Amit Sengupta Delhi 

Of the various uncertainties and possibilities, one political inevitability seems almost on the dot. That the PM-in-waiting, LK Advani, will not become prime minister. This, despite the strange ‘illusion trick' by virtue of which the octogenarian BJP leader seems to have already started believing that he has fulfilled his life's biggest aspiration. However, the BJP's ambitions might not even scratch the threshold of the last mandate of the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, and despite the muscle flexing at gymnasiums and the massive Internet campaign, the signs are there for all to see. And this includes the much-delayed findings of the Liberhan Commission on the Babri Masjid demolition which might finally see light at the end of the tunnel in the last phase of the UPA regime.

Just in case the BJP might suffer from a tunnel vision, a few facts: the party has no electoral or alliance base in several states, including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and most north-eastern states, which constitute a massive chunk of more than half of the parliamentary seats. The BJP's alliance with the BJD in Orissa is in tatters. The organised blood-letting by the VHP in Kandhamal against Christians (after the murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and his associates -- by whom?) might actually become counter-productive. In fact, the vicious and violent campaigns, as in the new hate labs of Orissa and Karnataka, the attacks on girls at a Mangalore pub by Hindutva fanatics, clear evidence of hardline Hindutva links in the Malegaon blasts (and indication of their links in other blasts, as in Ajmer, Samjhauta Express and Hyderabad), might actually boomerang on the BJP and its octopus like fronts led by the RSS. The ‘Pink Chaddi' campaign proves that people are disgusted and sick of the Hindutva types and will not take it lying down anymore.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been shrewdly wooing the minorities, while banning Narendra Modi to campaign in the state, and sidelining the BJP. By all accounts, Janata Dal (U) will gain ground in Bihar at the expense of the BJP and Lalu Prasad Yadav's rather discredited RJD, despite the laurels the railway minister has won for his exemplary work for the Great Indian Railways. Besides, all is not well within the party: protracted internecine rivalry, bitter factionalism and one-upmanship. While Narendra Modi tries to spread his carnivorous wings beyond Gujarat. Surely, Advani will not feel so cosy in Gandhinagar with another PM-in-waiting breathing down his neck?

As for the Congress, despite its flagship programmes -- the farm-loan waivers, the NREGS, the RTI -- it might still find itself on a sticky wicket. People on the ground have not really forgiven the party for cold-bloodedly betraying its aam aadmi plank, the back-breaking price rise, the huge army of jobless, tens of thousands of farmers' suicides, the struggles against SEZs and the brazen manner in which the UPA regime patronised the class of parasitic, predator, crony/casino capitalists. The legitimate question being asked is while the government bails out big business, what about the tens of thousands of middle class professionals and workers who have lost (and are rapidly losing) jobs due to the slowdown? Is the government at all concerned as it pampers the rich? Will it stop the pink slip policy?

The Congress's PM-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, is missing the wood for the trees by posing Dr Manmohan Singh as the next prime minister. Dr Singh might be an honest man, but he is also a Right-wing market fundamentalist and not a mass politician whose heart beats for the margins. Unlike Sonia Gandhi, he will just not be able to swing votes. Indeed, he might turn away the poorest who have been crushed by the betrayal of the Nehruvian paradigm.

One Congress advantage: taking over the aggressive anti-terror agenda of the BJP, especially after the Mumbai attacks. However, the targeting of innocent Muslim youths, the condemnation of the entire community and the Batla House encounter, widely perceived as fake, has triggered mass alienation of Muslims and other secular forces.

However, it's the silent majority which will finally decide. Often, it takes the country by surprise even while the best of pollsters and intelligence agents might find themselves twiddling their thumbs. Let's not forget that the BJP's muscle-pumping, India Shining and the Gujarat carnage machismo were decisively rejected by the people in rural and urban India in 2004. And that's why this silence of the lambs is both metaphysical and real -- an epic narrative of both the longing for democracy and the patient wait for social justice, equity, and peace -- something decisively denied to the majority by the political and corporate establishment, election after election.