Ahead of the Congress-led UPA’s second anniversary on May 22 and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s imminent cabinet reshuffle, the party rode the tidal wave unleashed by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, scored a stupendous hat-trick victory in and somehow managed to wrest power in Kerala where its wafer thin majority would make governance a tight rope walk.
The dampener, of course, was the Congress’s inability to win Puducherry, its wipe-out in Tamil Nadu where it would virtually have to begin with a clean slate in the case of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, its abject defeat at the hands of Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother in Andhra Pradesh parliamentary and assembly by-elections and the BJP’s clean sweep in the Karnataka by-polls.
Among the first issues Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have to address is the party’s participation in government in West Bengal and the choice of a leader in Kerala where the toss up appears to be between old hand Oomen Chandy and a younger face Ramesh Chennithala. Tarun Gogoi is likely to continue as chief minister to take the peace process with Ulfa forward.
Observers would soon be sent to elect the legislature party leaders.
The big question is whether Gandhi attends Banerjee’s swearing-in on May 18. Many believe she could even if she had not addressed any joint rally with her.
Though the Congress Core Group—that includes the PM and Gandhi—reviewed the election results on Friday, Banerjee invitation to the party to join her government would be discussed at a separate meeting.
Once a formal decision is taken, questions like whether the principle of “natural justice” — that the Trinamool give the Congress the same ratio of berths as it got at the Centre —would follow.
The Congress plans to “introspect” on its debacle in Tamil Nadu where anti-incumbency, allegations of corruption and infighting took a toll of the party. “We will try to correct our mistakes,” said senior leader Pranab
Mukherjee in the party’s first flush of happiness read the poll outcome as a verdict for “stability and change.”
Mukherjee used the occasion to hit out at the BJP and the Left, advising them to learn the “right lessons” and stop destabilising the UPA government as it brings instability of the kind witnessed in frequent parliamentary polls particularly between 1996 and 1999.
“In this election, more than 828 assembly seats went to polls. A national party (BJP) could not win seats even in double digit… The other party (CPM), which ... supported the BJP inside and outside Parliament also could do no better,” he said.
Mukherjee admitted that the poll outcome in West Bengal was a mandate for Banerjee. He also disagreed that the Left had lost its relevance after its defeat. “In that case, the BJP would have become irrelevant when they got only two Lok Sabha seats in 1984,” he said, noting that they had later gone on to form the government at the Centre.