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

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Assembly Elections: Bourbons in the Fray

The Bourbons, it was said, never forgot and never learnt from history. Something of the same sort seems to be happening with the main actors in the coming assembly elections in Uttarakhand, Manipur, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. The first three states are being ruled by the Congress, which is facing its national rival the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, while in the last state it is trailing behind as a runner-up in a multipolar contest involving the ruling Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP. After its victory in the last Lok Sabha poll and return to power in Delhi, a buoyant Congress Party was expected to tone up its organisation and improve its administration in the states where it was in power. Instead, during the last two and a half years, while the party organisation in these states had remained riven with factional feuds, the administration had been assailed by public allegations of inefficiency and corruption. The Congress Party has thus slipped into the same old groove of the pre-2004 years, refusing to learn from its past mistakes. There is a disjuncture between the high popularity rating of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the United Progressive Alliance government’s success stories (the legislation on employment guarantee and right to information, Indo-Pak peace talks, etc) at the national level, and popular disappointment at the regional level due to the party’s failure to meet the demands of the people in the states that it rules. In Uttarakhand, an indifferent and ageing chief minister has on several occasions in the past expressed his reluctance to continue with the job, and after failing to obtain a more high-profile post outside the state, has spent the last five years of his rule passively watching his party drifting into a murky pool of internal squabbles that frustrated administrative efforts to provide efficient governance and serviceable infrastructure which the electorate deserved after having fought a long battle for a separate state. In Punjab, a comparatively young and dynamic Congress chief minister has hardly fared any better. His troubles with rival factions within his party have got compounded with charges of nepotism – capped by the Election Commissioner’s latest order to remove the director general of police of the state, who has been alleged to have received financial favours from the chief minister. In Manipur, the ruling Congress has antagonised large sections of the voters, because of the centre’s stubborn insistence on retaining the hated Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

In Uttar Pradesh, although the Congress was hamstrung to some extent by its policy of supporting the Samajwadi Party government till its fag end, it failed to do its homework over the past five years while Mulayam Singh Yadav was steadily losing his grip, what with rampant corruption and rising crime. Instead of mobilising the people all over the state against the unpopular acts of the government, the Congress remained stuck in Amethi and Rae Bareilly, obsessed again with the past habit of cashing in on the dynastic legacy. This has allowed the arch-opportunist BSP, and the more dangerous communal BJP, to fill the void in opposition politics of Uttar Pradesh.

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