March 25, 2012

THE STATES THAT MATTER - PART VII


THE RESULTS - AN OVERVIEW

Ending months of high voltage political drama, accusations, counter-accusations and mud-slinging, the results of the much awaited legislative assembly elections held between January and March in five Indian states were announced on 6th March, 2012. Earlier, beating all expectations, the electorate had come out in large numbers to choose their representatives, re-affirming their faith in the Indian democracy. However, the result pattern, cutting across all states did throw in a number of surprises, even to the most seasoned political pundits who had covered myriad elections over the years. Apart from a high voter turnout, the state elections did witness many heavyweights disappear into the oblivion whereas several young netas emerged to shine like stars on the horizon of Indian politics. Though many tainted nominees did make the cut, the electorate did boot out a size able number of controversial candidates. The masses voted for development as traditional electoral issues like caste and religion took a back burner. With the two major national parties underperforming, the momentum grew in favor of a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition - The Third Front that has been doing the rounds for a considerable period of time.   
Akhilesh Yadav was sworn in as the youngest CM of Uttar Pradesh
For the second consecutive time in a row, the mega state of Uttar Pradesh elected a party with a simple majority, squashing all speculations of a hung assembly and unholy alliances between parties of conflicting ideologies (read Congress-SP or BJP-BSP), formed purely for political gains. The Samajwadi Party, fighting the polls under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav swept the polls winning a whopping 225 out of the 403 seats, the highest in its history. Though its true that there was a wave of discontent against the Mayawati government, the young leader is credited to be the 'real architect' of the SP's splendid performance as he garnered the anti-BSP votes into his party's kitty in spite of a 'strong' campaign by the two national parties - the Congress and the BJP who were seeing the polls as an opportunity to re-invent themselves in the state. 

While the myriad corruption scandals and lack of development under the Maya regime had significantly dented her prospects of a second consecutive term, the junior Yadav's spirited attempt to connect with the masses on the ground and a host of conscious decisions taken by him to improve his party's image seem to have gone well with the electorate. Besides vetoing against D P Yadav's entry into his outfit, Akhilesh made it clear during his popular cycle rallies that his party, if elected to power would curb goonda raj - a 'hallmark' of the Samajawadi politics during its previous terms. Realizing that their anti-technology or anti-English rhetoric may not impress the urban voter, the foreign educated Akhilesh promised free tablets and laptops for all students who pass class X and class XII exams respectively. In a move that has won him thousands of admirers, Akhilesh in an interview to the media after the resounding triumph, said that he would not raze Maya's statues, a stark contradiction to the his father's comments in this regard some weeks earlier, signaling perhaps, a new sense of maturity in the murky 'rajneeti' of UP and bringing an end to the politics of vendetta.

On the other hand, Mayawati paid the ultimate price for remaining aloof of the sufferings of the people on the ground with the BSP being reduced to just 80 seats. The host of corruption scandals and her affluent ways like wasting of public money on the constructions of her statues didn't seem to go unnoticed with the electorate, determined to teach the 'Dalit ki Beti' a lesson which she would not forget so soon. Though Maya did try to get an image makeover by dropping several of her ministers and sitting MLAs and resorted to 'Social Engineering' to exploit the caste factor to her advantage, her unimpressive report card over the last five years meant that the public didn't fall for her cheap tricks this time around.

For the national parties the wait to regain lost ground in India's most populous state seems to be extended by another five years. Though the early leads indicated that the BJP could dislodge the BSP to emerge as the second largest party in the assembly, the performance of the saffron outfit plateaued and and then declined to 47 seats, four less than the last polls. The BJP high command's decision to rope in its Hindutva icon and OBC face Uma Bharati failed miserably as the party failed to capitalize on the failures of both the state and central governments. While the Congress's performance was better when compared to 2007, the hype generated around Rahul Gandhi by the media in general and the Congress leaders in particular failed to translate into votes. Thus what was supposed to be the most important day in Baba's short and unimpressive political career so far proved to be a major embarrassment for the party already troubled by allegations of corruption at the Centre. Ironically while the party had finished second in terms of seats in the 2009 General elections in the state, it did badly even in the traditional Nehru-Gandhi bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareily.
Parkash and Sukhbir Badal retained Punjab
While Mulayam and Akhilesh took the Samajwadi Party home in Uttar Pradesh, another father-son duo, that of Parkash and Sukhbir Singh Badal created history in the state of Punjab by being the first government to retain power in nearly four decades. Though there were several cases of corruption against the Badals during their previous schemes, the last government took concrete steps towards development including the popular Atta-Dal scheme which provides flour and pulses at subsidized rates to the poor, thus seeing off the threat posed by the opposition Congress and the PPP. Besides the relatively good performance by the previous SAD-BJP regime, the dynamic image of the Akali crown prince and Deputy CM Sukhbir combined with the skills and experience of CM Parkash Singh Badal won the SAD a total of 56 seats, falling just 3 short of a simple majority on its own. After being reduced to just 4 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls, the Akalis seem to have learnt from their mistakes and did their homework well prior to the assembly polls, which was reflected in their excellent figures.

The SAD's alliance partner, the BJP whose image took a beating following raids on several of their state ministers by the CBI and friction amongst its leaders slipped from 19 to just 12 seats. While it is true that the it was a herculean tasks for the party to even come close to its out of the skins performance last time around, considering its sorry state of affairs at all levels, the party needs to take corrective measures soon to remain afloat in the state especially at a time when the Akalis are trying hard to woo the minority Hindu community - a traditional BJP vote bank. 


