2003. Mizoram, where the contest has traditionally been between the Congress and regional formations, is unlikely to see a drastic change although the Northeast is one of India’s most politically volatile areas and the BJP has encroached upon the Congress space in parts of the region. The timing of the Election Commission’s announcement itself came under political scrutiny with the Congress alleging it was put off by hours to allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to complete his speech at a rally in Ajmer. The Election Commission of India gave several reasons for the postponement, including a late request from Tamil Nadu to defer the election citing the monsoon. As one of the most important institutional pillars, the ECI will have to be above all suspicion.
With Brett Kavanaugh confirmed, Republicans enjoy great power to shape the U.S. agenda
The U.S. Senate has confirmed the nomination of conservative-leaning judge Brett Kavanaugh, by a vote of 50-48, and he was sworn in as a ninth justice of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). The narrow victory of the second successful nominee of President Donald Trump to the highest court came after a furore involving allegations of sexual misconduct levelled by Christine Blasey Ford, a Professor of Psychology. Under pressure after Ms. Ford came forward, the Republican majority on Capitol Hill agreed to an FBI inquiry into the allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh. While the FBI was limited to a tight deadline, given a predetermined list of persons it could interview, and constraints on the kind of evidence it could obtain, no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing emerged. Mr. Kavanaugh now takes the place of retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a judge seen as a potential swing vote on contentious issues such as marriage equality. Chief Justice John Roberts is also considered by some to be a potential swing vote, as he was in the case that established the legality of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. This, then, is the critical question facing American jurisprudence: has the rightward tilt of the SCOTUS intensified with Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation? Including him, five of the nine justices now lean conservative.
Liberal-progressive America may understandably fear that the country is on the brink of a new epoch of politics and social justice that could herald a rollback of hard-fought freedoms in areas such as women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, rights of racial or ethnic minorities, immigration reform, and environmental controls. Given Mr. Kavanaugh’s past rulings on assault weapons bans, religious liberty rights and the constitutional rights of large financial corporations, his rulings in future cases may well favour conservatives – for example, by giving the Second Amendment on the right to bear arms more teeth, by potentially re-opening Roe v. Wade on abortion, or by allowing state-level challenges that go against the marriage equality tenet implied by Obergefell v. Hodges. A closely watched area in which the newest justice may have to rule is whether the U.S. President is immune to criminal prosecution, especially since Mr. Kavanaugh helped write the Ken Starr Report calling for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Would he still stand by sections of that report that argued in favour of an impeachment for lying? Taking a step back from the Kavanaugh nomination, it is evident that even if Democrats are in a strong position to win back the House of Representatives in the coming mid-term elections, control of the White House, the Senate and SCOTUS gives the Republican Party a magnitude of control rarely seen in recent times, and with it the power to reinsert conservative values into the heart of American democracy.