Politics is turning out to be a bit like cricket—almost a game of glorious uncertainties. Who would have thought that Rahul Gandhi’s nearly two-year-long relentless pursuit of Uttar Pradesh would not result in much? Who would have figured that the Samajwadi Party (SP) and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, 72, a man that appeared pretty much done and dusted from the political scene less than one year ago, would bounce back and take the seat of power in India’s most populous state? Who would have thought that the Shiromani Akali Dal would return to power so emphatically in Punjab, especially when from the outside the anti-incumbency factor looked like spoiling its chances? Ditto for Uttarakhand, where poll pundits were giving a slim chance to the BJP to give the Congress a contest. Goa’s unpredictability meant that it wasn’t certain whether the BJP would oust the Congress, which it eventually did with a flourish. The only foregone conclusion may have been the return of the Congress in Manipur—it was as predictable as Lasith Malinga bowling four yorkers in the last over of a limited overs cricket game.
|“I led this campaign and I was the person in front. The responsibility for the U.P. poll results is mine. I congratulate the Samajwadi Party, clearly the voters wanted them in power.”
|“The results have been disappointing. I will offer my resignation to the Congress President. It’s up to them to accept or reject it. We were sure of forming the Government.”
Captain Amarinder Singh
|“Beware of the hooliganism of the SP. They have shown it in the past. The Congress has harboured a negative mindset about me, and hyped up trivial issues.”
Two things have happened with the latest Assembly election results in the country (see box for results). One, the SP would now remain in power on its own, thereby making it the most powerful regional political force in the country, on the basis of numbers alone (224 out of 403 seats, over 55 per cent). It is an incredible victory for Mulayam Singh and his star son Akhilesh Yadav who were pretty much in the political wilderness just about a year ago. This new turnaround is as much a tribute to Singh’s ear-to-the-ground politics and ability to sense the pulse of the electorate, as it is a testimony to his hard work and planning across India’s largest state (166+ million people and growing).
THE NEW STAR
Akhilesh Yadav, 28, is the new star of Indian politics. Even though he may or may not be a part of the Government of U.P.—he is a third-time member of the Lok Sabha from Kannauj, U.P.—Akhilesh will clearly now function as the poster boy for the youth in the state. He has openly been saying that the SP’s past record of hooliganism and poor law and order will not be tolerated any more. In interviews to several TV channels he has announced that there will be zero tolerance for criminal activity within the party, and those who were found violating guidelines and breaching peace would not just be expelled from the party but also sent to jail. This new found acceptance of the SP of its own somewhat muscling-and-jostling image is a refreshing change. It is a sign that the party is willing to undo the damages of the past and move forward. And do so in a modern, planned kind of a way. During the campaigns, Akhilesh did say that laptops and tablets would be made available to students so that U.P. could make a technological leap forward. Even though he has studied in Australia and has worked on his English considerably over time, he chose to give most of his interviews in Hindi, thereby cleverly managing to keep the basic connect with his electorate going.
RAHUL GANDHI’S PAIN
In contrast, Rahul Gandhi, who tried honestly and did reach out to the people of U.P. paid for serious organizational shortcomings in the Congress. All his campaigning and hard work could certainly have translated into higher votes for the party, but somehow when it came to the grassroots, the party workers may have not have done enough on the ground. This is where the SP heavily scored over the Congress and the BJP.
The U.P. Assembly elections of 2012 were billed as the ones that would make or break Rahul Gandhi as a grassroots politician. It was also about rebuilding the Congress in the state. He tried very hard for two to three years, spending most of his waking hours inside U.P. The Gandhi family name was always going to be a big bonus. But somehow the SP wave was all too powerful for everyone this time. The Congress lost in Amethi, Rahul’s Lok Sabha constituency. When he drove back to his mother’s 10 Janpath residence in New Delhi, a visibly weary Gandhi, sporting a beard, and thrust before dozens of cameras and microphones decided not to mince words. “I led this campaign, I take responsibility,” he said, referring to Congress’s unimpressive show. “The party has underperformed.” At the same time, he was not hesitant in applauding the winning party and congratulated the SP on stealing the show.
Once again, anti-incumbency factor did not work fully as the BJP ran the Congress very close. The shocker was the loss of B.C. Khanduri in the Kotdwar seat. “Khanduri hai Zaruri” was the main slogan of the party as he was their chief ministerial candidate. In the end, Congress had one more vote than the BJP and at the time of going to print have been invited to form the Government by Governor Margaret Alva. There are 3 MLAs from the BSP and 4 MLAs who are independent and their support to Congress, or lack of it, will decide whether Congress can get into the seat of power.
It does seem that Indian voters are looking at freshness and credible faces. Goa’s Manohar Parrikar, 56, is the new Chief Minister. A graduate of IIT Bombay, this will be his third term as CM of Goa. The victory for the BJP was emphatic in this state, and it secured a majority.
The victory of the Congress led by incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, 61 was never in doubt. This is the one bastion that the Congress has held on to thrice in a row now.
Parkash Singh Badal, 84, will be the chief minister of Punjab having created history by beating Punjab’s dreaded anti-incumbency factor. The mood in Punjab did not favour the Congress, somehow. The state has a long tradition of voting out whoever is in power, and it has been a 40-year-old tradition. For Badal, this will be a 5th term as chief minister.