The Congress party's fortunes in the state were dashed primarily due to faulty distribution of tickets and the large number of rebels that were in fray across the state. Hoping to end infighting amongst the state leaders, Rahul Gandhi, during his election campaign had made it clear that former CM Amarinder Singh would be the party's nominee for the top post in case it manages to come to power in 2012. The Congress's hopes also depended largely on the Manpreet Singh Badal led PPP splitting the traditional Akali vote on the lines of the MNS in Maharashtra. However, with the PPP drawing a blank on its debut and the Congress failing to capitalize on the shortfalls of the Badal regime, it was a rather easy victory for the octogenarian leader. 
BJP's Khanduri lost to S S Negi of Congress
The state of Uttarakhand witnessed a close contest as both the BJP and the Congress failed to get a clear majority. The saffron outfit, fighting a strong wave of anti-incumbency and a long list of scams under the erstwhile CM Ramesh Pokhriyal tried hard to woo the voters by replacing the former by B C Khanduri. The new CM, who had been axed following the party's disastrous performance in 2009, enhanced the BJP's poll prospects by passing several key legislation including Anna Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill. Surprisingly, while the 'Khanduri hain Zarori' campaign of the saffron outfit may have prevented a complete rout, the former CM lost the Kotdwar assembly seat to S S Negi of the Congress adding salt to the injury of the BJP.

Although the Congress managed to increase its tally from 21 to 32 assembly seats, the party needs to contemplate as to what went wrong in the manner in which it fought the Uttarakhand polls. In what should have been a cake walk for the party, the Congress nearly lost out to the BJP owing to the differences between its many chief ministerial aspirants and the rebels contesting as independent candidates. A simple math shows that it could have easily won atleast 5 to 10 seats more if the rebels had been placated before the state went to polls.

The key to the government formation in the hill state now depends on the 7 MLAs who have made the cut while contesting on a non-BJP and non-Congress ticket. The BSP has lost 5 seats but has still managed to finish at a tally of three. The Panwar faction of the UKKD has won a single seat whereas three independents, all former Congressmen have won from their constituencies. With the victorious rebels showing inclinations of supporting their former party and the UKKD(P) making it clear that they would not support the BJP, the stage is set for the Congress to come back to power after five years in Uttarakhand.
Okram Ibobi Singh won a straight third term
After the flop show in UP, the ignominious defeat in Punjab and a mess in Uttarakhand, the only consolation for the Congress came from the North-Eastern state of Manipur where it single handedly won  70% of the seats, a rise of 12 seats as compared to the previous polls. In fact, there were several hurdles that CM Okram Ibobi Singh had to overcome to get a continuous third term in Imphal. A conglomerate of seven underground groups had warned the people against voting for the party. Besides, many parties including MPP, NCP, rivals - JD(U) and RJD and Left Front had joined hands to bring down the Ibobi government. However, in the end, not only did the Congress improve its tally, the united Opposition was decimated and it managed to win only a single seat. 

The Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) which was reduced to 0 seats in 2007 grabbed 5 seats whereas the Naga People's Front (NPF) did well in the Naga dominated regions to finish with 4 seats.  Mamata Bannerjee's impressive campaigning in Manipur seems to have paid off as the Trinamool, which like the NPF is a new entrant in the state politics won 7 seats on debut and will be the principal Opposition in the new assembly.

While it was Manipur for the Congress, Goa saved the blushes for the BJP which was voted out of power in Uttarakhand and whose performance both in UP and Punjab was below par to say the least. Under former CM Manohar Parrikar, the saffron outfit bagged 21 seats and winning a simple majority on its own for the first time in the coastal state. Its coalition partner the MGP won three seats, thereby managing to retain its political symbol. With two independents supported by the BJP also making the cut, the strength of the new government is set to be 26 in a house of 40 members.
Parrikar led BJP to a spectacular victory
The Congress which was in power since 2005 was dealt a severe blow with several of its key leaders losing to new faces fielded by the BJP-MGP combine. The inability of the government to deal effectively against illegal mining and the distribution of tickets to several members of the same family were the prime reasons that led to the downfall of the Congress. Meanwhile, its coalition partner the NCP failed even to open its account. The Goa Vikas Party (GVP), fighting the elections in agreement with the UGDP bagged 2 seats whereas independents won in five constituencies.

The elections results have thrown in a mixed bag and two years prior to the next General elections, it is not much clear as to which national alliance - the ruling UPA or the NDA has the edge. Neither the Congress nor the BJP seem to have anything much to cheer about from the assembly election results. Sensing this as a proper opportunity, the advocates of the Third Front are trying hard to woo the constituents of the big coalitions in a bid to strengthen their numbers. With political re-alignments expected in the aftermath of the results, it looks like the political battle for the 2014 elections may just have begun.



IMAGES

(1) Akhilesh Yadav was sworn in as the youngest CM of Uttar Pradesh (Link
Source: India Today - Election Results - Akhilesh pedals Samajwadi Party to victory in Uttar Pradesh

(2) Parkash and Sukhbir Singh Badal retained Punjab (Link
Source: Samay Live - Badal to be sworn in as Punjab CM on March 14th

(3) BJP's Khanduri lost to S S Negi of Congress (Link
Source: Hillpost - Khanduri improves party position but fails to win

(4) Ikram Obibi Singh won a straight third term (Link
Source: Today News - Assembly polls - Big Winners and Big Losers

(5) Parrikar led the BJP to a spectacular victory Parrikar (Link
Source: HeraldGoa - I will not become CM if forced to take support of undesirable elements