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The Congress’s defeat in the elections to the four state assemblies isn’t just a defeat of its regional satraps. It’s a rejection at once of the UPA regime at the Centre.
Public anger against the UPA decimated the party in Delhi and Rajasthan. Sheila Dikshit cut a tragic figure after an impressive 15-year stint, losing her own seat, while seeing her party condemned to virtual oblivion in the national capital.
What did Dikshit in was Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-graft revolution propelled by an anti-incumbency of 25 years, stemming from Manmohan Singh’s decade of embarrassing governance and the period for which she herself was the CM.
The AAP’s big-time arrival on Delhi’s hitherto Congress-BJP turf also brought collateral damage to the BJP that wanted a clean 4-0 sweep in the testing semi-finals before the 2014 polls. But the saffron brigade has done enough to pluck the fight out of its national rival.
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The results have placed the UPA regime and the Congress leadership in the dock like never before. The outcome has implications for pre-poll alliances it direly needs to contain Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections.
How would a poll tie-up with the UPA help when the Congress-led alliance became a liability in the states it ruled?
Gehlot’s predicament in Rajasthan was no different from Sheila’s. Existing cheek-by-jowl with Delhi, his was a 15-year baggage of public anger and distrust. The Congress continued to ail in the desert state, the free medicines and pathological tests it provided to the poor doing little to repair its own health.
Doubts if any on this score were dispelled by the margin with which Vasundhara Raje returned to power after the five-year Gehlot interregnum.
The ousted CM’s personal popularity was no less than that of his MP counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan. What had him knocked out were the shenanigans of his ministers and party legislators. He failed while an equally understated Chouhan could use his clout among voters to triumph local anti-incumbency.
“How’d I be CM again without MLAs,” reasoned Chouhan while seeking support for party candidates. The strategy worked. The third straight win in MP has placed him on par with Narendra Modi in the BJP hierarchy determined by electoral success.
That the saffron party remained tantalisingly short of a clear victory in Delhi was a bit of a setback for Modi. His high-voltage campaign fell short of stopping the AAP juggernaut. He indeed can take credit for Raje’s decisive victory. But Chouhan’s trophy is singly earned.