Akrita Reyar The silent Indian voter has always sprung surprises when least expected. The verdict for the 15th Lok Sabha elections is another instance which shows the maturity that the electorate is capable of. While most exit polls predicted a fractured verdict with a close contest between the Congress and BJP, which could lead to a hung House, it looks like the pollsters didn’t get it quite right. Congress and the UPA have gained better margins than was expected. The Indian electorate has voted for stability and he has rewarded good governance. The advantage of this verdict is that the Congress will not require the support of the Left and would face no major ideological impediments in carrying out its economic reforms’ agenda. The other trend that is propitious is the rise of the national parties and reduced muscle of regional players with limited national vision. It would be the first time since Pt Jawaharlal Nehru that a prime minister who has served a full term in office is voted back to power. Some of the major reasons that may have worked in favour of the UPA are as follows:
1. Governance: It is clear that both the urban middle class and the countryside populace have voted for the UPA. The urban voter may have been charmed by the N-deal, the Prime Minister’s credibility, efforts of the government in building modern infrastructure and feel good factors like India’s Mission to the Moon, while the rural voter may have been won over by NREGA and farm loan waiver. Governance at the state level has also been a factor. The electorate sometimes had different opinions on who should rule the state and the Centre. While the Congress has emerged victorious in Andhra Pradesh – both on Assembly and Lok Sabha seats, the mandate is more decided in the latter case. The same rings true for Orissa to an extent, where the BJD is set to return in the state but Congress has made some gains in the Lok Sabha seats. National capital Delhi, which had voted for the Sheila Dikshit government for good governance, has also handsomely rewarded Dr Manmohan Singh despite the Jagdish Tytler fiasco. The one point to concede is that in the BJP-ruled states, where it is delivering good governance, voters have tried to give a chance to the NDA at the Centre. States like Gujarat, Jharkhand and Bihar are some such examples. It is to the credit of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul that they chose to break away from the past when they would not name the prime ministerial candidate till the counting was over. This time around the duo threw their weight behind Dr Singh despite dissenting voices from among the allies. 2. BJP’s Negative Campaign: On the whole the citizen of India seems to have been put off by BJP’s negative campaign. He had voted against the BJP exploiting 26/11 in the Assembly Elections, he remained decidedly against such campaigning at the Centre as well. Most BJP statements and posters slammed Congress policies rather than setting a positive agenda on what it could deliver. Advani’s vitriolic attack against Dr Manmohan Singh also seems to have backfired. His constant dubbing of Dr Singh as a “weak PM” doesn’t seem to have gone down well with the electorate. While the PM is a soft spoken and an unassuming man, his stance on the N-deal showed he is anything but weak. More importantly, even BJP voters concede that the PM is man of great ability and personal integrity. Maligning such a man was therefore not such a good idea. The LK Advani vs Manmohan Singh contest was even worse. The BJP drive was also hampered by infighting with Arun Jaitley, one of their major election managers, getting involved in an altercation with party president Rajnath Singh over Sudhanshu Mittal. The party with a difference then soon started looking like a party with a lot of differences.
3. Firm No to Extremism: The one thing the Indian voter has given a thumbs down to is extremist policies, whether these relate to BJP in terms of communal politics or the Left in terms of its ideology. Chandan Mitra of the BJP itself conceded that pulling in Narendra Modi in the middle of the campaign may have been a mistake as his acceptability outside Gujarat remains limited. The speculation that Modi could be projected as next in line to Advani as the prime ministerial candidate may have damaged BJP’s prospects. Varun Gandhi’s controversial comments also left a bad taste with many, even though it made him a hero in his own constituency. In this regard, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sorely missed. Besides, there was a spate of attack on Christians in BJP-ruled states. This could have consolidated the minority vote firmly in UPA’s favour. The Left has also suffered major reverses. Not only has West Bengal given them a severe drubbing, Kerala has handed them quite the same treatment. Their intransigent stand on the nuclear deal and Prakash Karat’s severe take on the PM are both factors that have worked against them, besides local issues like Nandigram. 4. Youth Factor: Rahul Gandhi has to be handed the credit for a major wave of the youth vote in favour of the Congress. His work in Uttar Pradesh has finally begun to show results. His bold decision to go it alone in the state that returns the maximum number of MPs has paid rich dividends, as Congress has once again emerged as a force to reckon with in the state after a long hiatus. Personality wise too Rahul came across as someone who is honest and someone who genuinely wants to take India forward. His stellar speech in Parliament about taking all Indians along as well as his Discovery of India tours in which he criss-crossed this vast land, all helped enthuse the youth Congress and grassroots cadre. 5. Allies: Sonia Gandhi has matured as a politician beyond measure. She managed to keep most of the party’s allies in good humour. Her deft handling has worked wonders even with those regional satraps, who were drifting away from the Congress. Both Lalu and Paswan developed major differences with the party ahead of polls on seat sharing, but continued to say that they would stay in the UPA fold if Sonia so desired. On the other hand, the NDA not only lost BJD, which has performed well in Orissa, but others like Nitish Kumar started singing different tunes just ahead of D-day. Despite negotiations, it could also not win over new allies like BSP’s Mayawati or Amma in Tamil Nadu.
The dye was thus cast. Congress came out trumps.