Victories and defeats are a part of every democracy and the Samajwadi Party (SP) seems to have learned it quicker than the Congress has done. Here the Congress has a few lessons to take from the Uttar Pradesh-based party and its president, Mulayam Singh Yadav. The situation that emerged after the Lok Sabha polls in April-May was as bad for the SP in UP, where it is in power, as it was for the Congress at an all-India level. Then on, there was no respite for the SP because of UP’s recurrent law and order problems, crimes against women, communal riots and the unfinished tale of the Muzaffarnagar riot victims’ rehabilitation. All this had earned the party and its leaders a lot of flak from the media. Despite this, Mr Yadav marshalled all the resources at his command and pressed them into operation and the result has been a spectacular success, which makes the SP confident to think of a second term in the state. But the Congress, despite its morale-booster, still seems to wallow in its loss of power.
Here there are two sets of differences. One is that there is some bit of divergence between Lok Sabha elections and assembly polls. In assembly elections it is the local candidates and local issues that predominate and the electorate gains by having a member of the ruling party as its representative. That is why it has often, though not always, been seen that the ruling party wins in bypolls. Second, this ‘local’ factor, while it may have helped the SP because the party itself is localised in UP, always does not work well in the case of the Congress, which is an all-India party and has to reckon on various things that are not confined within the boundaries of a state or a region. Still this time round the Congress did not opt for a top-down approach and gave priority to local voices and this paid off for the party in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The fair play inherent in any democracy always puts a party or a leader to the test, setting the stage for the next fight. Some sort of this has already happened to the Congress, whose leader Rahul Gandhi was criticised for the way he led the party in the run-up to and during the Lok Sabha polls. But Mr Gandhi is willing to learn as he himself said while acknowledging the success of the Aam Aadmi Party after the Delhi assembly elections last year. Here is another opportunity for him to watch and analyse what happened in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttarakhand, and then find out what might work well for the party in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. As in business, a one-size-fits-all strategy does not pay in politics either.