Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Assembly Elections - Time to Retrospect

By M H Ahssan & Kajol Singh

Although the outcome of the Assembly polls is being described as a 3-2 victory for the Congress, it is actually a two-all draw since Mizoram’s results do not have much influence on national politics. Even then, the Congress can be said to have its nose ahead since the BJP’s earlier string of victories seems to have come to an end.

After its successes in Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, the BJP had seemingly convinced itself that it had acquired an unstoppable momentum on the road to Delhi. But, now it is bound to have a rethink, for the tide appears to have turned, even if partially. However, that is not the only reason for the sadness that was noticeable in its New Delhi office on Monday evening. What may have concerned the BJP more is the belief that it may have lost its terror card, which apparently gave it a permanent edge over the Congress.

By accusing the latter of being soft on terror in order to preserve its minority vote bank, the BJP evidently thought that it had an irrefutable argument to influence the voters. But what has proved this assessment wrong is the Delhi election results because the elections took place the day after the horrendous terrorist attack on Mumbai. Yet, the ease with which the Congress swept the polls showed that the tragedy had virtually no impact on the electorate. Even the Congress seemed to have been taken aback by this response, for it had believed that terrorism, coupled with inflation, would spell disaster for it.

If the voters thought otherwise, it was apparently because they looked upon these as passing phases with no long-term effect. Not only would prices come down, as they have already started to do, but the very insanity of the jihadis would lead them to their doom. They were also probably not too pleased by the BJP’s propensity to make political capital out of such tragedies.

The BJP is apparently worried that such an interpretation of its motives will not leave any cards in its hands for the next big test the general election.

The other indication from the voters relates to their interest in development. The reason why Sheila Dikshit, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh won in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is that their almost exclusive focus was on the bijli-sadak-pani factor. If politicians get this message, it will mark an end of divisive politics.

Results of five states that went to election over the past few weeks have surprised many observers. Congress has won Delhi and Mizoram decisively and inching towards the half-way mark in Rajasthan. BJP on the other hand has managed to retain Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Delhi
Bucking anti-incumbency factor in Indian elections once is quite an achievement and doing it twice is extraodinary. Sheila Dixit has been able to do just that. Her opponent, Vijay Malhotra, currently a BJP MP from South Delhi parliamentary seat was not able to enthuse the base or adapt to the changing demographics in Delhi. Delhi that went to polls just three days after Mumbai attacks seemed to suggest that even in assembly elections local factors play a bigger role. It also seemed to rebut BJP’s allegation that Congress is soft on terrorism.

Rajasthan
After the Meena Gujjar agitation earlier this year, it was very difficult for Vasundhara Raje to dig herself out of the hole and win the elections. Her performance, though credible will leave BJP with a big headache where it has to defend 21 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general elections. Ashok Gehlot, has led his party to victory again and he will be able to cobble up a coalition with independents to form a government.

Madhya Pradesh
The central Indian state has had three chief ministers in five years. It was Uma Bharati who won a decisive victory against the Congress in 2003 but resigned from the post due to her role in the Hubli-Idgah controversy. Her place was taken by Babulal Gaur who was then replaced by a much younger Shivraj Chauhan. It is to his credit that he had been able to win the state again despite Uma Bharati contesting elections as a separate entity and a much powerful Bahujan Samaj Party.

Chhattisgarh
Raman Singh has managed to win a narrow victory in a very close fight in this small state. Ajit Jogi, who was caught on tape after last assembly elections bargaining with opposition MLAs, led the challenge this time too and lost.

Mizoram
The tiny northeastern state brought Congress back to power after 10 years with the ruling Mizo National Front losing by a big margin. BJP hardly has any presence in the state.

Some quick thoughts on the results:
Good governance matters. It might not matter every time but it still pays to perform and then go asking for votes.
Terrorism is a national issue and these assembly elections might not exactly be a referendum on policy positions of either Congress of BJP.
Caste politics still pays in India but it might not be a winning proposition anymore. It increasingly is providing little dividends at high risk.
The results are like a hung parliament. Everyone can claim victory.
Mayawati can be the next Prime Minister of India. I can’t believe I just wrote it.
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