No Happy Augury
The outcome of elections in the five states—Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarkhand, Manipur, and Goa—have amply demonstrated that United Progressive Alliance’s second tenure may not qualify it to win a fresh mandate in the Lok Sabha, two years hence. The Manmohan Singh-led Government is virtually being rendered a lame-duck government for the remaining two years in power. All-pervasive corruption, ever spiraling prices of the essentials, growing inequalities are negating the gains in terms of overall economic growth, robust forex situation, visible improvement in employment opportunities as well as civic amenities in urban areas. The Congress’ stock with people in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in terms of voters, is refusing to rise. It could barely manage to wrest back power in Uttarkhand though still short of an outright majority. Punjab has for the first time rejected Congress a second time in a row. Manipur might provide it some solace, but the state is out of the serious reckoning in terms of electoral politics. Goa has given marching orders to the party and has ensured a stable tenure for the BJP.
The outcome is dismaying, for it forebodes complete vacation of space by national parties. The BJP, the central axis of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), too seems to be losing favour of the electorate. The party has only Goa in its kitty to celebrate. It has lost seats in Uttar Pradesh although still remains the status of the fourth largest group, suffered considerable reduction of seats in Punjab and Uttarkhand, and has had no stake in Manipur as ever.
Of all these, Uttar Pradesh’s verdict is most stunning. While BSP may have been thrashed for the insolence its leadership had betrayed while in power, the total rejection of Congress despite three months of brainstorming by Rahul Gandhi, calls for deeper analysis by the Congress. Muslims, constituting almost 18 per cent in the State, continue to distrust Congress, notwithstanding promise of 9% reservation. The community refused to bite the bait. Nothing proves it more convincingly than the loss of deposit in Farrukhabad by the Party’s candidate Louis Fernandes, wife of Union Minister Salman Khurshid, the man who had been happy to invite Election Commission’s reprimands in return for sops for minorities. Even though wounds of Babri Masjid betrayal might have been beginning to heal, the harassment of Muslim youth that has gone on all across the states is clearly hindering the return of Muslims’ confidence in Congress. Acquittal of innocent youth in terror cases, Union government’s refusal to come clean on Batla House encounter, and arrest of Hindutva terrorists in several bomb blasts have convinced the Muslims enough that unless the two mainstream, national parties are dumped out of favour, no escape is possible from injustice being perpetrated by the guardians of law and order. Unless the party and the Government did some soul-searching, hope of return of favour of Muslims for the mainline national parties would remain futile. The Congress would do well to probe as to how it could rise above pleasantries and promises. Even for the BJP, it should be a matter for concern. As a party committed to a strong Centre, it should not afford to antagonize the most solid social component, i.e., the Muslims, in the Hindi belt from remaining out of the loop of votebank of nationalist parties.
The Congress’ poor showing in Mumbai municipal elections and severe drubbing in by-elections in Andhra Pradesh paints a sorry picture for the forthcoming polls in state. Maharashtra is set to go to polls later this year. Shiv Sena-BJP’s resounding performance must set off alarm bells for Congress-NCP ruling combine. Prospects in Andhra Pradesh are however uncertain. If the party feels that it is a good bargain to lose Telengana and retain the favour in coastal Andhra, it may continue to tread the risky path. But overall the portents are ominous with YSR’s heir threatening to play spoilsport. Victory of Congress in Chikmagalur byelection in Karnataka may certainly warm the cockles of Congressmen. But it owes much to the widening rift within the BJP rather than any positive upsurge of favour for the Congress.
There is no gainsaying that rise of regional forces threatens to rob the national polity of centrality of vision and unity of purpose. Some modicum of the same has already been shown by the nasty Didi of West Bengal. What could be in store following 2014 Lok Sabha polls could just be imagined. It is time national parties assessed their course ahead and made amends.