Anti-incumbency is one word for many failures. While electors have different reasons to vote out a government, these are usually massed together under this catch-all concept. Even so, this intangible factor is of great explanatory value to the 2012 Assembly elections, which actually threw up mixed results: Uttar Pradesh and Goa bringing about regime change, Punjab and Manipur voting for continuity and Uttarakhand leaving no one with a clear majority. Just as Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party consolidated the anti-Bahujan Samaj Party votes in Uttar Pradesh, so did the Bharatiya Janata Party the anti-ruling party votes in Goa. In Punjab and Uttarakhand, the Congress failed to do what the SP and the BJP did: attract sizeable sections of those wanting to vote against the incumbent. Punjab 2012 was an election for the Congress to lose. Since the reorganisation of the State in 1966, no party has managed to retain power in Punjab. But, although the Akali Dal-BJP combine lost a part of its vote share, the Congress gained nothing. The votes went to the Akali breakaway, People's Party of Punjab, founded by the estranged nephew of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The development plank the Akali Dal chose over its traditional religious platform might have yielded some benefits, but, unmistakably, the Congress failed to bring together all the anti-Akali votes. For many, the Congress under Amarinder Singh was not the alternative they were looking for. In Uttarakhand, similarly, the Congress could not pack a killer punch; despite edging ahead of the BJP, the party was left having to try and cobble together a majority.
Goa was a different story, where the BJP made good use of its years in the opposition. Manohar Parrikar, as Leader of the Opposition, was in the forefront of efforts to expose the illegal mining scam. The Congress and its outgoing Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, were entangled in controversies over mining irregularities and Mr. Parrikar kept up the pressure until the very end. The BJP made the opposition space its own, raising development issues while attacking the government on corruption and nepotism. In contrast, the Congress in Punjab and Uttarakhand behaved as though any benefit from an anti-incumbency sentiment would automatically accrue to it. Unlike the other four States, Manipur was in a category of its own, voting back the Congress with a thumping majority. The ruling party had no opposition worth the name. For opposition parties to take advantage of any anti-incumbency sentiment, they will have to expose each and every failure of the government, highlighting all acts of omission and commission adversely affecting people's welfare. Waiting out five years is not enough.