Congress pips BJP in crucial state elections (Roundup)December 8th, 2008 - 9:08 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Dec 8 (IANS) In a crucial electoral contest ahead of parliamentary elections early next year, India’s ruling Congress Monday bested the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three out of five states that went to the polls in staggered elections that ended Dec 4. The Congress retained power for a record third five-year term in Delhi, wrested Mizoram and ousted the BJP in Rajasthan while losing to it decisively in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in assembly elections that were the last popularity test ahead of the Lok Sabha battle.
Even as BJP supporters celebrated in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, party leaders admitted that the results were disappointing, especially the rout in Delhi where they had been confident of ending 10 years of Congress rule, more so since voting in all states barring Chhattisgarh took place in the shadow of the Mumbai terror carnage.
The outcome of the staggered elections between Nov 14 and Dec 4 sparked off speculation about early Lok Sabha elections, but Digvijay Singh of the Congress argued against it. BJP sources admitted to IANS that if they had won even three of the four northern states, they would have pressed for early parliamentary polls.
The Congress’ most exciting victory came in Delhi where Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, 70, crushed the BJP, winning 40 seats in the 70-member house with results yet to be declared from four constituencies.
In Rajasthan’s 200-member legislature, the Congress emerged the largest party winning 96 seats and was set to form the government taking help from among 25 independents including rebels from its own ranks.
And in northeastern Mizoram, the Congress ended the Mizo National Front’s (MNF) 10-year reign marred by corruption, sweeping 37 of the 40 assembly seats.
But the Congress was routed in Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP, led by Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan, 50, bagged 140 of the 230 seats. In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, the BJP overcame hours of suspense during counting to emerge the winner with 50 seats in its kitty — of the state legislature’s 90.
Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, however, warned that there was no cause for cheer for the BJP or the Congress following the results.
“The Congress is certainly doing better than expected but not as well as they should have done to win a national election,” Rao told IANS. “The BJP is doing worse than expected and does not look like it is in the lead to come to power nationally.”
But the Congress was buoyant. “There is no stopping the Congress now,” claimed Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily, a confidant of party president Sonia Gandhi.
BJP leaders admitted privately that they would rethink their Lok Sabha strategy because the issue of terrorism they had raked against the Congress government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks and the arrests of Hindu activists following the earlier Malegaon bombings had failed to pay dividends.
“We are going to analyse these results,” a sombre BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
The biggest hero Monday turned out to be Dikshit, a grandmother who became the first woman in India to lead a party to an assembly election victory for a third term.
As thousands gathered outsider her residence shouting slogans, beating drums and bursting crackers, a beaming Dikshit flashed the V sign and declared: “The results are great!”
Even Congress leaders who are normally used to hailing only Sonia Gandhi after every electoral victory gave due credit to Dikshit. “She has done a marvellous job,” Moily said, echoing a popular sentiment.
In Rajasthan, BJP leaders blamed the loss on infighting in party ranks. But even as the Congress prepared to take power, all its chief ministerial hopefuls barring former chief minister Ashok Gehlot were defeated.
The Congress too blamed its loss in Chhattisgarh to factionalism in its ranks while analysts credited it to BJP Chief Minister Raman Singh and his “Mr Clean” image.
In Madhya Pradesh, BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan’s popularity eclipsed the Congress, which projected Suresh Pachouri, who many saw as an “outsider”, as the chief ministerial candidate.
Also in Madhya Pradesh, former chief minister and Bharatiya Jan Shakti (BJS) founder president Uma Bharati lost from the Tikamgarh seat, her home turf.
Analyst Rao asked the BJP to read the writing on the wall ahead of the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May.
“The BJP will have to revise its strategy and come up with something instead of finding faults with the ruling party,” he said. “But the result will set a momentum for the Lok Sabha elections.”