2014 will be about the future of the stomach MJ Akbar The thought is so shocking that we might as well be done with it in the very first sentence: there is good news ahead for both the Congress and the BJP. They should not worry about the coming assembly elections as much as their crumbling eyebrows suggest. The results will have only a marginal effect on the bigger war ahead, for Delhi. Both victory and defeat will seem far less dramatic when the Great Game enters its decisive phase next year. 2013 is not the semi-final that some commentators - addicted to shorthand at the expense of long-form analysis - visualize. The game is the same, but the tournament is different. Voters know this. In Uttar Pradesh they call Parliament the "ooperwallah" election and Assemblies the "neecheywallah", or upper and lower. In Haryana the variation is choti parchi and badi parchi (small paper and big paper). On the "small" ballot are written the destinies of Sheila Dikshit, Ashok Gehlot, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Pu Lalthanhawla. The choice next year will be between Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and some honcho from an amorphous coalition of fiancÃ©s who are absolutely determined to get married but only if they get pregnant. This last hobgoblin is sometimes called the Third Front, sometimes the Fourth Front and most often nothing at all. The calm thing to do is to wait for December 8, when results will be declared. But since Indian elections are essentially an extension of the festive season, we need all the premature excitement we can get in that variable of astrology, opinion polls. My own suggestion is to concentrate instead on face-reading. The prospects of a chief minister, or one in waiting, can be fairly accurately measured on a scowl-o-meter. Tension cannot be long hidden from the omnipresent television camera. Nothing measures the inner self quite like the open face. A politician can read his future in the eyes of his audience; he knows when the light is green or red, and his own face will reflect that colour. December will be lost in din. Almost too quickly after those results attention will shift to Telangana and whether it can get majority support in a dying Parliament. The absence of clarity is always an invitation to television apoplexy. If Telangana ebbs the everlasting coal mines scandal will usurp time. Coalgate has become almost yogic. It seems to quieten, and then suddenly levitates on some hitherto unknown spring. You can't keep a good scandal down. Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi would be well advised to give their vocal chords a good, long rest in December. Anything they say will, in any case, be lost in the undulating hills of uproar. January will begin in the silence of a hangover, but by the second week, the principal noise-house, Parliament, will be a bad memory, and the spotlight will shift to the national debate, which will move without comma or colon till the full stop appears in May. The decisive rule in the last game of the five-year political season is simple. No election is won or lost till the last vote is counted. Those who celebrate or despair today should wake up and wash their face. Both are unwarranted. Opinion polls can offer a trend but do not produce a result, particularly in an election where the very meaning of victory and defeat is in dispute. Numbers alone will not suffice. You have to have sufficient numbers in the next Lok Sabha. Rule Number 2: no election is a mirror of the past. Previous statistics can be misleading as a base for projection. Leave alone any comparison between 2009 and 2014, the elections in UP and Bihar will be vastly different from the assembly polls that placed present formations in office. Democracy would be comatose, if not dead, if the electorate turned stagnant. For the young, who will determine the next winner, elections are as much about immediate experience as hope about the future. For the middle-aged and the elderly, the next five years may seem like yet another passage on the downhill road towards the end. But for a 20-year-old, the next five years constitute a lifetime precisely because he or she is going to fashion a life within this time. Religion or caste may never disappear from India, but they will be box cars at the end of a locomotive whose engine is the economy and whose driver is employment. Onions do not have a religion. The election of 2014 will be about the future of the stomach. Rahul Gandhi has indicated what he will do: continue the distributive largesse from the national exchequer. We still have to hear from Modi about his economic policies. Gujarat is a rhetorical asset, but not quite a model for India. When the fog of winter clears, there should be more clarity. 2014 will be about the future of the stomach by The Siege Within : MJ Akbar's blog-The Times Of India *********************************************** Another thought provoking commentary by MJ Akbar. He is correct in his postulations, but more importantly in stating Religion or caste may never disappear from India, but they will be box cars at the end of a locomotive whose engine is the economy and whose driver is employment. Onions do not have a religion. The election of 2014 will be about the future of the stomach. and with sagacity his concludes that Rahul Gandhi has indicated what he will do: continue the distributive largesse from the national exchequer. We still have to hear from Modi about his economic policies. Gujarat is a rhetorical asset, but not quite a model for India. When the fog of winter clears, there should be more clarity. Indeed, its all about how the stomach can be filled!