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Opinion » Columns » Siddharth Varadarajan

Updated: June 6, 2011 17:02 IST

Three State wins but no national booster shot for Congress

Siddharth Varadarajan
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As the only player with a major stake in all five Assemblies and at the Centre, the Congress can at best draw limited comfort from Friday's election results. The party registered an impressive victory in Assam, where Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi stormed back to power with a higher number of seats than before. But in Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) defeated the Left by the slenderest of margins, while in West Bengal the party crossed the winning line only because it tied itself firmly to Mamata Banerjee's pallu.

To these victories must be added the losses: a humiliating defeat for the DMK-led coalition in Tamil Nadu, the loss of the Puducherry Assembly to an ex-Congressman, and a complete drubbing in two crucial by-elections in Andhra Pradesh, where the rebel son and wife of the late Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, won the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat and the Pulivendula Assembly seat respectively with record margins.

These defeats have tempered the Congress' joy at recapturing Kerala and displacing the Left from West Bengal for the first time in 34 years, but the party is in no mood to introspect. Worse, its leadership has not realised that the national impact of the three provincial wins is less than the sum of its parts. Far from providing a much-needed booster shot to the Congress at the Centre, Verdict 2011 has revealed the electoral weakness of its immune system.

Looking forward

Let's take the statistics first. Between them, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam brought in 48 Lok Sabha seats for the United Progressive Alliance in the 2009 general election out of a possible 76. Tamil Nadu and Puducherry brought in 28 seats. Extrapolating from the present trend, the 2014 election will see the UPA losing seats in Tamil Nadu.

These losses can be offset by gains in Assam but not in Kerala, where the UDF's performance in 2011 suggests even a repeat of its 16 out of 20 performance is unlikely. In West Bengal, there is scope for the UPA to increase its Lok Sabha tally by a few more seats, but the beneficiary will be Mamata's Trinamool rather than the Congress. Finally, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy's stunning win in Kadapa, taken together with the Telangana knot the Congress has tied for itself, puts a question mark over its future prospects in Andhra Pradesh. In 2009, the State returned 33 party MPs. It will take a miracle to match those numbers in 2014.

If the Congress faces bleak prospects at the Centre despite winning three States, the Bharatiya Janata Party — which wasn't really in the fray in any of the five Assembly races — may paradoxically have some reason to cheer. That virtually all of its candidates in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu drew a blank gives a serious jolt to its “national” pretensions. But the victory of the UPA in West Bengal and Kerala is seen by BJP strategists as a good thing because the Left's defeat buries the ‘Third Front' idea for at least the current national election cycle. In a polity that is more bipolar than before, the party feels it has a better chance of eventually bringing regional players like the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa and even the AIADMK of Jayalalithaa back into the National Democratic Alliance's orbit.

In addition, the Tamil Nadu result could give a boost to the BJP campaign at the Centre on the corruption issue, especially since it need no longer fear the Left reaping collateral benefit from the Manmohan Singh government's vulnerability.

Three big lessons

Three years is, of course, a very long time in politics, and there is no reason to assume the electoral appeal of the Congress cannot grow. For that to happen, however, the party will have to internalise the three big lessons that the five Assembly results have thrown up.

The first lesson is that the electorate cares about corruption and wants the guilty to be punished. While many factors contributed to the defeat of the DMK-Congress combine in Tamil Nadu, the 2G spectrum scam played an important role. The arrest of A. Raja and the chargesheeting of Kanimozhi do not appear to have done much for the Congress. In Kerala, the popular perception of Congress complicity — and the Left Front's own record in providing clean governance — is one reason why the party failed to fully capitalise on the anti-incumbency mood there.

The second lesson — about the need for inclusive development — is from West Bengal but, like the corruption issue, has a pan-Indian resonance as well. A large section of voters may have been yearning for change after seven terms of Left Front rule but it was the mishandling of the land acquisition issue in the West Bengal Left's single-minded pursuit of “investment” that eventually tilted the scales. In the wake of Nandigram and Singur, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) recognised the mistakes it had made and tried to correct them but it was too late. Mamata Banerjee had already run away with the “pro poor” plank. She is likely eventually to drop that but the Left will need to introspect over how it lost its way.

