New Delhi Bureau
Akali-BJP combine triumphs, Badal set for fourth term
Uttarakhand: BJP prefers B.C. KhanduriManipur: Congress improves tally
NEW DELHI: The Congress has been voted out of power in Punjab and Uttarakhand as the electorate opted for change in the two States. Manipur bucked the trend: the Congress was just short of a majority with 30 seats in a House of 60.
In Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance won a decisive majority, paving the way for the triumphant return of Parkash Singh Badal to the Chief Minister's chair for a fourth time. The combine took 67 seats in the 117-member Assembly.
Punjab went to the polls on February 13 in 116 constituencies; voting in Beas will take place next month.
In Uttarakhand, the faction-ridden Congress fell behind the BJP. The central BJP leadership has indicated its preference for the former Union Minister, Bhuwan Chand Khanduri, to be the Chief Minister. Here, the Congress' best hope was that the electorate would settle for a hung Assembly and that it would retain power in a coalition arrangement. The majority-hugging 34-seat win for the BJP in an Assembly of 70 put paid to the Congress strategy. The electorate voted in 69 constituencies on February 21. Polling for one seat in the Terai region was countermanded following the death of a candidate.
The verdict from Manipur brought some cheer to an otherwise demoralised Congress camp. "We have a clear majority and have not gone into the question of taking on board others," Union Minister Oscar Fernandes, who is in charge of the party's affairs in the northeastern region, told The Hindu. Mr. Fernandes is in Imphal to oversee the meeting of the Congress Legislature Party.
The party improved on its 2002 tally of 20 seats. Okram Ibobi Singh has thus become the first Chief Minister in the State to have completed a five-year term leading a coalition government.
The Congress drew further solace from wresting the Tehri Lok Sabha constituency, where Vijay Bahuguna defeated the BJP's Manujendra Singh Shah. However, the BJP retained the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat. Navjot Singh Sidhu held the seat he won in 2004 against the Congress' Surinder Singla.
The mood in the BJP was upbeat: party president Rajnath Singh emphasised that the results would have an impact on the April-May Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
`No bearing on Centre'
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who campaigned extensively for the Congress candidates in all the three States, preferred not to interpret the reverses as a referendum on his Government. Stating that these were local elections, he told correspondents they would not have any bearing on the Centre.
"There is no need to be despondent. The Congress party has improved its share of popular vote," Dr. Singh said. He said the Government was trying its best to control inflation. The challenge was that it had to be done without hurting growth in agriculture and industry. "It is not easy. Everywhere there is a trade-off between inflation and growth. We are trying to control inflation while stimulating growth," the Prime Minister said.
In Chandigarh, Mr. Badal said the people had entrusted the SAD-BJP alliance with a "big responsibility." He sought everyone's cooperation to take the State forward. He attributed the loss of some seats to the diktat of a religious group, which asked people to vote for the Congress.
He expressed satisfaction over the BJP's performance, but declined to spell out the stand his party would take if the saffron party were to ask for the post of Deputy Chief Minister. "It is still too early to say anything, and moreover, they [the BJP] are yet to talk to us in this regard."