Anti-incumbency verdicts seem to be the rule in Indian elections, with a few notable exceptions. Even without any `Quattrocchi effect' which was kept away by an akratic conspiracy of silence for which a high political price is being paid post-poll on the three Assembly elections, the Congress has revalidated the rule by losing Punjab and Uttarakhand. It has performed significantly better in Manipur. In the most important contest, the alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party has won a comfortable majority. In Uttarakhand, the ruling party, which was leaderless after Chief Minister N.D. Tiwari opted to stay out of the race, has finished poorly behind the BJP, which has however failed to capitalise fully on the negative factor and score a convincing victory. In Manipur, both the incumbent and its main rival, the Manipur People's Party, have increased their vote shares at the expense of the BJP; and the expected post-poll arrangements with smaller parties should ensure for Okram Ibobi Singh another term as Chief Minister. In Punjab, the widespread perception that Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, for all his plus points, was inaccessible and high-handed seems to have worked against the ruling party. The Congress managed to increase its vote share but the SAD-BJP combine did considerably better. In fact, the incumbent made inroads in the Akali strongholds in the southern parts of the State, but its own bastions were run over. To his credit, Chief Minister Singh set the election agenda by centre-staging issues of development, with the result that the chauvinistic politics of the SAD and the BJP were kept in check during the campaign.
At the end of this round of moderately significant Assembly elections, the net loss is clearly to the Congress. This can be attributed to a combination of factors: `anti-incumbency' (which is not much of an explanation and only begs the question), the inescapable in-feuding, and, most importantly, a lethal rise in the prices of essential commodities. A substantial share of the blame must fall on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government, which woke up late to rising inflation. The cut in the prices of petrol and diesel was a case of too little, too late. The election results should prompt the Congress to undertake a mid-term review of the policies of the UPA Government, and bring about a course correction. As it finds itself in the midst of another `Q' storm, the party can speculate on what might have happened had the Italian wheeler-dealer's detention in Argentina become public as soon as the government heard about it officially.