India wants strong, accessible leaders, and it wants a better quality of life. That’s the message emerging from election results in five states in which more than 60 per cent of the electorate — higher than last time — cast its vote. These elections are being seen as the semi-finals to the general elections next year.Pics: Winning Moments
Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami on Monday said the Lok Sabha elections are likely in April-May.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempt to build a national campaign around the issues of terrorism, inflation, and a deepening agriculture crisis as a prelude to the Lok Sabha elections worked, at best, only partially. Local issues of governance won the day.
Visible and assertive leadership worked across states for both the Congress and its principal rival. The Congress and the BJP won two each of the four states where they fought each other. The Congress won a third, Mizoram, defeating the regional Mizo National Front. Elections in J&K are still underway.
While Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh anchored BJP victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively, Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot did it for the Congress in Delhi and Rajasthan.
Inversely, weak, confusing or arrogant leadership brought failure for both the parties. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje’s style of functioning became a liability for the BJP, while in Madhya Pradesh Suresh Pachauri’s style harmed the Congress. “He failed us. After the first list, he did not even bother to consult us on the selection of candidates,” said a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named. In the tiny remote state of Mizoram, Lalthanhawla, given a free hand by the high command, delivered a victory for the Congress after 10 years.
The election results came as a relief for the party, which is reeling under a barrage of criticism over recurring terrorist attacks, inflation and a crisis in agriculture in the run-up to the general elections.
Delhi, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh elect 72 of 542 members of the Lok Sabha, while Mizoram elects one. The BJP has 57 and the Congress 15 MPs in the current Lok Sabha from these states.
Congress’s refusal to decisively project a leader has worked against it and BJP used this to its advantage – for instance, in Chhattisgarh. “We raised the question whether Ajit Jogi was speaking for the Congress. The next day, Motilala Vora said Jogi was not the Congress leader,” said Ravishankar Prasad, BJP general secretary in charge of the party’s campaign in the state. “We asked the Congress to explain who was their leader.”
Winning Delhi was Congress’s best moment. “Winning Delhi is winning India,” said Congress leader Veerappa Moily. The state’s results are taken as indicative of urban middle class sentiment, and the Congress hopes the trend will continue across India. The number of urban parliament constituencies has increased to 100 from 70, following the redrawing of their boundaries.
Both parties have now set their eyes on the Lok Sabha elections. “BJP has reasons to worry. They are losing ground in the regions that they won in 2004” said Digvijay Singh, Congress general secretary. Arun Jaitely, BJP general secretary, does not agree. “If one translates the current assembly results in terms of Lok Sabha seats, we would be ahead.”
So, when will the next general elections take place? There is nothing that suggests that the Congress would advance the polls. Congress hopes inflation will dip sharply from March 2009 onwards and by April-May the party will be in comfortable position. See graphics
The party also expects to deliver on the issue of security by then, with a new home minister already in place. The electoral verdict that an incumbent government can retain power reassures the Congress, while the BJP says its campaign on terrorism and inflation will continue. “These issues will remain and will have stronger resonance in a national campaign,” said Jaitely.
(Inputs from Chetan Chauhan)