National mood is against Congress
National mood is against Congress
By Shyam Khosla
Verdict 2014 is a shattering blow to the Congress Party and its “future” Rahul Gandhi. The Party was routed in UP, vanquished in Punjab, decimated in Goa and failed to win a majority in Uttrakhand. The only consolation for the Congress is Manipur where it managed to retain its hold in the Assembly largely because of the absence of a credible opposition. Congress is indeed a sinking ship if one were to add to these miseries its woeful performance in Mumbai Municipal elections last month.
The outcome of the Assembly polls in five states is a unique mix of disappointments and hope for the second largest party – BJP. It lost yet another opportunity to retain its core base in UP. It did well in Punjab in recovering most of the ground it lost due to some of its controversial ministers to emerge as a big asset for the SAD-BJP alliance. While it scored a stunning victory in Goa by stitching a rainbow social alliance, the party under the leadership of Chief Minister B C Khanduri surprised political pundits by running neck and neck with the Congress in Uttrakhand. Alas, its General lost his own seat after bringing the party to the brink of yet another victory.
Among the major regional parties, the BSP lost power in UP and miserably failed in other states. The SP managed to score a huge victory in the all-important state of UP with the help of its core base of Yadavs and consolidation of Muslim votes in its favour. The Congress and the SP indulged in competitive communalism in which the latter bet the Congress hollow by getting an over-whelming majority of Muslim votes. Any attempt in the past to consolidate Muslim votes on a communal card had invariably led to a backlash among Hindus who would then polarise in favour of the BJP. This didn’t happen this time. Who or what prevented it? Is it because the BJP too has joined the pseudo-secular bandwagon? Incidentally, 69 Muslims have won this election in UP against only 33 in 1996 polls.
Left parties that identified UP as a “priority” state about 10 years ago have been decimated without a trace. None of the left parties could win even a single seat in any of the five states. The vote share for the dead ideology was less than one per cent in states where the left parties contested.
SP WINS IN UP
The SP scored a landslide victory in the most populous state of the country by winning 225 of 403 seats. The party that was thrown out of power five years ago by the people for its goonda raj rode back to power by its core Yadav votes and massive Muslim support. It is the magic of first past the post system that enabled the SP to ride to victory by securing just four per cent votes more than the BSP. Corrupt and authoritarian rule by Mayawati cost her power though she managed to hold on to her core vote bank of Dalits.
Congress Party suffered its worst set back in UP despite the media hype about Rahul magic and pandering to communal elements. It remained in the fourth position. It is a huge setback for the Congress if one were to compare its performance with the 2009 parliamentary polls when it was ahead in 95 assembly segments. What should cause deep concern to the dynasty is that the party won only two of 10 seats under the parliamentary constituencies of Amethi and Rai Bareli supposed to be its pocket boroughs. Rahul Gandhi accepting his responsibility for the party’s rout in UP sounds good. However, blaming the absence of an effective organisation in the state for the defeat amounts to passing the buck. As one of the most important party general secretaries, wasn’t it his job to build the party? Is he a leader or a reader?
The BJP too couldn’t do well in UP. It lost two percentage points in its vote share and won four seats less than the last election. Its hopelessly divided state unit and demoralised cadres were major factors for its defeat. Ticket distribution on the basis of “internal surveys” is neither in tune with the BJP’s work culture, ethos and the spirit of the internal democracy by which the party swears. The state party chief and a former speaker belonging to the party lost their respective seats even though Uma Bharati whose induction into the state party was resented by many won comfortably and campaigned aggressively injecting some life in the party. The leaders who dismissed her as an “outsider” must hang their heads in shame.
BJP’s successive failures in UP is a matter of grave concern for the party and its sympathisers. The party must strive to regain its position as the lead party in UP to emerge as the ruling party at the national level. It is a tough but not an insurmountable target. It had won a clear majority in the Assembly way back in 1991 without even projecting anyone as its Chief Ministerial candidate. No party can stitch a winning social alliance or benefit from incumbency factor unless it is able to retain its core base. The sooner the party addresses this issue the better it would be for it and the parivar.
SAD-BJP VICTORY IN PUNJAB
NDA’s performance in Punjab is a shot in the arm for the alliance. It rode back to victory with 68 seats in the 117-member Assembly creating history as no party had been returned to power for a second successive term since the reorganisation of the state in 1966. The Congress party that was confident of a big victory could secure only 46 seats while the remaining three went to Independents. PPP – the party of rebel Akali leader Manpreet Singh – secured six percent votes but failed to win even a single seat. NDA’s huge victory in the state is significant because it did manage to overcome several negative factors. SAD succeeded in neutralising the Sirsa-base Dera that had damaged the party in last elections. This time round, even the son-in-law of the Dera Chief who sought re-election on the Congress ticket was defeated comprehensibly. SAD mobilised its cadres to defeat the mischievous role of Dera Chief who was acting as a Congress agent. Another “negative” was the anger among urban voters for the perceived neglect of the interests of the urban areas. At one point of time it appeared that the BJP may be reduced to a single digit party against the windfall of 19 seats it won in 2007 (largely because of the anti-Congress mood among the urban votes then). Interestingly, BJP lost only one percentage point in its vote share against three percentage point loss suffered by its senior partner the Akali Dal. BJP’s decision to field several new faces and to swap some seats with the Akali Dal did impact the result in several constituencies. In addition to first timers, several senior leaders of the party including former Ministers M M Mittal and Manoranjan Kalia won with comfortable majorities.
UTTRAKHAND – A CLIFF HANGER
Uttrakhand is the only among the five states that returned a hung assembly. While the ruling BJP won 31 seats, the Congress was just ahead with 32 members in the 70-member Assembly. BSP managed to win three and four seats went to others. It is a cliff hanger and only time will show who forms the Government in the hill state. BJP’s national leadership deserves credit for bringing back the Retired Major General B C Khanduri as Chief Minister of the hill state a few months back. As expected he did regained a lot of ground lost during the leadership of his predecessor R P Nishank. The General had too little time to recover the lost ground as the Election Commission insisted on holding the elections in the hill state in January. His repeated pleas to hold polls in March with Goa on the ground that extreme cold weather in January would deny the parties and candidates an opportunity to reach out to the voters were turned down by the Election Commission. Who knows what would have happened if the EC had accepted with grace the Chief Minister’s demand.
The most tragic defeat in this election is that of Khanduri. There are serious allegations that some disgruntled elements in the party sabotaged his campaign. The General is believed to have informed the party high command of what was happening in his constituency. BJP must hold an independent enquiry into these charges and punish the guilty if it is to maintain a semblance of discipline in the party that is torn asunder by factionalism. Will the party allow the General who has lost his seat to lead the Government in Uttrakhand if it is able to scramble together a majority with the help of “others”?
The saffron party swept Congress out of power in Goa by winning 21 seats in the 40-member house. It alliance partner – MGP – got 3 while the four independents supported by the alliance also romp home to victory. The Congress party could manage only nine seats. Seven “others” also entered the House. Manohar Parrikar – the BJP’s face in Goa – successfully exploited the anti-Congress mood generated by massive corruption of the outgoing Congress Government. He also stitched a rainbow alliance by giving space to Independents where the party couldn’t win on its own. Incidentally, what were BJP leaders in Delhi trying to prove by repeatedly claiming on television channels that all the six Christians put up by the party in Goa had won?