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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 22 New Delhi May 21, 2016

Complexities Mount with State Poll Outcome

Monday 23 May 2016, by SC



As we go to press today, the results of the Assembly elections in four States (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) and the Union Territory of Puducherry have just come. These given an idea of the public mood in various parts of the country at this point in time. Significantly, all these States and Puducherry have given decisive verdicts.

In Assam (having a total of 126 seats), after being in power for three terms at a stretch CM Tarun Gogoi of the Congress has been dethroned by the BJP-led alliance headed by Union Minister for Sports in the Narendra Modi Government, Sarbananda Sonowal. The alliance, comprising the Assam Gana Parishad and Bodo People’s Party besides the BJP, won 86 seats while the Congress came a distant second with 25 seats and the AIUDF could garner merely 13 seats while Others had two seats.

In Kerala, keeping the pattern of governance rotating between the two combinations—the United Democratic Front and Left Democratic Front—every five years, the LDF wrested the government from the UDF headed by CM Oommen Chandy with a victory which was doubtless resounding, the LDF having won 91 seats in the 140-member State Assembly, with the UDF reduced to 47; however, more striking was the first ever victory of the BJP in the State Assembly (behind which the RSS’ tireless activity spread over several years played a contributory role). Apart from the lone BJP win, a seat was won by Others in the province.

In Tamil Nadu, CM J. Jayalalithaa was able to break, for the first time since 1984, the cycle of anti-incumbency every five years and won hands down securing 134 seats in the 234-member State Assembly while the DMK-Congress alliance (which was all set to form the next government according to most exit polls except one) had to remain content with 98 seats while all other parties in the fray (including those, like the Communists, who had formed a third front) drew a blank. This was a blow to both the DMK and Congress (that is being highlighted by the Modi-Shah-led BJP in a bid to spite the Congress and underscore its own success in Assam).

In West Bengal, where the Left parties had entered into a seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress in an attempt to oust the incumbent Mamata Banerjee Government of the Trinamul Congress, the TMC achieved an outstanding landslide victory romping home with an incredible 211 seats in the 294-member Assembly leaving the Left-Congress way behind (between the two they shared 76 seats: Left 32 and the Congress 44) while the BJP won three seats and Others four.

(Here it must be pointed out that though the electoral understanding between the Left and Congress was limited to seat-sharing on the formal plane, in reality it went far beyond that and took the shape of an electoral alliance with popular support. That it failed to mobilise the masses against Mamata in particular was a different matter.)

Only in the Union Territory of Puducherry did the Congress register a straight win bagging 17 seats in the 30-member Assembly with the rival Congress (All India NR Congress) getting eight, AIADMK four and Others one.

The Congress’ extraordinary defeat in Assam needs to be analysed in the proper perspective. There are several reasons for such an outcome. First, the Congress was alienated from the young people as it did not understand the yearnings of the younger generation. In fact the youth felt closer to PM Narendra Modi since they were taken in by his rhetoric. Secondly, because of his age CM Tarun Gogoi could not keep a close watch on what his Cabinet colleagues were doing—the latter indulged in different forms of corruption in the wake of Gogoi’s loosening grip over the administration. Thirdly, people were keen on a change from the veteran CM to a much younger personality—and that is why they chose Sarban-anda Sonowal who had led the AASU’s struggle against “illegal immigration”; subsequently he joined the AGP but then, frustrated over the intense factionalism in that party, opted for joining the BJP.

As for the Congress, it must be frankly stated that it should have comprehended the scale of danger inherent in the decision of former Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma to quit the Congress to join the BJP. He should have been dissuaded from doing so but that did not happen and eventually the party suffered.

There was a feeling that the politics of polarisation the BJP was playing would in the final analysis help the Congress to garner the Muslim votes in bulk but that did not take place to the extent expected.

However, the BJP’s victory brings with it certain ominous portents. Its communal politics can cause havoc in the State. Already there are some signs to that effect. In the situation the Congress has the bounden duty to mobilise all the secular democratic forces to resist and defeat the BJP’s nefarious designs. But the moot question is: could it bestir itself to do so?

Overall therefore there is no doubt that the Congress has definitely suffered a setback—losing two States where it on its own strength or as the leader of an alliance was in power—Assam and Kerala; while in two other States (Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) where it was anticipating to be part of the ruling combine it had to bite the dust. Its only satisfaction is that it has become the second largest party after the TMC in West Bengal, something the CPM had secured in the 2011 Assembly polls after having ruled the State for 34 years without interruption.

For the Left these elections constituted a struggle for survival after having lost two major States—Kerala and West Bengal—where it was in power. The decisive victory in Kerala was indeed a consolation prize but the debacle in West Bangal (after soaring expectations) has resulted in the eruption of new dissensions on ideological
grounds. Thus the Congress-CPM electoral understanding—so essential on the national plane in view of the depredations of the Sangh Parivar in power at the Centre—has suffered a major jolt at present to the jubilation of the blind anti-Congress and ultra-Left hotheads within the CPM and outside. Needless to mention, it is these elements who had roundly opposed the Left-Congress bonhomie in West Bengal.

A word about the present-day BJP leadership: Amit Shah seems too excited over his plan for a Congress-mukt Bharat (an India emancipated from the Congress) and had the gumption to say today that the State Assembly election results had been witness to a major stride in that direction. Since the Congress was tempered in the flames of the freedom struggle from which the RSS, the BJP’s mentor, had carefully kept itself aloof, the party (Congress) cannot be made extinct by the likes of Shah or Modi because, after all, it resides in the hearts of our common people with whom the RSS-BJP have had no connection whatsoever.

True, the results of the State Assembly polls have boosted the morale of the RSS-BJP leaders now in charge of the ruling dispensation. Perhaps they needed this elixir after the BJP’s dismal performance in Delhi and Bihar (as also the latest outcome of the civic polls in the Capital). And there is every possibility of this inciting them to effect further communal polarisation on a large scale while carrying forward the agenda of Hindutva striking at the very root of secularism.

The situation therefore has turned more grave than what it was even a few days ago. This is the time when the country is in dire need of farsighted leaders in the Left and Congress of the mould of those who had guided our freedom struggle. Instead what we have today are pathetic caricatures who are only interested in projecting their self-importance by resorting to just revolutionary phrase-mongering that sounds so hollow in the midst of the mounting complexities fast engulfing our polity.

May 19 S.C.

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