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Hand's up!

Its opponents and estranged allies are vanquished as the Congress unexpectedly wins bigger than it has since Rajiv Gandhi's death in 1991. But what explains this victory?

india Updated: May 17, 2009 07:44 IST
Hindustan Times

Its opponents and estranged allies are vanquished as the Congress unexpectedly wins bigger than it has since Rajiv Gandhi's death in 1991. But what explains this victory?

In the end, it's turned out to be the biggest victory for the Congress since 1991, but who would have thought, even on Friday night, that this was coming? Not the Congress itself, because its leaders were still in touch with potential allies of all shades and shapes. Not the President, who was consulting constitutional experts on her options in the event of a hung parliament. Not the pollsters who again got it wrong - every single one of them. They predicted that the UPA would be ahead, but were off target by 50 or more seats on average. And yes, not the media, or even wise bloggers, who all thought it was going to be a close call.

In the end, it was a wave no one saw coming. And yet, it's with relief that one notes that everyone was wrong. The nightmare scenarios didn't come to pass. There will be no loonies ruling us in the next few years. Instead, we can hope for a government with some ministers of some capability and talent.

Much punditry is on already about why the Congress won the victory it did. It's all speculation, none of it based on fact.

But here's what we do know: the Congress fought this election on the slogan, "Aam aadmi ke badhtey kadam, har kadam par Bharat buland".

Translated, that means roughly, "The advancing footsteps of the common man, a stronger India at every step". In other words, the Congress targeted the common man in these elections, and did so suggesting this would lead to a stronger India. Its campaign song, set to the tune of "Jai ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, was similarly an aspirational tune addressed to the common man. Even its advertising was about empowering the masses, empowering rural India and empowering youth.

The party has evidently won support from all these sections. To some extent, it would have done so because of the work its previous government did, especially through generous acts like the Rs 12,700 crore NREGA and the Rs 65,000 crore dole to farmers. That has paid off.

Rahul Gandhi's campaigning has also doubtless played a part, especially the image of him in contrast to the octogenarian Advani. The poor old man lifting weights to try and prove a youth he no longer had will remain among the sad images of these elections.

A lot of the credit for the Congress win in Uttar Pradesh must also be given to its regional rivals in the state. They have so thoroughly discredited themselves that the only party left for anyone to vote was Congress. Something similar happened in Telengana in Andhra Pradesh, where the Telengana Rashtra Samiti was decimated, and even in Bengal, where the Left had become the party of hubris.

The internal divides in its opponents helped the Congress in states like Rajasthan. The same factor hindered it in Karnataka.

The takeaway message from this win for ALL political parties in India should be that the common man is no fool and cannot be taken for granted.

Good work and a modicum of honesty are becoming important for winning elections. That's why Nitish Kumar won in Bihar, and Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan lost. That's why Naveen Patnaik won in Orissa. And even Narendra Modi in Gujarat.

Politicians must understand that they now have to earn their votes. They can't simply buy them.

First Published: May 17, 2009 07:43 IST