National mandate for Congress, demise of divisive politics (Comment)

May 17th, 2009 - 1:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi By Gilles Verniers
Although it is yet too early to draw conclusions or formulate a detailed analysis from the results of India’s 15th general elections, there is a series of significant aspects that will most probably reshape the understanding of Indian politics in the years to come.

The first aspect is the Congress’ remarkable performance, which with 205 seats won on its own steam and almost 30 percent of the vote share, achieving the best score of any national party since 1991. This goes against the longstanding trend of the decline of national parties to the benefit of regional formations.

Thumping victories in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, and a most unexpected resurgence in the lost state of Uttar Pradesh, accounts mainly for the Congress’ success.

The good result for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh shows that it has not only benefited from the weaknesses of its main opponents but also that it has also been able to conquer or re-conquer new political spaces.

The Congress party has also benefited from the fact that all its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies fared well in their respective states. The incumbent DMK bagged an impressive 18 seats in a highly disputed contest with its opponent, the AIADMK.

The Trinamool Congress, with 19 seats, won a decisive and historic victory in the Left stronghold of West Bengal. In comparison, BJP’s NDA allies have fared rather poorly, with the exception of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in Bihar.

The former UPA allies who decided to go on their own in the polls faced the wrath or the disaffection of Indian voters. The Rashtriya Janata Dal has been trounced to four seats, its leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav, even losing one of the two seats he contested in Bihar. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi has shrunk from five to two seats in Andhra Pradesh.

The second important aspect is that the Indian voters have tended to support parties with some credentials in preserving social harmony and pursuing development.

From the impressive victory of the JD-U in Bihar to the Biju Janata Dal’s performance in Orissa and the clean sweep of the Congress in Delhi, Indian voters have cast their ballot in favour of moderate leaders focusing their actions on development and better governance.

Divisive politics have clearly backfired wherever they were propagated, largely at the cost of the BJP and parties sharing similar political practices and ideology.

Finally, economic mismanagement and poor governance have worked against some of the low performers, such as Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh or the Left in West Bengal.

This could usher in a healthy trend of the accountability of elected representatives on performance on social and economic fronts. Sonia Gandhi understood this well when she mentioned in her first media appearance since the results became clear that “the Indian people knows what’s good for them”.

The combination of these trends renders the process of regionalisation of Indian politics more complex, as it was believed that the decline of national parties was an irreversible trend and that elections were to be fought essentially on the basis of ascriptive identities. Here, once more, the Indian electorate’s capacity to defy political determinisms and to surprise politicians and analysts alike have been astounding.

However, the Congress’ good performance at the national level should not make us forget that regional contexts continue to determine the outcome of general elections. This is not going to change soon.

This solid victory will make the job of forging a coalition, and subsequently forming the government, much easier for the Congress. They will need fewer allies, whose bargaining power will be considerably less than those in the first UPA coalition. They may still reach out to other secular parties, both as a principled gesture and a means to expand their majority in parliament.

These results finally consolidate Manmohan Singh’s position as the undisputed prime ministerial candidate of the UPA, open the prospect for another round of stable government, and further legitimise the government’s agenda based on social harmony and inclusive growth.

(The author is a Ph.D Candidate in political science at Sciences Po Paris and is based in India. He can be reached at gilles.verniers@sciences-po.fr)

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