M A I N   N E W S

People give a hand to good governance

Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, December 8
Under pressure on the twin issues of terrorism and price rise, a beleagured Congress got a shot in the arm ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha polls with the results of the five Assembly elections today showing a 3-2 verdict in favour of the grand old party.

The BJP’s shrill campaign on terrorism, which picked up further pace after the Mumbai attacks, failed to cut much ice as the Congress registered comprehensive wins in Delhi and Mizoram and wrested Rajasthan from the saffron party. Although it was hoping to bag all the four Hindi heartland states, the BJP had to draw satisfaction from its victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it managed to retain power despite perceived anti-incumbency.

The Congress party’s hat trick in Delhi was clearly the high point of these elections where Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s personal image and the governance delivered by her government put the party way ahead of the opposition with 42 seats in the 70-member Assembly. The Congress registered a runaway victory in Mizoram where it swept out the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) after ten years. The Congress swept the 40-member House with a a two-third majority.

The Congress emerged as the single largest party in Rajasthan with 98 seats against the BJP’s 75 as its Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje failed to deliver the state to the party. Although the BJP was hoping to pin down the Congress on the emotive issue of terrorism in Delhi and Rajasthan which went to polls after the Mumbai attacks, the electorate was more concerned with local issues and the government’s performance.

“All the three Chief Ministers who retained power, be it Sheila Dikshit, Shivraj Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh or Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh won primarily because of their clean image and their track record on governance,” remarked a senior Congress leader. Vasundhara Raje, on the other hand, became highly controversial figure as she had alienated a large section of her own party even as her government faced serious corruption charges, which eventually proved her undoing.

Winning her third consecutive victory, Sheila Dikshit was clearly the toast of the town, being described as one of the most successful Chief Ministers, who won despite raging controversies like sealings and demolitions. In addition, there was the looming threat of a resurgent Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which, at one point, set to erode the Congress’s base among the poor slum-dwellers and the Scheduled Castes.

“Winning Delhi is like winning India,” exulted Congress spokesperson Veerappa Moily after the results, adding that the BJP had tried very hard to derail the campaign by raising terrorism and price rise but the people were more concerned with governance.

The BJP drew solace from its victories in MP and Chhattisgarh where it managed to beat anti-incumbency to retain power for a second term. Here, again it was not the BJP’s aggressive campaign on terrorism and inflation but their incumbent CMs - Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh - who guided the party to power.

Irrespective of the spin that the two parties — the Congress and the BJP — might be giving to these election results, leaders of both privately admit that they have much to introspect about. Congress insiders attributed the party’s defeat in MPto intense factionalism, wrong distribution of tickets and a poor campaign. “We just could not get our act together,” said a senior Congress leader.

Party leaders, however, did not think that this result will impact the Lok Sabha poll. “The issues in a national election are very different,” said an AICC office-bearer, recalling how the BJP had swept all these state in 2003 but went on to loose the general elections in 2004.

The BJP also has reason to worry. Its decision to focus on national issues did not click while the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate L.K.Advani’s leadership also failed to generate any significant momentum in favour of the saffron party which was viewing these election results as a pointer to next year’s Lok Sabha polls.



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