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BJP wins semi-final

This was an election in which BSP was the deciding factor. BSP being bijli, sadak and pani. In the end, Thumping Thursday ended 3-1 for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 02:27 IST

Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley possibly put it best. This was an election in which BSP was the deciding factor. BSP, according to Jaitley, being bijli, sadak and pani. And the incumbents in three states paid for not being able to provide basics to the people. The issue of development and a shift in caste equations did the Congress in.

The high turnout, over 60 per cent in the three states the Congress lost, showed that the people actively wanted to throw out the ruling governments.

Digvijay Singh, who ironically came to a tacit understanding with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Madhya Pradesh, fared the worst. The alliance had little impact. It was the poor condition of the state's roads and the lack of power that mattered. After 10 years under Diggi Raja, the people switched off.

It was a rout. Yesterday's confidence drained, Digvijay Singh admitted he had misread the popular mood. So had the opinion polls, but they appear to have got it right on one count: Digvijay was far more unpopular than the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. The people wanted him out. Amid the BJP celebrations in Bhopal on Thursday, Digvijay said: "It was a vote for change."

So was it in Rajasthan. Ashok Gehlot and the Congress's prospects had brightened after the good monsoon this year. But it wasn't enough to wipe out the effect of a five-year development drought. In the end, the BJP crossed the 100-seat mark in Rajasthan for the first time.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan was, predictably, in a self-congratulatory mood. He was in charge of Rajasthan and said the party had got it spot on by projecting Vasundhara Raje as their chief ministerial candidate. "The strategy was to have Vasundhara Raje as a leader who represented women and not any caste, in a caste-laden election," said Mahajan.

Vasundhara Raje's positioning definitely helped, but the solid support the BJP received from the Jat community was also a key factor in the party's rich pickings in the state.

Chhattisgarh threw up another pleasant surprise for the BJP. The Judeo tapes appear to have been forgotten. And the fact that the party had pressed pause as Judeo marched towards the chief ministership.

Early in the campaign ensured fewer replays — and a clear BJP majority in a state pollsters predicted would end up with a hung House.

The Congress hadn't expected the Chhattisgarh result. Like in Madhya Pradesh, the party had placed its faith in the chief minister.

The buzz in the Congress headquarters was that Chhattisgarh would be close, but there was no better man than Ajit Jogi to manufacture a majority from a fractured mandate. Chhattisgarh's voters didn't give him the opportunity.

Delhi was the only piece of good news on a dismal day for the Congress. The surveys had said the party would retain power in Delhi. It did, but not by the kind of margin predicted — even this small consolation went just a little sour.

In the end, Thumping Thursday ended 3-1 for the BJP.

That gain is all the more significant for what was missing from this election campaign: Hindutva.

By the BJP's standards, the word was hardly uttered in the days leading up to the polls. The party's focus was on development — or the lack of it — in the Congress-ruled states. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, originally billed as the party's star campaigner, was hardly heard through the campaign.

In several places, candidates actually didn't want him anywhere near their constituencies. The message: every state isn't Gujarat and Hindutva doesn't always work.

So cashing in on the pervasive mood for change, the BJP appeared to have worked out a new USP: BSP. And this may stay with them till the Lok Sabha polls next year.

First Published: Dec 05, 2003 00:00 IST