To describe Tuesday's election results as stunning would be an understatement given that incredible stories have emerged in at least three of the five States that went to the polls over the past six weeks. Overall, the verdict dealt a devastating blow to the Congress. The party lost Goa. It failed to wrest Punjab and scraped through a virtual tie in Uttarakhand — both of whose incumbent governments had been considered pushovers. And it crashed to the bottom in Uttar Pradesh where Rahul Gandhi led a shrill, high profile campaign. Only in Manipur did the Congress sail through comfortably. This election got its edge-of-the-seat excitement from two extraordinary performances and one cliffhanger: In U.P, the Samajwadi Party led by the father-son team of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav demolished every barrier in sight to capture more seats than any victorious party had in two decades. The SP powerhouse pushed arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party to a distant second, with the rear being brought up by the BJP and the Congress-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance. In Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine made history by becoming the first government to retain power in 46 years. In Uttarakhand, the BJP and the Congress ended neck and neck, with the latter enjoying an edge because of the support from independents.
Mulayam Singh undoubtedly contributed to the SP's phenomenal success in U.P. but it was the affable younger Yadav who was the SP's campaign driver. Through dogged effort and a positive campaign, he transformed an ideologically fuzzy party — which had been severely weighed down by the Amar Singh-Bollywood baggage — into one that was rid of its goonish image and looked aspirationally young and modern. That the SP surpassed the BJP's1991 tally of 221 seats achieved during the Ram wave speaks for itself. The BSP, which was uniquely placed with a committed core vote, has only itself to blame for squandering away a rare opportunity. Ms Mayawati restored law and order and instituted several positive measures, especially towards the uplift of the Dalit community. But her achievements faded when measured against the corruption of the administration and her own perceived arrogance. In the end, the statues she built for herself became a metaphor for the regime's obsessive self-interest. For all this though, it would be premature to write off the BSP, which even in defeat has polled around 26 per cent, against an estimated 30 per cent by the SP. Unfortunately, there is no such consolation for the Congress: the party was routed in U.P., surrendered the anti-incumbency advantage in Punjab, was nearly edged out in Uttarakhand and performed abysmally in Goa. It does not help the Congress that the BJP has emerged with a much better score at the end of Elections 2012, which might well become a turning point for both parties in their quest for power at the Centre two years from now.