By Shivaji Sarkar
The recent Assembly elections in four of the five states have come out with one message. People are disenchanted with the ruling combine at the Centre and the Congress is losing trust of the people.
The debacle in Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur – the home turf of the Gandhi family – speaks volumes.
The anti-Congress space is being captured whosoever is powerful in the region – Samajwadi Party in UP, BJP in Goa and Akali Dal-BJP in Punjab.
Chief Minister Maj Gen BK Khanduri instilled hope in Uttarakhand. He could forestall the march of Congress but some weaknesses stalled his march to a stunning victory.
Manipur remains with the Congress as the regional forces are lacking focus and are considered too abrasive or violent. No other nationalist party has been able to create a base there as well.
It is not the victory of regionalism. It is the victory for a change for the better. The SP has given that confidence in UP and Akali-BJP in Punjab.
It would be too soon to generalise but it is also a clear indication that people want to throw off the Congress yoke to usher in a cleaner polity and better administration. The recent mishandling of the date of birth issue of Gen VK Singh, former ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair, National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and wider powers to Railway Protection Force (RPF), use of force against Baba Ramdev’s Ramlila ground rally in Delhi and vitreous attack on Anna Hazare are only symptomatic of the collapse of the political leadership. The people possibly do also not like the vindictive ways of the government.
The vote should also be considered against the bureaucratic upper hand that decides the UPA course.
Some may argue that these are not regional issues. Yes. But the young voters, who turned up in large numbers, do not just go by the regional perspective. They are aware of the national needs and know how they want to shape up their country.
They have connected to young Akhilesh Yadav in UP and Sukhbir Badal in Punjab. Both have instilled hope for a change. The youth hopes that they would move above the shadows of their party to usher in development where growth and jobs would not be a problem. So far they have clean images and youth trusts that the lobbies would not corrupt them.
Akhilesh has helped Samajwadi Party do better not just through his virulent campaigning. He has also shown that despite being young one could demonstrate restraint and not get provoked by silly accusations of the opponents. His retort to BSP leader Mayawati that bicycle could get punctured was answered with extreme sarcasm. “The bicycle tube could be repaired or replaced. The chain could also be done the same way. My bicycle would continue to move on. But if the elephant decides to sit once what would happen”, he had said.
To the tantrums of Congress general secetary Rahul Gandhi tearing the supposed manifestos of rival parties – in reality sheets with names of senior Congress leaders, Akhilesh said, “In politics one needs to be more balanced”.
The measured responses won accolades of his rivals. The results demonstrated that. The rout of the Congress in Amethi-Rae Bareli in favour of SP largely exemplifies that the voters do not like abrasive behaviour. The rout in Bundelkhand also testifies that political tantrums of staying at dalit houses may create media hype but do not win confidence of the people.
Bundelkhand also exposed the hollowness of the promises made by prime minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress in changing its face. The reply was a fitting rejection to an apathetic party and bureaucratic non-delivery.
Akhilesh has also shown that he could give direction to the party independent of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. His snubbing of party senior leader Azam Khan’s move to induct DP Yadav, a well-known heavyweight, earned him accolades. The defeat of DP Yadav by SP candidate Onkar Singh Yadav at Sahaswan proved Akhilesh was right.
This one act created an image that SP, known for its criminalised politics in the past, has distanced itself from the bad elements. But the attack on journalists in Jhansi by SP supporters soon after the elections and hooliganism by SP workers in Ferozabad suggest that if Akhilesh wants to win confidence of the people and change the face of UP, he has to go beyond. It also shows that SP has not changed much at its core.
The reign of terror that SP’s previous rule was known for if makes a comeback; it would be neither good for the state nor for its people. The electorate may feel terribly betrayed. Akhilesh has to show mettle to come out of that.
Minorities have gone back to the fold of SP. The “promises” of Salman Kurshid and Beni Prasad Verma could not win their votes. The defeat of wife Khurshi Louis Fernandes Khurshid from his home Farrukhabad amply testifies that.
This shoulders the SP with an added respsonsibility to show restraing. If it goes overboard to announce more sops to the minorities, it may prove counter-productive. It might also change the political calibrations in the State.
Space available: The elections in UP also shows that for the larger national non-Congress parties space is available. They have a cadre too. They have been unable to turn their strength in votes. The SP was not the first choice of the people in UP. It became so by default of the national parties. Else they would not have lost all that they have in Ghaziabad, the constituency of a former State unit head. The present State party unit head also lost from his home district. Such parties also lost some of their known strongholds.
The electorate is not disenchanted but they have a perception that such State units of national parties being divided under many “heads” need a cohesive functioning. They also wonder why such a party, largely with a clean image, should induct a scam-tainted BSP minister just at the nick of the elections. If it was for the votes of his caste, it did not happen. The party cadre feels that it was a wrong decision taken at the right moment.
The Samajwadi campaign also demonstrated that a party could win polls without so much indulging in mud-slinging against its rivals or criticising them. The SP it seems has learnt the communication technique that if one talks about others too much, one creates space for them—indirect campaigning for the rival. Others who did so lost to SP, including Mayawati.
The Akali Dal also seemingly adopted the same technique in Punjab. It won them the required votes.
The elections in Punjab and UP show that positive campaigning have a space in electoral politics. It also shows that a political party has to work assiduously not at the government level but also at organisational level. Akali Dal has succeeded for this reason also.
The SP also built up its organisation brick by brick during the last two years. It is a lesson for non-Congress parties that if they want to taste success in 2014 Lok Sabha elections they have to work harder to correct their organisational weaknesses.
They also have to understand that the leadership at the local level has undergone a change and it needs recognition. The central leaderships need to identify them and give them the reins. It must not remain restricted to some of the known names, who have acumen but are not in a position to deliver. Yes, for these parties is the time for overhaul.
The message from Goa and Manipur has special significance for the BJP. The minorities are coming to its fold. Seven Christians have been elected on BJP ticket in Goa. The party needs to spread its wings among them but not at the cost of its core beliefs.
Impact on Congress
The State elections would have its impact in the functioning of the UPA government at the Centre. Its first test would be the budget session, where its allies may not be as friendly as they were. The impending Rajya Sabha elections in April might further reduce its strength in the Upper House.
Apart it is likely to create a severe churning within the Congress. There is already a severe hiatus between the top leaders in party organisation and the Manmohan Singh government. Many daggers now may come out. They may go to any extent short of dislodging the government.
The Congress party is murmuring about a change in leadership. The party workers can be heard calling names against some of the well-known party functionaries at its Akbar Road headquarters. The feud in the Gandhi family is also coming out in the open. The Congress would be interesting to watch in the coming days.