The third lesson from this election season is from Assam and is about the popular support for peace talks and dialogue as a means of dealing with insurgency. Of all the factors that boosted the Congress in this State, it is the Gogoi government's pursuit of talks with the United Liberation Front of Asom that stands out. To be sure, the talks strategy — which worked because it allowed the Congress to win over the Asom Gana Parishad's “nationalist” supporters — may not be replicable elsewhere in the same way. But it does show that the pursuit of a political approach to dealing with an insurgency can produce greater political benefits to a party than the advocacy of force. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chhattisgarh: having run as a ‘B' team to the BJP and backed its disastrous Salwa Judum strategy, the Congress never stood a chance of winning the Lok Sabha by-election in Bastar. Perhaps it is time for a course correction.

I think one big lesson the Congress should draw from these elections are that rabble-rousing and casteism and playing appeasement cards won't work anymore. People like Mr Digvijay Singh should especially note this.
It's heartening to see the maturity of the "aam" voter. During the Lok Sabha elections AIDMK et al had tried all sorts of rabble-rousing regarding LTTE, but they got drubbed, contrary to what the people were expecting at that time. This time DMK tried playing the caste card regarding Raja, but it just didn't work.
So, the political parties should finally realise that they can't fool the voter by emotional appeals for long.

from:  S Kumar
Posted on: May 15, 2011 at 12:03 IST

Kerala is a state wherein anti-incumbency sentiments reflected in every elections. But this factor is ingenuously invalidated due to the campaign of V.S.Achuthanadan, the crusader of Corruption and leader of people for any common cause like the action on war-footing against land-grabbing, mission for ban on usage of Endosulfan etc. It is fantastic that he could steer the Left front to mark an unbelievable near-victory level against the slim higher margin of UDF. UDF must bring various factions together and consolidate strength to identify an all-acceptable leader as Chief Minister. Through an intrepid battle, the Left Front could win 68 seats against UDF wherein it had won only 72 seats, just one more than the 71 seats needed to form the government. There are so many disintegrating forces in UDF due to the influence of religious and caste oriented factionalism. These forces may denigrate the image of the front in the minds of majority of people from more refined, educated, forward thinking and affable societies who had elected UDF. Heeding to the demands of factionalists and giving undue considerations on caste or creed of the prospective Chief Minister rather than the traits to maneuver a coalition government in the best interest of the state, will lead UDF from nowhere to nowhere! In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee emerged a savior of people against land mafia, political militancy and lack of governance. She is the new icon in the Indian democracy upon installation of the government headed by her that is becoming a historical event while nailing the coffin of the communist regime lasted for 34 years! Congress knows that it has to maintain a propriety and decide not to seek sharing of power with Mamata’s Trinimool Congress. Congress could taste big victory in Assam only because of a corruption free government of Tarun Gogoi supported by the upcoming regional party BPF representing the 'Bodoland'. His endeavor to retain the confidence of people on the government without getting wooed by KMSS (Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti), the forum for the protection of rights of farmers is commendable. The main task of his government will be none other than bringing the militants including the troublesome ULFA to the negotiation table for an armistice.Congress government at the Centre cannot hide face while the nation is entangled into a host of scandals which are being exposed one after another wherein there were siphoning off huge money otherwise would have gone into the exchequer. It is evident that the government is still at the clemency of mafia powers which were behind money deals so as to shelter corrupt ministers and officials. The coalition regime had discounted the dignity of India amongst democracies of the world while India is expected to be a role model for upholding democratic doctrines and practices. Taking into account the magnitude of the scam and the sensitivity connected with it for the common people to worry on the plight of our democracy and its governance, Congress is aware of its constraints to celebrate victories in assembly elections in three states through coalition means.

from:  Madan Menon Thottasseri
Posted on: May 15, 2011 at 09:38 IST

Congress as a mute spectator of rampant corruption and protecting the wrong doers for the sake of holding power and unconvincing statements that come from Digvijay,Sibal sorts of people got its due at the polls.Hope this will atleast convince PM to oversee the functioning of his Govt with the honesty and sincerity that he alone seems to have.Otherwise people will act in 2014 as well.

