India’s opposition counts its losses after Congress sweep

May 17th, 2009 - 4:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) India’s divided opposition licked its wounds Sunday, a day after the Congress party dramatically returned to power with a thumping majority leaving its opponents stunned and bleeding.

Amid blame game, several political parties, headed by ambitous regional chieftains, that had hoped to play a larger role in government formation hoping the Congress would fare poorly in the April-May Lok Sabha elections began analysing what went wrong.

Although leaders of most of the losing parties said the exercise would take time, many of their losing candidates admitted frankly that they had been hit hard by a Congress juggernaut they had not anticipated.

In a verdict that surprised both friends and foes, the Congress entered the electoral battle as one of the key players but ended up with a staggering 206 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha - about 60 more seats than what it won five years ago. Everyone else was left looking like pygmies.

The Congress tally is also more than the combined total of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), with the BJP’s own numbers falling from the 138 of 2004 to 116 now.

The loss punctured the ambitions of BJP star L.K. Advani, one of India’s most experienced politicians who was tipped to be the prime minister in the event of an NDA victory.

Advani, 81, has told colleagues that he wanted to quit as the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. The shock decision sent party leaders scurrying to his residence to plead with him to reconsider.

In New Delhi, losing BJP candidates moaned that they had been crushed not by their opponents but by a silent wave for the Congress.

“There is a clear mandate for the Congress in the country. One has to accept the people’s verdict. Price rise, faulty electricity meters, water shortage, school fee hike, none of these could become election issues. Local issues did not work,” said BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri, who lost to a lesser known Congress politician by a huge margin in South Delhi constituency.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its smaller leftist allies were decimated, the rout made worse by the aggression they displayed last year after trying to topple the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the India-US civilian nuclear deal.

CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, seen as a dogmatist Stalinist, was faced with quiet dissidence in an otherwise regimented party after it suffered its worst drubbing since it was founded in 1964.

The CPI-M and its Left allies were overrun in their two bastions Kerala and West Bengal. The losers included some of their stalwarts, who had built the party brick by brick. On Saturday evening, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who Karat booted out last year, asked the party boss to step down and make way for a pragmatic leader.

The smaller Communist Party of India (CPI) was faced with possible de-recognition as a national party by the Election Commission after winning a paltry four seats.

“Frankly, it is a bad result for us,” said a Communist leader who did not want to be identified by name. “In a way it is good because we will not be able to overlook many of our drawbacks anymore. We were doing that.”

The elections punctured the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose Dalit icon Mayawati had put herself in the race for the prime minister’s job in the event of a splintered verdict. Her party won 21 seats, taking the third spot in Uttar Pradesh, which it rules, behind its arch foe Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

Privately, some opposition leaders admitted that they had lost the battle to the personality of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a visionary and an honest man, and to the team of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi in the Congress.

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