This was supposed to be the ‘Semi-Finals’, but at the end of the day both the two parties in the fray, the Congress and the BJP, are referring to them as local- state elections. At the beginning of the day, it looked as if it would be 3-1 for the BJP, but then a lady called Sheila Dikshit spoiled their party. A resounding third consecutive win for her in the national capital, Delhi has come as music to the Congress’ ears after repeated losses in many states, including Gujarat and Karnataka. The actual margin of her victory is even more surprising, 42 to the Congress against 27 for the BJP.

It was almost a repeat of her 2003 tally of 47. If one analyses this election closely, two distinct patterns come up. First, Delhi is a mostly urban state. The middle and upper middle classes dominate most seats. This was a constituency that was widely perceived as pro-BJP until a few years back, until of course Dikshit came along. This was a class that is generally more informed and was comparatively less affected by the inflation. This was also a class that benefited most from the Centre’s decision to implement the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. Thus almost naturally the second and probably the single most decisive factor in these state elections in Delhi comes around; the clash of personalities that this elections became. In this race, Dikshit was far ahead of her rival Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the BJP. He was simply no match for her personal charisma and integrity and her appeal which spread to all sections of the society, to all age groups and caste- community sections. The BJP needed a very strong leader to offset this strong personality factor and Malhotra certainly was no match for her. In fact, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad personally conceded that maybe Arun Jaitley, the charismatic BJP General Secretary may have been a better maybe even a winning choice. The BJP as a party failed to grasp the changing demographics of a dynamic metropolitan and the mood of the electorate, sticking to its old Madanlal Khurana- Sahib Singh Verma style of politics, thus handing Dikshit a well-deserved victory.

In Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan rode the BSP (Bijli-Sadak-Paani) wave of development to cruise to a second term. The unassuming, low-profile chief minister was widely seen as the man to deliver and his personal popularity steamrolled the Congress, which once again paid the price of not projecting a single leader. There were just too many leaders in the Congress, busy pulling each other down, Kamal Nath, Suresh Pachauri, Jamuna Devi, Jyotiraditya Scindia to name a few, but none to unite the party and take on Mr. Chauhan, whose personal image and pro-development agenda caught the voters frenzy. The almost similar model was replicated by his counterpart in Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, who also won a second stint with a huge margin. His victory was even more astounding as the BJP cruised through the tribal belt widely seen as a traditional Congress vote bank. In fact, the main issue in the elections in both these neighboring states was development; and most caste and community factor failed to make any significant difference. The huge victories for the BJP in both these states, winning 143 in MP and 53 in Chhattisgarh, were the only good news for the party that was greatly demoralized by its loss in Delhi. The personality factor in both these states greatly favored the BJP, just as it affected them in Delhi. For many, the Chhattisgarh elections were also seen as a referendum on Salwa Judum, the so- called spontaneous people’s resistance to the Naxalite movement, which had got state patronage and was widely criticized by human rights and social activists. In fact, the face of the movement and Leader of Opposition in the outgoing assembly, Mahendra Karma of the Congress lost in Dantewada to the BJP. In a nutshell, the lotus is in its full bloom in the heartland states, thanks to a great combination of personality factor and pro-developmental agenda.

However it was Rajasthan that provided the drama in the day. As counting began, in the first two hours, it seemed that the Congress was heading towards a landslide majority. However, the incumbent chief minister, Vasundhara Raje Scindia was not going to give up without a fight and what looked like a clear win became a close one for the Congress and its chief leader Ashok Gehlot. In the end, the tally stood at 96 for the Congress, 79 for the BJP and 25 to Independents and smaller parties. It was indeed a woman’s fight against all odds that did the BJP in. Scindia, a pro-development, larger-than-life, woman leader was widely perceived as autocratic and could not muster unity even in her own party. She had rubbed too many castes the wrong. Her handling of heGujjar agitation was much criticized and many castes including the Meenas and the Jats were unhappy with her. Then again her record with the handling of the floods in Barmer and the police firing at Sriganganagar were given much prominence by the Congress. Her development record and agenda for a “glorious Rajasthan” were in a way sabotaged by her own party men this meant she had to do a ‘Narendra Modi’ to stay in power. She was not given that control over the election process and it was clear in today’s loss. For the Congress, it was an election that was theirs to win, but will now have to depend on the support of rebels and independents too.

The Congress also won in the north-eastern state of Mizoram, where it won a landslide 4/5ths majority to end the ten-year reign of the Mizo National Front and its chief minister Zoramathanga.

This has really been a remarkable election in all the states defying the psephologist’s favorite phrase ‘anti-incumbency’ and returning three incumbent chief ministers back to power; throwing two out to usher in a positive change. The electorate voted in issues that matter most like development, visible signs of development and rejected narrow politics over terrorism, cast, community and religion. A clear example of this can be seen from the fact that the BJP actually won a sizeable portion of Muslim votes in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Real, everyday issues like water, food and tangible development which triumphed. It was also an election in which the electorate roared the clear message:

“Perform and we will reward you, if you don’t we will throw you out!”

This was indeed a clear sign of the maturity of the Indian electorate, who held its own against all odds. It was also an election which provided a refreshing chance to look at the more positive attributes of politicians, after the country-wide media bashing of politicians in the aftermath of 26/11. So, even though the Congress may be flashing a victory sign and saying ‘3-2’ today, the real winner today has been Indian democracy. This at a time the Jammu and Kashmir elections are not over yet and doubt lingers over the stability of the country’s political system post the Mumbai massacre. It’s a people’s win and they deserve the most in this victory. A 5-0 victory for our democracy and its still counting.
Anupam Dhar
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