| In Punjab, political power has unfailingly alternated between the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (sad). The 2007 Assembly poll outcome yet again conformed to the time-tested pattern of not returning the incumbent to power. |
Riding a disparately-spread, but decisive anti-incumbency groundswell across the state, the sad-BJP alliance wrested power from the Congress, winning 67 seats out of the 116 constituencies that went to polls. The ruling party, despite being humbled at the fiercely-fought, high-stake elections, romped home in 44 seats.
For the sad, the euphoria over its return to power was tempered with an unexpected below-par performance on its home turf, the Malwa region, which swung the Congress way. The upshot of an unprecedented fluctuation in the state's electoral equilibrium was that the alliance made it to the victory post only because of the junior partner, the BJP, which pulled off the most spectacular win by capturing 19 of the 23 seats it had contested-in fact, one more than its all-time record tally of 18 seats in the 1997 Assembly elections. This time, due to the Malwa mauling, the sad could muster only 48 out of the 93 seats it contested, despite big gains in Doaba and Majha. Predictably, the verdict catapulted sad supremo Parkash Singh Badal, 81, to the chief minister's seat for the fourth time. But it is for the first time that the sad has had to lean on the BJP to be in power. Badal may now find it hard to pander his rural votebank, and will have to perfect his balancing act in the face of the pulls and pressures of the coalition.
The Congress would have fared even poorer but for an edict issued by a powerful religious sect, Sacha Sauda, publicly supporting the party just three days before the election, which was held on February 11. With the sect commanding considerable clout in Malwa, particularly in 22 Assembly segments where the votes of its followers numbered more than five thousand, the Congress made big gains, demolishing the Akali challenge and defeating several of its old warhorses. However, the Congress suffered from an anti-incumbency ire which resulted in 41 of the 55 sitting MLAs losing. Clearly, outgoing chief minister Amarinder Singh's strategy of re-nominating the legislatures boomeranged, with 14 of the 18 ministers biting the dust. In addition, the BJP exploited the inflation issue to the hilt. The party harped on Amarinder's obsession with the Akali Dal supremo and even floated slogans to taunt him, one of them being "Badal, badli aur badla (Badal, lucrative transfers and revenge)". The strategy seems to have worked, handing Badal another term in office. On the flip side, Badal will be facing a formidable opposition-the strongest since the state came into existence 41 years ago-for the first time. That alone should ensure that the ruling alliance is kept on its toes.
-By Ramesh Vinayak
Right Up The Hill
In a decisive verdict, voters send the tainted Congress packing
In his many years as a politician both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Narain Dutt Tiwari claimed credit for every success. Last week, when the verdict of the Assembly elections was out and it was clear that the voters had sent the sulking Congress packing, Tiwari had an explanation for the setback. "Uttarakhand has seen unprecedented growth during the last five years, but we could not spread this message to the people," said the outgoing chief minister, who had wisely decided against contesting the polls. After five years in the Opposition, the BJP is back in power in Uttarakhand, winning 34 seats in the 70-member Assembly, leaving it just two seats short of a majority. The Congress march was halted at 21 seats and the remaining 14 seats were shared by the BSP (eight), the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD, two) and Independents. With the UKD members and some of the Independents keen on backing the BJP, a government is likely to be in place by next week.
The anti-incumbency wave was so strong that most of the ministers in the Tiwari government lost their seats. Indira Hridesh, who was seen as "super chief minister", lost in Haldwani. The Congress could not retain seats even in Nainital, the home district of Tiwari. The three-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister's vikas putra image took hard knocks as the Opposition spread word that development in the state had been confined to a few pockets in the plains and Terai areas. Tiwari, who reportedly has an eye set on Rashtrapati Bhavan, will be spared any retribution since he has announced his retirement from politics, but a balance sheet would show he alone is responsible for the pathetic plight of the Congress. A former Union finance and industries minister, Tiwari considered governing the small hilly state as beneath his stature and nurtured hopes of returning to the Centre. He elevated nearly 200 petty workers and power-brokers to the status of ministers with perks that included cars with red beacons. This prompted the BJP slogan "Lal battiwale khushhaal, aam aadmi behaal (those with red beacons are happy, the common man is unhappy)". The government's non-performance, coupled with sky-rocketing prices, was the BJP's election theme. In addition, the party campaign was organised and unified. Ravi Shankar Prasad-in charge of the campaign-along with National President Rajnath Singh and veterans Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, wooed voters. There is no dearth of aspirants for the chief minister's job, but the party can get on with the task of governance only if it sorts out the internal power struggles.
-By Subhash Mishra
The victory in the tiny northeastern state of Manipur comes as balm for the Congress, which reels under reverses in the north
The insurgency-ridden, sensitive border state has finally brought a moment of joy to the harried Congress, which was routed in Punjab and Uttarakhand. The party bagged 30 seats in the state, just one short of absolute majority in the House of 60. The victory is seen as a rejection of the Opposition's demand for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, (AFSPA) which gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to detain, arrest or even to shoot suspected insurgents. The Manipur Peoples' Party (MPP), an umbrella organisation of hardcore regional outfits, had hoped to cash in on popular anti-AFSPA sentiments and had even dreamt of getting 24 seats, but it managed to bag just five seats, as against the tally of the UPA's partners at the Centre-NCP (five), CPI (four) and RJD (three). In fact, this was the NCP's debut in the Manipur Assembly. The Congress has reasons to be thrilled as the party got 10 seats more than its tally of 20 in 2002. Party leaders attribute it to the campaign led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who visited the state thrice. MPCC chief Gaikhangam said the verdict indicated the people's faith in the party, whose main agenda would be peace and progress. Meanwhile, the 10 Independents, six of whom were backed by the United Naga Council (UNC), will play a crucial role. In the four Naga-dominated districts of Senapati, Ukhrul-where the UNC bagged all three seats-Chandel and Tamenglong, the Congress managed to win just two seats.
Chief minister Ibobi Singh won from two seats. He has been re-elected leader of the legislature party.
The election also saw political heavyweights including former chief ministers R.K. Dorendra and W. Nipamacha, and former deputy chief ministers L. Chandramani and Th Chaoba facing defeat. The verdict has clearly come as a relief for the Congress.
-By Farzand Ahmed