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The battle gets tougher

The battle gets tougher
The Congress faces a grim situation following its rout in the four northern states. With its humiliating defeats in Delhi and Rajasthan and  the BJP retaining Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, the Congress has been routed in entire north India except tiny Haryana. This has indeed  been  a convincing three time win for Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh. In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party stopped the saffron surge, making a stunning debut, winning 28 seats. Ruled uninterrupted by Sheila Dikshit for 15 years, the poll verdict has thrown a hung assembly and Delhi is heading for a spell of centre’s rule and re-elections. There is no denying the fact that Narendra Modi has injected some vigour into the BJP’s election strategy with his aggressive campaign style, blunders notwithstanding. Indeed the Gujarat chief minister has expanded his area of influence well beyond his home state in the months since he was pitch-forked to the national stage as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. But one wonders if he could influence voters in four states. The local issues and anti-incumbency factor dominated the poll and they were reflected in poll results.

It is very well for the Congress to argue that state polls will have no bearing on national elections. But the situation is not always so. BJP won the 2003 assembly elections but lost the 2004 parliamentary polls; Congress lost many state polls between 2004 and 2009 but won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. So nobody can say with confidence that state polls will have no bearing on general election. The point to be noted is that rout of the Congress in four states this time comes five months before the general election.

Given the apparent ineffectiveness of a weak Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Gujarat strongman has managed to present himself as a national alternative who can carry his party with him on important issues. There is no exact measure of Modi effect in the Assembly election. While the four states are not representatives of the rest of India, they offer strong indications of the trend of public opinion in major states of Hindi heartland. The four states together send 72 members to the Lok Sabha, and the Congress would now have to acknowledge that its principal rival, the BJP, is front runner for the next general election in 2014. Yet, given that these four states were primarily sites for direct contests between the BJP and the Congress, this verdict cannot be construed as a ‘semi-final’ as argued. First, the 2014 Lok Sabha election will take place on a larger canvas with more leading players such as regional parties, and the verdict will reflect this complexity. There is, therefore, no denying the fact that in the race to the single largest party in the next general election, the BJP is surely ahead.

Two issues – mounting corruption and rising prices of essential commodities, particularly onion – primarily led to rout of the Congress in the elections to three state assemblies – Delhi, Rajashtan and Madhya Pradesh. In Chattisgarh, the Congress missed narrowly winning the poll but improved its tally substantially. Interestingly, in 1998, the BJP lost to the Congress in Delhi because of runaway onion prices. In 2013, it was turn of the Congress to feel heat on high food inflation. But just when it seemed that the BJP will finally have its revenge, entered the untested Aam Aadmi Party and with its poll plank of rooting out money power and delivering clean and effective governance, totally upset the BJP’s calculations. Delhi’s poll results were shocking indeed.

Doubtless, Sheila Dikshit had transformed Delhi from  an urban village to a sprawling glitzy metropolis, boasting of a fine network of roads and flyovers, not to mention a metro rail service that became lifeline of the union capital. Yet, it is entirely the fault of Congress that today there are few takers of Delhi’s fantastic growth story. Instead, the most compelling election issues turned out to be corruption and inflation. It was a runaway victory for Arvind Kejriwal, who raised his tally to an unexpected figure of 27 and defeated redoubtable Sheila Dikshit by a wide margin. What has emerged in Delhi is an extremely grim situation. There is a hung house. As a single largest party, the BJP will inevitably be invited to form the government.  But with AAP committed not to extend  support to either the BJP or the Congress, the BJP government will certainly fall before long. There is possibility of the BJP declining to form the government. In this situation, there is bound to be a short spell of Lt. Governor’s rule followed by another round of election, possibly along with the general elections due in May 2014.

It is too early to predict the scenario in Delhi in yet another election within five months. The questions that  come to mind are; will Congress bounce back; will AAP get a clear majority or BJP stage a come back?

A badly divided Congress party, sunk its differences barely six months before the election but it was too late by that time. Had the party closed up its rank earlier and brought Jyotiraditya Scindia, at least, a year before the poll, the results might have been different. Anti-incumbency, no doubt, weighed heavily on Shivraj Singh Chouhan government but, unfortunately, the Congress could not cash on it.

IPA
Harihar Swarup

Harihar Swarup

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