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

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Messages and Non-Messages from Five Elections

The issues varied from state to state, but there are some common trends in the results.

Commentaries on the outcome of five state assembly elections exemplify the risk of over-interpretation attached to any much awaited, intense and major event. The long wait builds an expectation of momentous political and analytical consequences. Hence, the usual analytical overdrive. The obvious fact that this outcome is a huge setback to the Congress Party is taken to be proof that it was caused by anti-Congressism of the voters. The changing fortunes of parties in terms of seats are taken to be an unambiguous indicator of public opinion and popular will. And then there is the gross assumption that Uttar Pradesh (UP) is India.

The five states that went to polls were bound together by nothing except a coincidence of the electoral cycle. Therefore, it is necessary to first understand each verdict in its specifi city. The first-ever return of an incumbent government in Punjab in the last four decades is not necessarily the re-election of a popular government. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance scraped through and retained a comfortable majority, though its lead over the Congress was reduced from 4 to less than 2 percentage points. Widespread corruption, highhandedness, Prakash Singh Badal’s attempt to foist his son on the party, the formation of the Punjab Peoples’ Party (PPP) and the anger of the Dera Sachcha Sauda were expected to and did go against the ruling coalition. Yet a slew of popular measures like the “Atta-Dal” scheme, free electricity for dalit houses and a profarmer image helped the SAD to neutralise all this and expand its support among the dalits and the poor. The Akalis ran the campaign and managed elections with a sense of purpose, while the Congress was complacent and divided as ever. The Congress almost managed to lose in Uttarakhand, despite having swept the state in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The incumbent BJP nearly succeeded in its last minute move to revive its electoral fortunes by recalling B C Khanduri. While both the BJP and the Congress matched each other in internecine wars, the BJP’s focus on Khanduri’s clean image served to neutralise the negative image and experience of the previous BJP chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. The regional divisions ensured that the Congress has still finished one seat ahead of the BJP, which gives it a first shot at forming the government.

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