Ritesh K Srivastava
The Congress-led UPA has scripted a remarkable comeback in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections by outsmarting the NDA led by the right-wing BJP by not only emerging as the single largest party but also increasing its vote share at the national level. The saffron party, which won 138 seats in the 2004 General Elections, could emerge victorious in only 116 seats as compared with 206 seats won by the ruling Congress party.
Interestingly, BJP`s share of the national vote, which has remained more or less static since the 1998 election, also saw decline of 3.5% to 18.8% on an all-India basis.
On the other hand, the pro-people policies of the UPA government, the mature and competent image of Dr Manmohan Singh and the magnetic charm of star campaigner Rahul Gandhi helped the Congress party increase its all-India vote share by 2% to 28.6%.
It is to be noted that in 2004 elections, the Congress party managed to win 145 seats. The grand old party had then improved its performance by adding 31 more since its worst-ever performance in 1999. However, in the last elections Congress party’s vote share had declined by 1.9% points. The difference in vote share between the Congress and BJP was 4.28% points in 2004 with the former securing 26.44% and the BJP grabbing 22.16 % votes. After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the gap between the two arch-rivals have widened by almost 10%.
This indicates a significant shift in the people’s preference of the Indian polity. In the last five years voters have chosen peace, progress and development over the societal divisions on communal and caste basis. In several states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the Congress party gained from the newly formed parties like Praja Rajyam and MNS, which caused irreparable damage to right-wing parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena.
Clearly, the main opposition BJP’s stunning drubbing proves that the BJP’s campaign of “strong leader and decisive government” and its deliberate branding of Dr Mamnmohan Singh as the “weakest Prime Minister” failed to convince the electorate. In fact Advani’s personal tirade against the PM may have actually proved counter-productive. The unpredictably dismal performance of the BJP has sent the saffron brigade into a soul-searching mode to determine the exact causes of its debacle and rethink whether they need to project a “moderate BJP”.
The magic of the saffron brigade’s aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism, which saw BJP’s meteoric growth from a mere two seats in 1984 to 184 in 1999 General Elections, could not make a dent this time. It is evident that Varun Gandhi’s hate speech this time around seemed to have gone down badly with the people despite him winning his own constituency handsomely.
A closer look into the performance of the two parties in the key states including UP, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Bihar etc tells that it proved to be a missed opportunity for the BJP, as it failed to effectively highlight the shortcomings of the ruling alliance and instead highlighted on non-issues. On the other hand, the grand old party fully succeeded in reaping rich dividends from its five-year long investments and policies having a direct bearing on “Aam Admi”. Another interesting point about the people’s verdict is that it has ended or significantly reduced the scope of blackmailing by regional parties, which were pressurizing the ruling party with unreasonable demands.
The state, which remained in the spotlight over communal riots triggered by the assassination of VHP leader Laxmanand Saraswati, saw the stunning come back of the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The BJD, a former partner in the NDA, clearly distanced itself from the saffron party as it did not wanted to spoil its electoral prospects. Considering the high stakes his party had in the state, Naveen Patnaik was also seen moving closer to the Left led Third Front under the influence of comrade Prakask Karat. BJD’s poll strategies worked well and it swept both the Lok Sabha and assembly polls in Orissa with a landslide victory winning 14 seats.
The BJD wave also shattered the dreams of many heavyweights of the Congress and the BJP, who were edged out in the electoral fray. The saffron brigade also suffered huge humiliations as it failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat and secure double figure in the State Assembly. In the 2004 polls, BJP had won seven Lok Sabha and 32 assembly seats. BJP’s vote share has dropped from 19.3% to 16.9. In fact, the BJD has managed to raise it own vote share by an impressive 7.2% to reach 37.2%. The vote share of the Congress party, which clinched 6 seats, dropped to 32.7%.
