ONE SHOULD NOT confuse astrology with commentary, but what else is there to do when the drama has gone flat, the tension has gone dry from our constitutionally guaranteed political excitement, a General Election? Even social media, not necessarily constrained by facts or sense, is tepid. Wake up, everyone. This is February. The Republic has been feted on January 26, an interim Budget has been greeted by the requisite solemnity, Parliament has made its farewell speeches, the great sprint to power is about to start. We are on the brink of another General Election, but no one is on the edge of the seat.
Well: how interesting can a race with one runner be?
The I.N.D.I.A. bloc of opposition parties, touted excitedly by acolytes as the brainchild of Rahul Gandhi when it seemed a glow on the horizon, has been clouded by a rancorous confrontation between inflated Congress assumptions and the ground knowledge of its allies. Mamata Banerjee, a much-wooed heavyweight last year, now believes that Congress cannot win more than 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2024. With every putative yatra in a modern caravan Rahul Gandhi seems to bring down the Congress tally. After his south-north trip in 2023 Congress was wiped out in the Assembly elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, and only scrambled into office in Telangana despite handsome early advantages. During the current discovery of India from east to west, Congress seems to be sliding down in the Lok Sabha polls.
An astrologer, therefore, can be our only source of some excitement. Full disclosure: this astrologer is a friend from Bengal. I shall not name him since I do not have his permission to do so. He is more certain about the credibility of his art, or science, than I am, but of this I can vouch: many weeks before the 2023 Assembly elections, when every opinion poll was predicting a Congress sweep in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and a positive edge in Rajasthan, this friend calmly predicted that Kamal Nath would never become chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. He had seen Kamal Nath’s charts.
I pointed towards opinion polls, which were saying the opposite. He shrugged, smiled, shrugged again. You don’t argue with the stars. Well then, Digvijaya Singh might get the job.
Repeat shrug-smile-shrug. Then came a more startling prediction.
Congress would be routed in Chhattisgarh. He reeled off a series of planetary positions beyond my comprehension, and consequent numbers. Game over, Congress.
Till about 11 in the morning on the day of the Assembly results, Madhya Pradesh had proved him right but Chhattisgarh was signalling a Congress triumph. Then the ruthless wheel of fortune went into reverse gear in Raipur.
So, what did he say in early January about the 2024 General Election?
BJP would get between 335 and 337 seats in Lok Sabha; Congress around 65 or a bit less. The rest would go to regional parties, largely to soft or hard allies of Prime Minister Modi. NDA would grow. Prime Minister Modi’s new government in the summer of 2024, however, would be literally new.
Experience tells me that the tide of victory swings the marginals onto the winning side raising its numbers by a rough 10 per cent. We shall know in May.
AS I WRITE, polling for the election of the 24th prime minister of Pakistan is an hour old and the ousted-imprisoned Imran Khan has issued his first bulletin of the morning. Citing the sudden and mysterious coma into which the internet had fallen on polling day, Imran Khan alleged that the establishment (polite codename for the army) was rigging the ballot heavily to defeat his candidates.
Irony is always the first casualty in a tortured farce. Imran Khan has perhaps forgotten that in the last Pakistani elections, the same establishment had switched off the same internet as the first part of a process to rig him into office. The whirligig of time is spinning through the windmills of the kind, to paste a line from 16th-century Shakespeare to a song from that brilliant 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. Imran Khan would know the song.
Imran the cricket-legend-cum-variable-politician has one advantage. Unlike most of his predecessors he will be remembered, if only because of his personality rather than his politics. He was and is a good human being. He meant well but understood late.
He was fortunate to have lasted as long as he did. No Pakistan prime minister, elected or anointed, has completed a full term. Army dictators have ruled for decades, because their institution is in permanent power in a country without a past and, possibly, without much of a future. The future should not be defined by geography for that will last. If the future includes the welfare of the people and the fortunes of a nation, then the terrain becomes more difficult.
Imran Khan should also know by now that in Pakistan it is more sensible to ask an army general to predict the outcome of an election than an astrologer.
THERE HAS BEEN no election result, at least in my knowledge, quite as humiliating as the one suffered by the American presidential aspirant Nikki Haley this week in the Republican party process. The place was Nevada. Haley was the only candidate. Donald Trump had refused to contest. But there was a second option on the ballot paper, labelled ‘None of the Candidates’, equivalent to NOTA (None of the Above) in Indian elections.
When results were declared, Nikki Haley had 33.2 per cent of the vote. ‘None of the Candidates’ had 60.4 per cent. To be defeated by an opponent is one thing. To be defeated by anonymity is loss on an industrial scale. Perhaps Haley will continue her campaign in the vain or vague hope that American courts will disqualify Trump. That might be hoping for too much but each time one sees the curious and sometimes cruel vagaries of democratic politics there is only one message for ambitious hopefuls. It is from Dante’s epic on hell and heaven: Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
FROM THE REALM OF excessive hard work for transitory reward to the empire of leisure. The best place to work in the world is Vanuatu, the cluster of some 80 idyllic islands in the South Pacific. You need to clock in only for 24.7 hours a week or about five hours a day. Ditto nearby Kiribati, which asks for only 27.3 hours of your presence. Such glorious statistics remind me of a story. Bill Gates, determined to enjoy his retirement, was fishing in a Greek village. A few yards away sat a wizened Greek also with his fishing line. Conversation was inevitable. Gates explained that he had come to fish so that he could finally relax and enjoy himself after the ardour of making billions. The wise Greek pointed out that he had been relaxed all his life without the need for any billions.
There will never be a billionaire from Vanuatu. Why do you need a billionaire in Paradise?
Maybe enough people in the rich world have also heard the Bill Gates joke. In Denmark you work only 33.1 hours a week if you are a man and 29.5 if a woman. This has done little harm to its GDP. The dawn of the New Age may be in Vanuatu, but sunrise is in Denmark.