Election results bode well for Congress (Comment)

December 9th, 2008 - 2:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyWith election results in five states in, it appears that the Congress party will be quite unaffected by the recent economic slowdown and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. This could bode well for the party for the next general elections which are due in April/May next year.The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had expected a clean sweep over these elections, in line with its recent successes in Karnataka, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Instead, it has suffered a major blow with the loss in Rajasthan and a worse than expected defeat in Delhi. However, a clear victory in Madhya Pradesh and a narrow victory in Chhattisgarh have come to soothe these two bitter notes and will ensure that the odds remain open for the coming general elections.

It is still too early to identify the exact determinants of the Congress’ and the BJP’s respective victories and defeats but, in any case, two indications are already clear.

The recent economic slowdown and upsurge of terrorist attacks have not generated the swing effect that was anticipated and, consequently, the outcome of these elections seems to have been determined mainly by local and regional issues.

In Rajasthan, outgoing Chief Minister Vasundara Raje paid the price for the long and uneasy handling of the Meena-Gujjar crisis as well as a clumsy selection of candidates, based on political whims than hard-nosed calculation. The BJP’s political campaign, largely based on the security issue following the blasts and attacks that have rocked the cities of Jaipur, Delhi and Mumbai, proved ineffective.

The same can be said in Delhi where the BJP suffered perhaps its biggest disappointment. Voters were unfazed by the frantic slogans of the BJP on inflation and terrorism and seem to have been swayed more by the Congress’ efforts to develop the city’s infrastructure.

In Madhya Pradesh, the lack of a credible alternative to the ruling BJP, be it from the Congress or from Uma Bharati’s Bharatiya Jan Shakti (BJS) party, paved the way to a comfortable victory for the BJP.

In Mizoram, a massive anti-incumbency factor played against the Mizo National Front, which emerged from these elections in a sorry state, the two-time chief minister and party president Zoramthanga ousted not only from the top post of the state but also from his parliamentary seat of Champhai North.

And finally, in Chhattisgarh, the BJP has evened its previous tally while the Congress’ support appeared to have been dented by the BSP’s expansion in the tribal state.

Interestingly, the expansion strategy of the BSP has registered a modest start, with the party bagging just two seats in Delhi and Chhattisgarh and six in Rajasthan. It won seven seats in Madhya Pradesh, the only one of these states where it already had a presence in the assembly.

This indicates that the BSP is unlikely to sweep the polls outside Uttar Pradesh during the coming general elections, but that it could nonetheless play the troubling factor in the event of a tight race between the Congress and the BJP.

A comforting aspect of these elections is the voter turnout, above 60 percent in most states. This confirms - if it were at all necessary - the solidity of the democratic parliamentary institutions in India. Increased participation has been a general trend in state assembly elections over the last few years.

These results come as a relief to the Congress party as this relatively good performance will give it breathing space before the coming general elections, while tackling the main arguments of the BJP, willing to cash in on the insecurity generated by the recent terrorist attacks and the gloomy economic situation.

This leaves the odds open for both the parties, which will have to adapt their strategies and political discourses to this new situation. Both parties will have to use their imagination to contest an election that will not be fought over the single issue of security.

(Gilles Verniers is a PhD candidate at Sciences Po, Paris and a keen student of Indian politics. He can be reached at gilles.verniers@sciences-po.fr)

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