New Delhi: Barring in West Bengal, exit polls do not hold out a clear winner in the three other states—Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam—that went to polls in April and May.
If trends projected by the poll surveys hold true, then, unlike in the general election of 2009, the Congress is a diminished political force and, therefore, more dependent on its allies.
As a consequence, the party will find it difficult to effect a major image makeover of the the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), including a radical recast of the cabinet and pushing through major policy reforms. The difficult fiscal situation brought about by a surge in international commodity prices such as crude oil and a slowdown in growth required the government take some tough decisions to rein in expenditure, particularly on food and fertilizer subsidies.
The Congress-led UPA is a coalition of several regional parties, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which pollsters predict is headed for a landslide win in West Bengal.
The more than month-long election campaign to five assemblies in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry came to an end on Tuesday, with the last phase of voting in West Bengal. Results will be declared on 13 May.
Also See | The Forecasts (PDF)
All four post-poll predictions, telecast on CNN-IBN, Star News, Asianet and News 24 channels, have unanimously predicted a landslide victory for railway minister Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, which is in alliance with the Congress in West Bengal.
However, the likely verdicts in the other states are less clear, and in the case of Tamil Nadu too close to call.
In Assam, the Congress along with potential allies such as the All India United Democratic Front, holds the edge.
In Kerala, Star News, Asianet and News 24 favour a Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) win over the Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). The CNN-IBN-The Week-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies poll has predicted a photo finish, with the LDF expected to get 69-77 seats and the UDF 63-71.
The big story of the election, however, could be the defeat of the Communists, who have been ruling West Bengal uninterrupted for more than three decades. The CPM, which has been facing an ideological and organizational crisis, would have to look for ways to re-invent itself if the actual results turn out to be as disappointing as predicted.
However, there are mixed predictions for Tamil Nadu, with three polls giving opposition leader J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) a distinct advantage over the ruling DMK. The Headlines Today poll telecast on Star News said the DMK and its allies would return to power with 124 of the 234 seats.
“The predictions show that the Congress is becoming increasingly dependent on its allies for coming to power in states. So, its ambition for revival in the states, be it Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, will only be a dream,” said Subrata Mukherjee, professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who had inspired the Congress to a second consecutive term at the Centre by preferring a go-it-alone strategy in key states, has been working to revive the party at the ground level in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal to regain past glory.
“In West Bengal, the TMC would have won the elections even without the partnership of the Congress. Here the Congress will be the beneficiary of the alliance in West Bengal,” Mukherjee said.
Savithri Kannan, a Chennai-based political analyst, said the Congress would have to play second fiddle to either the DMK or the AIADMK for a long time in the state.
According to Mukherjee, Banerjee is unlikely to create trouble for the Congress as predicted by critics. “I think the TMC would try to consolidate its support base in West Bengal to outweigh the organizational strength of the CPM and will try to cooperate with the Union government.”
However, Kannan said that defeat for the DMK means fresh troubles for the Congress and the UPA government. “A defeat would aggravate the local Congress unit’s demand for breaking ties with the DMK, because if the DMK is losing it’s because of the corruption charges against its leaders. Congress cannot afford being part of it,” Kannan added.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint