New Delhi: The election season is upon us. The assembly elections have commenced and the campaigning for the national polls early next year have also begun in earnest. Such an extended election season highlighted by prolonged campaigning would not have been seen in a while.

It is always tricky in this country to separate assembly from general elections because one is never sure when the local becomes national and vice-versa. There are, to add to the confusion, an ever-growing number of political parties in the fray, with coalition politics making even the small players important.

Against this backdrop, we take stock of the key political parties and their election prospects. The two national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, will be analyzed in addition to the regional groups that have come to play a major role in mainstream politics.

Assigning ratings to them is not straightforward because political parties naturally differ in their goals and objectives, but their own particularities would be the basis for their grading. The following analyses are being serialized and the first part runs today. The order of appearance of the political parties does not necessarily reflect their ranking:

Aam Admi Party: Arvind Kejriwal has certainly caught the imagination of Delhi. For some two terms now, Shiela Dixit had conspired to make Delhi the country’s costliest city, with outrageous utility bills, and unrelenting corruption in every service provided by the government. The Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party under Vijay Goel seemed not to be in control of things and was seen to be acquiescing in the loot of the Congress government. To that extent, the rise of the Aam Admi Party has come as a rude shock to the chief opposition grouping, which was wise, though not terribly prompt, to drop Goel and make Harsh Vardhan the party’s chief minister candidate.

But the Aam Admi Party comes with problems. Chiefly, it is untested. As a pressure group, it has its merits, but it is too early to give it charge of administration. The electorate is wise to this. It would give Kejriwal’s party a good presence in the assembly, but not likely an overwhelming one. This writer does not readily accept the opinion polls that split Delhi’s votes three ways, with the Bharatiya Janata Party leading, but faced with a hung assembly. The Aam Admi Party’s gain will be at the cost of the Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party would be able to form a government in Delhi.

The other problem with Kejriwal is that he appears to run a rather authoritarian party. Before long, this would prove a handicap, especially in a politically charged city such as Delhi. One of his detractors faced a riotous crowd at a recent press conference. More of such goonda-giri and the Aam Admi Party would die before it can take flight. Also, it is driven by loathing for the existing dispensation, which is scarcely extraordinary in itself, but a political party needs to be more an avenging machine. Leading a movement is quite different from becoming a sustained power player, and negative campaigning ultimately cannot replace ideology and vision. Arvind Kejriwal needs to concentrate on these areas, and cannot afford to erase the association with Anna Hazare, the moral equivalent of who is unavailable in the current political spectrum. Rating: 5 out of 10.

Shiv Sena: It is struggling to be relevant after the death of Bal Thackeray. Uddhav, his son, who can be as rabid as the Shiv Sena founder at times, lacks the political touch of his estranged cousin, Raj. To be sure, the Shiv Sena was not doing well under the senior Thackeray too, which, despite the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, could not dislodge the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party from power in Maharashtra. Blame for this in large measure must rest with the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had lost heart in combating the Nehru-Gandhi establishment. Narendra Modi has changed the dynamics.

But the Shiv Sena is not the earlier force. Dynastic politics has taken its toll. It is difficult to imagine how the situation can be retrieved without the abdication of Uddhav, which is out of the question. As the head of the Shiv Sena, he would be prickly to counsel from the Bharatiya Janata Party, but there is no other way to save the party. And presumably, as the general election draws near, Modi would be increasingly in demand to plan the campaign strategy for Maharashtra, in which offering sagely advice to Uddhav Thackeray would indubitably form part of the package. But future collapse is the fate of all dynastic formations, and the Shiv Sena cannot be immune from this trend. Rating: 3 out of 10.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam: Another dynastic formation that has seen better days. After Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the party is destined to split among his two sons, and this can only benefit Jayalalithaa Jayaram’s All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and any national party that plays for the long haul. What has killed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, apart from the dynastic quarrels, is its appalling corruption. Nothing symbolized this more that Karunanidhi’s daughter going to jail for the 2G scam with a party Central minister, and his wife is up for questioning by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

It is increasingly difficult to tell what Karunanidhi’s party stands for, besides looting the exchequer. Dravidian politics played itself out long ago, not least because Karunanidhi had charismatic cinematic rivals for it in Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran and his protege, Jayalalithaa. Karunanidhi had a better reputation for administration than Ramachandran, who had a bigger fan following, however, but Jayalalithaa has a decent record in governance as well, which is what returned her to power. But her ascent has come at the worst time for Karunanidhi, who further sees no hope of a third United Progressive Alliance regime at the Centre, from which to extract rent as before. Not that the old campaigner has given up, who is as diligent about party work as before, but times have changed. Rating: 2 out of 10.

To be continued...