What has come as a greater shock for the BJP is its less than expected performance in the state of Gujarat where its share of vote has plummeted by 0.9% since 2004 despite them picking an additional seat to improve their tally to 15. The Congress too has lost its share of votes by the 0.5% this time. However, BJP’s slump in vote share is politically more significant than the Congress as the party was confident of a sweep in Gujarat, considering that its poster boy Narendra Modi’s citadel.
Unlike previous elections, Modi was one of the star campaigners of the saffron brigade in this elections and was even touted as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But despite his top billing, the decline in BJP’s vote share in Gujarat actually reflects at a stark reality that the party’s Hindu card has its own limitations and that it will not do wonders every time.
The Congress high command’s gamble to contest the Lok Sabha election in India’s most politically significant states alone paid off well. The party, whose pre-coalition talks with the SP collapsed due to Kalyan Singh’s entry into the latter’s camp, made a stunning comeback in the state ever since 1998.
The party, which failed to win even a single seat in 1998, managed to win 21 seats in this election. In 2004, Congress had managed to get nine seats with 12% of total votes polled in the states. As per the Election Commission data, 1998 was the lowest point for the Congress when it was completely routed from the state and received only 6.02% of the total votes polled.
In the Lok Sabha polls in 1999, the party had bagged 10 seats and its winning percentage slightly improved to 13.16%. The vote share of the Congress party has this time increased from a 12% last time to 18.3% now. In the process, it has outclassed rival BJP, whose vote share has fallen from 22.2% to 17.5%. Although, Mulaym Singh Yadav’s SP has been able to maintain its numero uno status in terms of seats, it too suffered a decline of 3.4% in its vote share. On the other hand, the vote share of the ruling BSP has risen by 2.7% and it now commands a sizeable lead of 27.4% as compared to SP`s 23.3% votes.
Congress, under the leadership of Chief Minister YSR, performed exceptionally well by bagging 33 seats. The party also managed to ward of allegations of corruption levelled against YSR and his son for allegedly colluding with the founders of Satyam Computers and embezzlement of funds for Hyderabad Metro project by the Mytas Infra led by YSR’s son. But with megastar Chiranjeevi’s newly formed Praja Rajyam securing an astounding 15.7% of the votes gave a lethal blow to N Chandra Babu Naidu’s TDP whose vote share dropped from 33.1% to 24.9% and thus inadvertently helping the Congress. Consequently, TDP could win only 6 seats and Telangana Rashtriya Samiti led by Chadrashekar Rao got only 2 seats. So while Congress party’s vote share also went down from 41.6% last time to 39% in it improved its tally from 29 in 2004 by four.
In this traditionally Communist bastion, it was Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress which stole the show by winning 19 seats. Trinamool Congress witnessed a hike of 10.2% in its vote share, which shattered Left’s dream to do a clean sweep as it had been doing in the past three decades. This was probably for the first time that Left, under the chief ministership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, suffered a major setback and its combined vote share dropped from 50.8% to 43.3%. The CPM vote bank also saw a reversal of 5.5% from 38.6% to 33.1% this time. CPM general secretary Prakash Karat is also being blamed for the debacle because of his narcissist ways of functioning and losing touch with ground sentiment. Strangely enough, Mamta Banerjee, who single-handedly waged a crusade against the Left and whose party was largely blamed for Tata’s exit from the state, will now be a key player in the Congress govt at the Centre.
If it was Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, it was the magic of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which ended the hegemony of Lalu Yadav’s RJD and completely eliminated Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP. The stable, responsive and accountable governance of Nitish Kumar helped the JD-U increase its vote share from 22.4% to 24%. The electorate reposed its faith in Nitish Kumar’s leadership and clearly rejected the gundaraj and misrule of the RJD, whose vote share went to an all time low of 19.3% from 30.7% last time indicating a drop of 11%. The interesting lesson for BJP is that while this is the state where NDA performed best, it also the one where Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi were not allowed to campaign by the CM.
