If ever there was an election in which the principal protagonists seemed to floundering around helplessly, it was the one for the Maharashtra assembly. Through the sheer momentum of its Lok Sabha victory, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance has carried the day — more by default, than by its achievements. The Shiv Sena-BJP combine, which should have had the ruling alliance on the mat on various issues — from farmers’ suicides to a lack of follow-up action on 26/11 — seemed more like a deer caught in the headlights than a robust contender for power. As per the script, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) played the spoiler for the Sena-BJP, getting around 5 per cent of the vote, despite a rare public appearance from the grand vizier of parochial politics, Balasaheb Thackeray himself. The victory in Haryana, though expected, was less impressive for the Congress and takes the sheen off Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s reputation as a vote-catcher. The sweep in Arunachal Pradesh is a badge of honour for the Congress at a time when the state’s status has been questioned by China.
One thing is clear from these elections. As a wag put it, the BJP has lost the plot and did not seize the moment. In Maharashtra, the NCP-Congress combine was hobbled by factionalism and rebellion, especially after the controversial allocation of the Amravati seat to Rajendra Shekhawat, son of President Pratibha Patil. A good opposition would have rushed into the many breaches and harped on the problems of misgovernance in a state that has seen India’s deadliest terrorist attack under a Congress government’s watch. But it did not. Now it’s been reduced to implying that the electronic voting machines were rigged.
The Sena-BJP combine now has to contend with the Congress being in power for a third term and to a possible assault on its bastions from a buoyant MNS. That the late Pramod Mahajan’s daughter Poonam could not win, despite her father’s fabled legacy, is indication that the BJP needs to drastically reinvent itself rather than hope that its opponents will miraculously fall by the wayside. If the Congress hopes to be the long-distance runner, it must realise that victories by default are not laurels on which it can rest.