from:  Ramji
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 18:15 IST

Congress has not displaced the Left in Bengal, but Trinamool Congress has. Siddharth, please focus on the objectives. Similarly the larger media writes Congress to be the national party. It was never the national party, if not for the alliances. Please respect the public endorsement, and thereby the trends being set (which the media doesn't get at all). Congress and BJP don't matter any more. Indians are saying that again, and again, but the media (mostly because of it's self interest) largely obscures this point. Any party in any state, whether small or large, if they commit to goals, and 'manage' to reach them, will be voted back, otherwise displaced. The bottomline is commitment, and delivery. And state to state results will differ, as it has been doing so for quite sometime.
Congress too has got quite a few hints from these results, but looking at Digvijay's, and Sibal's statements, i feel the arrogance of the Congress will not allow these hints to be felt at the center. I feel sorry for them, as i am sure a lot of Indians will too.

from:  Sunit Jang Bahadur
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 11:30 IST

Congress should induct Rahul Gandhi into union cabinet to work with stalwarts and gain experience. His words will carry more weight and as a minister he would be taken seriously. Getting into PM chair directly is a very remote chance. Next parliament election results are obviously not in favour of the party.

from:  M V Rangaraajan
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 11:29 IST

There are lots of points for Congress to worry about in the results of five state assemblies. Three major currents appeared in prima facie that reflected the public mood. Congress has been totally ignored and failed to earn confidence of the people. We were turned down as a reliable instrument for the change that people likes to bring about. It puts a big question mark at Rahul Gandhi as leader of future. His remark at aged CM of Kerala was not endorsed by the people. It hit back at the prospects of the party. The mistake should not be repeated in UP; Party leadership and particularly Digvijay Singh must take a serious note of it. The delayed action in various corruption charges has created a suspicion about the integrity of PMO despite the clean image of Manmohan Singh. Party has nothing to smile about except the result from North-east.

from:  Vijaypratap Singh
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 08:33 IST

Following are the Key issues behind AIADMK sweep, while the analysts are not able to get a real sense on the core issues and the degree of impact from the people’ heart/mindset. 1. Unethical support by both DMK and Congress on Srilankan crisis by Central Govt. (Tamil Massacre by Srilankan Govt. and War crimes). Degree of Impact = 25%; (This is the CORE SILENT KILLER factor)
Why the foreign secretary and her team flying to Srilanka yesterday to avoid the confrontation on War Crimes?
Media from north won't be able to understand this sensitive issue on Tamil peoples mind. This is hurting every day. This is likely to continue even in the 2014 parliament elections and This is going to be core issue on the state-central relationship in the coming days revolving around Srilankan-Tamil Ethnic crisis & War Crimes, Tamil Fisherman killings by Srilankan Navy, Poor policies on the external affairs relationship with Srilanka, international water and maritime issues, safety and security of the Tamil fisherman, Retaining the Lakshadweep islands etc. 2. 2G Scam - Coalition Partners are accountable and responsible for the large scale corruption (DMK & Congress) Degree of Impact =20%; 3. Price rise . Degree of Impact =20%; (rent, essential commodity etc.) 4. Poor Governance. Degree of Impact = 25%; 5. Family dynasty Degree of Impact =>10%;

from:  Ramesh
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 07:01 IST

Family rule and intervention into the Police department ruined the Anna founded Kazhagam. Future of the party depends mainly with the expulsion of sons who are making these acts.

from:  Chandru
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 06:09 IST

If the Congress has learnt any lessons from the just completed elections, it was not apparent in the the way the party's spokepersons reacted to the election results on vatious TV news channels yesterday. One of its senior ministers bolstered this impression when he said on TV that the party's performance in Assam showed that corruption was not an issue in the elections! The Congress also tried to underplay the effect of its organisational problems which was seen in Kadapa by-elections. Not even its political opponents would like to see this grand old party of India wither away as a result of its arrogant approach to politics and inept leadership.

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: May 14, 2011 at 05:58 IST
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