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Mandate for Congress in Maha, AP; Haryana shocks party

The Congress did not win as much as the opposition parties lost. But it has the mandate now to push ahead with its agenda. The first round of assembly polls after the general elections in May endorsed the Congress and showed the BJP, continuing its downward slide. Varghese K George reports. Poll Results | Who'll get the top job? | In pics | Special

india Updated: Oct 23, 2009 10:21 IST
Varghese K George

The Congress did not win as much as the opposition parties lost. But it has the mandate now to push ahead with its agenda on education, climate change and disinvestments.

The first round of assembly elections after the 15th general elections in May endorsed the Congress and showed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal opposition, continuing its downward slide.

The Congress is set to retain power in all three states that voted on October 13 — sweeping Arunachal Pradesh, narrowly winning Maharashtra in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and holding on to Haryana with a new partner, having failed to win a majority on its own.

With Thursday’s results, Congress and its allies are in power in 14 states and Union Territories, BJP and its allies in nine, and others in the remaining seven.

The results also reinforce the trend of voters returning incumbent governments — in elections after 2004, at least nine governments in big states have retained power while an equal number lost power, a decent 50 per cent.

This will be the third Congress-led government in a row in Maharashtra, the fourth in Arunachal Pradesh and the second in a row in Haryana, a state famously untrusting of incumbent governments since it was formed in 1966.

The fresh bout of public support could accelerate the new thrust that the Congress is attempting in policies related to education, climate change and disinvestments, since it returned to power in May with a decreased dependence on alliance partners.

The Congress could get more assertive in its dealings with partners. “The results show the people’s trust in the party to govern and in its ability to take decisions in national interest. This will energise the organisation and strengthen the UPA government,” said Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary and Maharashtra in charge.

However, there are signs of trouble for the Congress in the victory.

The party did not face a formidable opposition in any of the three states.

In Maharashtra its victory was in part due to Raj Thackeray cutting into BJP-Shiv Sena votes, campaigning on a parochial agenda.

But it’s the BJP that should be the most worried about the Maharashtra results, where it failed to take advantage of the shrinking support for the Congress-NCP combine.

“Anti-incumbency vote got divided in Maharashtra and in Haryana, where we contested alone to build our party.

“We have to introspect honestly, overcome our weaknesses and learn to speak in one voice,” said BJP spokesman Ravishankar Prasad.

In contrast, in Haryana, the Congress seems to have substantially eroded its base since May when it had 41.8 percent against Indian National Lok Dal (INLD)’s 15.8 percent.

While the INLD made a dramatic comeback, the Congress is in need of a new a friend.

Arunachal Pradesh continued with the May trend when Congress had more than 50 per cent of the votes.