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Mainstream, VOL L No 12, March 10, 2012

Message of the State Assembly Polls

EDITORIAL

Tuesday 13 March 2012, by SC

The results of the elections to the Assemblies of five States that went to the polls recently are out. The voters have given their verdict loud and clear. Except for Uttarakhand where it is still not clear which party would form the next State Government, there is no room for any doubt on this score in the other four States where elections were held.

Mayawati’s BSP has suffered a decisive defeat in the most populous State of UP with the Samajwadi Party of the veteran war-horse Mulayam Singh Yadav having recorded there a landslide victory which was ably scripted by Mulayam’s son, Akhilesh. To Akhilesh goes the credit of changing the party’s face discarding the socialite image it had developed under its former second-in-command Amar Singh whose proximity to film stars and the corporate world had given a new dimension to not only the SP but also politics in the country in general. The father-son duo of the Badals has been able to ward off anti-incumbency in Punjab through painstaking efforts for the State’s development thereby facilitating the Akali Dal-BJP alliance’s historic return to power for a second innings thereby frustrating Patiala Maharaja Amarinder Singh’s active endeavours to ensure the Congress’ comeback. In the absence of a credible alternative the Congress has comfortably romped home for the third time in a row in Manipur with Ibobi Singh successfully exploiting the Meiteis’ anti-Naga sentiments to reap electoral dividend while simultaneously checkmating the insurgents’ attempts to disturb the polls. The illegal mining scam and politics of family rule have resulted in the Congress’ rout in Goa where the BJP has received for the first time an overwhelming mandate from the electorate. Only in Uttarakhand are the Congress and BJP still locked in a neck-and-neck fight for power, the former having managed to get a one-seat lead over the latter without obtaining majority support in the State Assembly, the BJP’s move to fight anti-incumbency by bringing former CM B.C. Khanduri at the last moment in the electoral fray having almost paid off—the stage is there-fore set for a photo-finish in the hill State.

By far the most impressive outcome of these polls has been in UP where the Samajwadi Party’s spectacular success has surpassed even the most optimistic predic-tion of its supporters. Winning as many as 224 seats in the 403-member House as against the BSP’s 80, BJP’s 47 and the Congress-RLD com-bine’s 37 (the Congress tally being a paltry 28, just six seats more than what it was able to garner in 2007 despite AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s whirlwind campaign) was in itself an outstanding achievement brought about as much by Mayawati’s mega-scale corruption-cum-arrogance of power as Akhilesh Yadav’s organisational capability and mature political approach. However, what cannot also be denied is the last-minute surge of Muslim voters towards the SP reflected in the high voter turnout as a backlash to the BJP’s high-voltage propaganda to secure upper-caste Hindu votes following the Congress’ ill-conceived plan to get minority support by declaring the sub-quota for backward Muslims within the OBC quota, an exercise that failed miserably since the Muslims saw through the opportunist game and decided to opt for the SP which alone, they realised from their own experience, could guarantee their security.

As far as the BSP is concerned, if Mayawati, arguably the most powerful woman CM of the country, has been unseated from power on the eve of the International Women’s Day, she has herself to blame. The rainbow coalition based on sarvajan politics cutting across caste barriers that she was able to forge in 2007 culminated in an overwhelming majority for her party, a remarkable feat that stunned the nation while sowing the seeds of a new hope of all-inclusive progress. Of course, the lawlessness that pre-vailed during the SP rule substantially contri-buted to her unique success with the non-Dalits voting for her in large numbers. Initially she did take some measures aimed at the State’s holistic development but soon she herself inflicted grievous blows on the sarvajan strategy and went on building grand memorials with statues of Dalit icons (in which she too prominently figured) at the cost of thousands of crores of rupees. Her MLAs also went berserk and frequently took law into their own hands. Both crime and corruption flourished with her benign indulgence while she became increasingly insensitive to even her own party workers. The only silver-lining was that law and order was not as much a casualty as during the SP days. She also gave a sense of dignity to the Dalits at large. But in the circumstances it became an uphill task for her to return to power. However, having gone back to the bahujan plank by abandoning the sarvajan base, she could manage to retain her Dalit support and secure the number two slot despite the drastic reduction in her seat-share (although her vote-share did not decline that much).

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the President of New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, has succinctly explained,

It is hard not to feel a tinge of sadness. Mayawati had crafted an extraordinary social coalition. She will still remain a formidable political force, but she understimated the degree to which even the very constituencies she had empowered were feeling the weight of bad governance. While she empowered some constituencies, the institutiona-lisation of low-level corruption was nothing short of oppressive. She forgot that social coalitions not wedded to intelligent governance will not last long. Perhaps a smart economist will decode the paradox of UP—that a 7 per cent growth rate was accompanied by a consumption growth rate of close to 1 per cent.

The results conclusively show that the people have forgotten the goonda-raj that characterised the Mulayam Singh dispensation before the 2007 Assembly polls in the State. There is much expectation that the new-look SP, designed by Akhilesh, will shed its past and move towards a new development paradigm to benefit all sections beyond caste differences. However, the boisterous victory celebrations of party activists punctuated by indiscriminate attacks on journa-lists soon after the announcement of the results do not inspire much confidence. But SP leaders, including Akhilesh Yadav, have assured that such unlawful acts will not recur and one has to take those assurances at their face-value at present.

The two national parties, the Congress and BJP, have been forced to bite the dust. The Congress’ position is worse and Rahul Gandhi has been the real victim of the drubbing the party had to exprience after having concentrated for so long on his sole objective of reviving the party in the State. His efforts have failed to bear any fruit thus exposing his inability to learn the basics of politics and connecting with the public. He has, nevertheless, acknowledged in utter candour after the results were out that the party’s fundamentals were weak in the Stats having no organisation worth the name. But he should understand that if he wants to really restore the party organisation, there is no alternative but to go back to the original Gandhi, the Mahatma, and his own great grandfather who built the mass organisation, brick by brick, in the face of the heaviest of odds during British rule. But does he have the capacity to do so at a time the Congress-led Union Government is promoting neoliberal policies that only widen the rich-poor divide?

The BJP’s dismal performance in UP has revealed its infirmities, the principal drawback being its reliance on religious sectarianism that does not allow it to emerge as an all-embracing modern party of progress. It would perforce have to engage in serious post-poll introspection if it wants to hold on to its status as the principal Opposition party in Parliament. Already its allies like the JD(U) in the NDA have begun questioning its ‘national’ character.

In Punjab, the Congress is highlighting the fact, as party President Sonia Gandhi pointed out, that the arrival of Maninder Singh Badal on the political scene queered the pitch for the party in a large number of constitutencies. This should not, however, be an attempt to camouflage the Congress dissidents’ role in acting as spoilsport and Amarinder Singh’s incapacity to feel the public pulse.

Overall these elections are a serious wake-up call for the Congress in particular. Of course all other parties too must pay heed to this call. The electorate’s message is unambiguous: the voters will not tolerate misgovernance, corruption and maladministration especially when these affect policies aimed at upliftment of the masses. [So it is also imperative for PM Manmohan Singh to be doubly cautious while undertaking ‘economic reforms’ that benefit only a small section at the cost of the bulk of the populace.]

It is this message reflecting the democratic urges of our people that constitutes the most most welcome feature of these State Assembly polls. [Needless to underline, while the Election Commission deserves fulsome praise for the broadly peaceful conduct of these polls over such a vast terrtory, the high voter turnout in the elections once again exemplify the resilience of our parliamentary democracy.]

March 8 S.C.

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