ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Assembly Election Lessons


In analysis of the results of the elections to the state assemblies of Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Manipur and     of the scattered by-elections in many other states, while it is the performance of the NDA, and particularly the BJP within it, that has received the most attention, a no less significant aspect of the outcome of these elections is the clear evidence the nationwide decline of the Congress, highlighted by the Lok Sabha elections, in which it won the smallest number of seats in its history, continues unchecked. Its being decisively swept out of power in Orissa has not come as a surprise, nor for that matter the virtual collapse of its attempt to make a go of it alone in Bihar. But what is one to make of the fact that the party’s candidates forfeited their security deposit in every single one of the nine by-elections in UP, eight to the state assembly and one to the Lok Sabha? And UP is one state where the party was thought to be on the way to a revival. Worse, as dismal as the Congress’s showing at the polls is the response to it within the party. Even before the election results were fully in, the Rajasthan unit of the party was, in a command performance par excellence, adopting a resolution affirming the party’s faith in party president Sonia Gandhi and declaring that the party stood fully united behind her. Clearly, the party leadership’s first concern is to shield itself, just as it was after the Lok Sabha election when it put up the elaborate charade of the supposed enquiry by the Anthony Committee into the reasons for the party’s poor showing. What is intriguing, to outside observers at any rate, is that the party leadership’s reaction is apparently an entirely nervous and pre-emptive one, for, now as after the Lok Sabha debacle, there are all too few signs of any serious move within the organisation to hold it to account. So much the worse for the party.

The latest round of elections has brought little cheer to the BJP either, the other party with a claim to a national stature, and may on the whole be said to mark another milestone in the rise of regional political formations in the country’s politics. The BJP has done particularly poorly in Haryana where Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal, its nominal ally in the NDA, has done well enough to be able to comfortably form the government on its own, justifying Chautala’s decision to ask for premature dissolution of the state assembly and call elections a year and a half in advance of the due date. In Orissa, the Biju Janata Dal, another regional party and constituent of the NDA, looks all set to form the government with the BJP as its junior partner. Most importantly, in Bihar Laloo Prasad Yadav’s ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal has by and large staved off the challenge of the BJP-led NDA, though its strength in the assembly has been significantly eroded and as a result a good deal of uncertainty must surround its attempt to once again form the government in the state. To stand any chance of returning to power the RJD will have to eat crow and seek the support of the Congress which had, at the urging of its Bihar unit, contested the election on its own and in the election campaign had bitterly attacked the RJD for its misrule in the state. The central leadership of the Congress, it is true, may not have too many options open to it and, faced with the possibility of an NDA government in the state, may be compelled to support the RJD. But this may well bring out another aspect of the regionalisation of the country’s politics: a sizeable section of the Bihar unit of the Congress may demur and drag its feet over complying with the central directive to support the RJD. (A parallel, distinctly unpleasant, reminder of this brand of regional assertion is the action of the BJP government in Gujarat in lifting the ban on the participation of state government employees in the activities of the RSS on considerations of the political dividend this is likely to yield it in the state even though its action has presented the BJP government at the centre with a first class political problem and put the ruling NDA under severe internal stress and strain.)

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