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

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State Elections: Pointers for the Future

That elections are a test of governance and a marker of performance is a widely accepted truism. But the recent elections in three states have re-emphasised the impact that the right election strategy can have. The election results from Punjab and Uttarakhand are a setback for the Congress, with Manipur offering the only consolation. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its main rival on the national stage, will see the outcome as an indication of its rejuvenation and as the party-in-waiting at the centre. Much time and reams of paper will now be spent on analysing these results. Electioneering, the devising of strategy and analysis of results, have come to form a key function of most political parties, assisted in large measure by similar endeavours on the media’s part. And as with elections of the past, a few clues, general and contradictory, will emerge.

In Punjab, as previous elections over the last decade have borne out, success has alternatively visited the two main parties and “anti-incumbency” has led to the exit of the Amarinder Singh government. Anti-incumbency, however, has come to constitute a vacuous, all-encompassing term that little explains the reasons for an electorate’s disenchantment or a government’s non-performance. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won 67 seats, sweeping Congress bastions in the Majha and Doaba regions, while the Congress did well in the Malwa area. The immediate reasons for the Congress defeat could appear to be rising prices, a sign of the party’s neglect of the “aam-aadmi” and also the distant, aloof image of the chief minister. But the outcome of elections is influenced by the interplay of various factors, national, regional and even the local. There are indications though that religion, always a cogent factor in Punjab politics, did play less of a role than before in the SAD victory. The Congress attributed its gains in Malwa to its encouragement of Bt cotton cultivation and the water termination bill, while the Akali Dal believes the Congress gained in the region because it cosied up to the controversial Sacha Sauda sect that has its base in the area. The BJP, for its part, sees its impressive results (winning 19 out of 23 seats) as a resurgence of the urban Hindu vote. But while reasons vary, of significance is the fact that the social composition of the electorate has registered a shift in recent years. For instance, this time a larger number of migrants especially from Bihar featured among the electorate. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that did make inroads into the dalit vote in the state and general elections of 2002 and 2004, respectively, was decimated, as were the Left parties, thus rendering the third factor in Punjab’s politics defunct.

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