The world of Maya

That formidable number cruncher of the Mayan civilisation who, 5,125 years ago, initiated a calendar which decided, without much by way of explanation, that its last date would be 21 December 2012, had one distinct advantage over any contemporary astrologer. He isn’t around to find out whether he was right. So will the world end in a little less than 12 months?

My own prophecy is: yes. The world will end for most of those who are currently leading the world. Superstars will splutter into some black hole, primarily for political reasons. Biology may take its toll in one or two cases, but we shall leave God’s decisions to God. I am not insisting that the world will become a better place in 2012, but it will be a different place. A democratic cull of serious proportions is going to happen.

The year will get into the mood with Taiwan’s presidential elections on 14 January; and in February India will echo with the click of ballot boxes. Admitted Uttar Pradesh is not a nation, but it has a population equal to that of Pakistan; so while it is a province, its impact is never provincial. On 4 March, Vladimir Putin will discover whether his carefully laid plans to be in power till the end of time have been interrupted by street rage.

In the same month, Iran will get a new Majlis [Parliament]. On 22 April, France heads for the ballot box, finalising Nicolas Sarkozy’s fate on 6 May. Pesky London will provide some pantomime entertainment alongside, when lusty Boris Johnson and sperm-donor Ken Livingstone face off for the most glamorous civic job on the globe. In October, the most boring election in history will replace Hu Jintao with Xi Jinping as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. We know the results already of course. Then comes the big bang. If Newt Gingrich, God forbid, becomes the candidate against Barack Obama, he will confirm the widely-held view that while it is not compulsory to be crazy to win the Republican primaries, it certainly helps. In between, Inshallah, a few Arab tyrants will disappear either to Switzerland or to prison. And Pakistan, where an elected government has never completed its full term, just might see a change of guard. That takes care of about three fourths of the world’s population.

For me, the most interesting poll will take place in Uttar Pradesh.
Do not underestimate Rahul Gandhi just because he rolls up his sleeves like an amateur wrestler, or asks for ten years in office when the legal limit is five. Do not overestimate him either, just because the jangle in his pocket is the sound of the silver spoon he was born with.

The real surprise

The UP elections will test the limits of charisma as much as they question the traditional contours of voting mathematics. The real surprise, so far, is that Rahul Gandhi, who set out to become a new icon, has been reading by a trite and jaded script. Growing your flexi-size beard in preparation for a visit to Deoband is the sort of thing that Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna might have advised in 1974. But the intensity with which both Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are treating the Uttar Pradesh elections is evidence that Lucknow is marginal to their concerns; their eye is on Delhi.

Sops come in many sizes; and always wrapped in cynicism. The last-minute declaration of a minor job reservation for Muslims is a classic case of election bait rather than a serious socio-economic decision. The Congress is aware of the fact that the conditions of Muslims has actually deteriorated under UPA rule, as statistics prove, and hopes that a sleight-of-hand will revive fading support from the community.

But it is the hard push for a food security bill that indicates the intensity of the effort. Populism works as long as it remains popular; once it frays, as MNREGA is beginning to do, it becomes counter-productive. MNREGA was timed perfectly, just before the last general elections, and the rewards are visible. Similarly, the investment in the food security bill will provide maximum political returns by next monsoon or winter; after that, its internal inconsistencies could turn it into a liability. In the immediate term, it will help in UP poll atmospherics, but it is a national investment, not a regional one.

It makes sense if this is the Congress scenario for 2012. A reasonable performance in UP provides the ballast to make Rahul Gandhi Prime Minister after the Presidential elections in June. This should not be much of a problem; Dr Manmohan Singh will be 80, and can make age an excuse to retire.

 The Congress will welcome the change with due jubilation. Allies will have little option except to submit. And then Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi will, riding the media hype stimulated by his promotion, announce that he needs the legitimacy of popular support and call a general election next November.

Welcome to 2012, and the world of Maya.

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