In a stunning electoral performance that decimated the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party won 224 Assembly seats, shattering the ‘national' conceits of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party along the way.

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Even though the gap in seats between the SP and the BSP was over 140, the vote share difference was only about 2.5 per cent, indicating that the outgoing Chief Minister, Mayawati, had retained her core vote.

In the other four States whose results were also declared on Tuesday, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-led government in Punjab defied the pollsters and made history, becoming the first since the State was created in 1966 to win two consecutive elections. In Goa, the BJP ousted the Congress from power; winning 21 to the latter's 9. The Congress returned the compliment in Uttarakhand, narrowly defeating the BJP, while comfortably retaining the north eastern State of Manipur.

If the people's verdict in the five States brought little cheer to the two national parties, for the ruling Congress, it was particularly grim: by coming in fourth in U.P., adding less than a half a dozen seats to its 2007 score of 22, questions about the Congress' ability to spearhead a revival in the Hindi heartland began to be asked again, with its heir apparent Rahul Gandhi in the dock. The party's victory in Uttarakhand, by a whisker, was cold comfort, even though it ensured that the BJP's Chief Minister, B.K. Khanduri, lost his own seat. Only Okram Ibobi Singh, who was virtually written off after last year's crippling economic blockade in Manipur, scripted a splendid hat-trick for the Congress in the strife-torn State.

For the BJP, its joy in snatching Goa from the Congress and returning to power in Punjab as the junior partner, was more than offset by its dismal showing in U.P., where it could not even maintain its 2007 score of 51. The BJP, like the Congress, had staked a great deal in U.P., hoping that an improvement in its fortunes would pave the way for the big national showdown in 2014. If the Congress's poor strategy and lack of organisation failed it in the State, the BJP was not just a divided house — its admitting the tainted Baburam Kushwaha erased the gains it had made by its skilful riding on the coattails of the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement.

The big story was, of course, the father-son duo of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav who powered the SP to a brilliantly strategised electoral triumph. If Mr. Mulayam Singh, who will be the next Chief Minister of U.P. — for a fourth time — was the inspiration for his clan of Yadavs, desperate to be back in power after a five year drought, it was his 39-year-old son who was the star of the show.

Akhilesh Yadav covered 10,000 km on his “cycle of hope,” addressed 800 rallies in six months and transformed the image of the party. In doing so, he added a whole new constituency to his party — if his infectious smile and easy manner acted like a magnet for the youth, his tech savviness, combined with the party's manifesto promise of laptops and tablets for students, gave the party a contemporary look. Finally, his shunning of strongman D.P. Yadav sent out the message that the SP wanted to shed its image of a party of muscled lawbreakers.

In Punjab, another father-son duo, Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh, rode back to power battling accusations of nepotism and corruption, winning 56 seats in the 117-member Assembly, against the Congress' 46, dashing Captain Amarinder Singh's hopes of becoming the Chief Minister. The SAD's partner, the BJP, lost seven seats, winning only 12 against 19 in 2007. Two local parties, the People's Party of Punjab, led by Manpreet Singh Badal, a rebel cousin of the Badals, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) headed by the maverick ex-cop, Simranjit Singh Mann, together secured 10 per cent of the vote, evidently damaging the Congress rather than the SAD's prospects. As in the case of the SP in U.P., Sukhbir Badal told journalists that his octogenarian father would be the Chief Minister again.

In Goa, the IIT-educated Manohar Parrikar, whose campaign against the Congress-led government on the issue of illegal mining became a rallying point for anti-Congress sentiment in the State, will be the Chief Minister for a third time.


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