Opposition must step up
The Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) dawning of sense has come rather late in the day. Arvind Kejriwal's admission that he, rather than the electronic voting machines, was responsible for the party's defeat may point to a belated and grudging acknowledgement of reality, but it is not enough to reassure the voters.
The reason is that right from the start when Kejriwal sat on a roadside dharna, signing files, it was evident that the Chief Minister could not be taken seriously. Especially after he threatened to disrupt the Republic Day parades to demonstrate his self-confessed anarchist streak.
Although he cooled down after that, saying that he should have consulted the aam aadmi before resigning as Chief Minister after 49 days, he continued to tilt at the windmills a la Don Quixote – the Centre, the Lt Governor – during his second term rather than pay any heed to governance. No tears need be shed, therefore, for such a paranoid personality.
As the AAP fades out, it will have a few other parties to keep it company. Among them are Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both of U.P. But their bases of support are more rooted than the AAP's fickle urban middle-class followers. Even then, it will not be easy for them to find their way back into relevance.
The Congress is in a better position because it won in Punjab and emerged as the largest party in Goa and Manipur. But the SP, BSP, and AAP have no such consolations. While the AAP's problem is that of credibility as a political party, which is led by a "power hungry" leader, as Anna Hazare once called his former disciple, the SP's is its internal feuds.
These are likely to intensify with those who lost their tussles with Akhilesh Yadav, such as his father, Mulayam Singh, and his uncle, Shivpal, blaming the former Chief Minister for all of the party's ills, especially its alliance with the Congress against Mulayam Singh's wishes.
It is more than possible that the effects of Akhilesh's revolt against his elders in the family will be undone with Mulayam Singh (and Shivpal) regaining their earlier clout in the party. For Akhilesh, it will be a bitter pill to swallow not only because his position will be undermined, but also because all that he tried to do to reinvent the SP by eschewing its caste-based image and its links with anti-socials will be overturned.
As for the BSP, its defeats in two successive Assembly elections and in a parliamentary poll have shown that the party is far from recovering the kind of appeal which ensured a majority for it in UP on its own in 2007. At the moment, the road is downhill for it, and it will be advisable for the party to accept the popular verdict and not blame the electronic voting machines for defeat.
The BSP will also have to realise that its dependence on identity-based politics will no longer work in a time of rising aspirations among the youths of all castes and communities. Akhilesh's pitch for development did not work, as the people of UP saw greater promise in the vision Narendra Modi presented. Meanwhile, BSP supremo Mayawati relied solely on her supposed vote bank of Dalits and Muslims.
Yet, the fall in the BSP's vote share to 22.2 per cent from 25.9 demonstrated that the anticipated support from these communities was not enough. In contrast, the BJP's success in winning 69 of the 85 reserved seats showed that the BSP's Dalit vote base is no longer secure.
Mayawati's problem is that unlike Akhilesh, it is rather late in the day for her to project a new progressive image. She remains trapped, therefore, in her pursuit of identity politics which is no longer yielding the kind of electoral dividends as before as the focus has shifted to the economy.
It has been suggested by the well-wishers of the SP and BSP that they may have fared better by forming a Bihar-type mahagathbandhan along with the Congress. In that case, their combined vote share of 50.2 per cent made up of the BSP's 22.2 per cent, the SP's 21.8 and the Congress's 6.2 would have been more than the BJP-led alliance's 41.4 per cent. But it is open to question whether such an opportunistic combination would have attracted the full quantum of the respective vote shares of its constituents.
The SP and BSP try to claw their way back into relevance in U.P. and wait for the BJP to stumble as a result of the murderous antics of the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes). However, the AAP will rue the fact that not only will its one-time grandiose dream of spreading its wings beyond Delhi – it fielded 434 candidates in 2014 - will not be fulfilled in the foreseeable future, it may gradually sink out of sight.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)