However, the major embarrassment came for LJP chief, who himself suffered humiliation from Hajipur, and whose party even failed to open its account. Paswan`s LJP vote share also dropped by 1.6%. The Congress party, after being ditched by its allies RJD and LJP on sharing of seats, contested the elections alone and saw an upward growth in its vote share from 4.5% to 10.3% a significant growth though its tally slipped by a seat, coming down from 3 to 2. Interestingly, both RJD and LJP after conceding defeat, admitted that it was a big mistake by not contesting the elections with Congress.
The saffron brigade suffered a huge setback in Rajasthan, where the inner-party bickering, evident corruption and the autocratic rule of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje caused a massive negative swing in BJP’s vote share. The party had to pay a heavy price for ego clash between Raje and former vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who had launched a bitter campaign against the former. Consequently, the saffron party’s vote share dropped by 12.4% to 36.6%. Here, BJP’s loss was Congress gain, which is evident as the party’s vote share went up by 5.8% to 47.2%. By reviving the grand old party’s fortune in the state, Ashok Singh Gehlot has now emerged as the tallest Congress leader from Rajasthan.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit once again proved to be a lucky mascot for the grand old party in Delhi. The Congress party achieved a stunning victory in the state and crushed its main opposition BJP by securing 20% more votes and winning all seven seats by whopping margins. Congress polled 12,58,318 votes more than BJP in the seven seats with all its candidates except South Delhi winner Ramesh Kumar registering a victory margin of over one lakh. The party polled 57.16% votes, a dramatic rise of 15% from the November Assembly elections, or 32,85,121 votes out of 57,47,000 votes cast on May 07 when the state went to polls. BJP accounted for 20,26,803 votes in the seven constituencies, which was around 35.26%, down from Assembly polls vote share of around 40%. Also, BSP’s vote share witnessed a drastic decrease of about 9% in the Lok Sabha elections compared to that of the November Assembly elections. The party`s vote share dropped to 5.43% this time from 14.23% per cent in the Assembly elections last year.
There were speculations much before the Lok Sabha elections about the Congress party’s complete elimination owing to people’s anger due to 26/11 incident, which even led to subsequent departure of Vilas Rao Deshmukh as Chief Minister. However, the incumbent Ashok Chavan government of Congress proved all equations wrong when the Congress party emerged victorious in 17 seats and restricted Shiv Sena and BJP at 11 and 9 seats respectively. Besides, the anti-immigrant campaign of the Raj Thackeray`s MNS and its influence in eight seats in the Mumbai region, apart from two in Nashik and Pune, dealt a severe blow to the vote bank of Shiv Sena and BJP. The NCP led by Sharad Pawar contested on 21 seats in this election. However, the party managed to win 8 seats, which is one less than what it previously held. There was a marginal swing in NCP’s vote share.
The saffron party got some breathing space in the state of Karnataka, where under the able leadership of Chief Minister YS Yedurappa, it consolidated its base at the grass roots level. The BJP’s operation Lotus aimed at strengthening the party and engineering defection from others was successful as it vote share reached an all time high of 43%.
The party bagged one more seat than it previously held and took its tally to 19 while restricting Deve Gowda’s JD-S to mere 3 and Congress to 6 seats only. The BJP’s electoral gains have directly hurt the JD-S which suffered a negative swing of 7%.
In a nut shell, the saffron party is clearly back to its 1991 days when it clinched 120 seats. With L K Advani as its main protagonist, the BJP probably failed to appeal to the youth of the country, which seemed to be smitten by the leadership abilities of Rahul Gandhi. The BJP has fallen flat to the Congress party on this turf.
Clearly, the party needs to exert brakes to the continuing factional fights and lack of consolidation, which took a heavy toll on BJP in states like Uttarakhand and Delhi. Its high time that the BJP starts reinventing itself by trying to woo the untouched sections of the society and by taking up real issues affecting the masses and classes. The BJP must now play the role of a meaningful opposition by identifying and plugging the gaps of the new government.