New Delhi: An impressive performance that belied anti-incumbency sentiments in the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh, will, analysts say, boost the morale of the Congress and, more importantly, vest party president Sonia Gandhi with crucial political capital required to deal with some restive state units and allies.
Some Congressmen expect Gandhi to use the opportunity to provide a fresh start to the government by backing a series of new policy initiatives, reorganizing the party and, eventually, reshaping the cabinet of ministers.
Although the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won easily in the general election earlier this year that it contested on the strength of the achievements of the Manmohan Singh-led government—he was projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate well in advance—it has, since returning to power, lost momentum, largely because of what analysts term a series of political and policy missteps.
The revival of this momentum was evident soon after results were announced on Thursday. Within hours, the cabinet had set the stage for elections in Jharkhand and announced fresh sops for women and minorities, both key voter segments.
A fragmented Opposition helped the Congress win a clear majority in Arunachal Pradesh and come within striking distance of forming a government in the key states of Maharashtra and Haryana.
In Maharashtra, the combine of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won 144 seats in the 288-member assembly. In Haryana, it won 40 seats in the 90-member Haryana assembly. And it swept Arunachal Pradesh, winning 42 seats in the 60-member assembly.
On a roll: Congress workers celebrate the party’s wins in the assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh with fire crackers outside party president Sonia Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi. Subhav Shukla / PTI
Analysts and Congressmen credit the victories to the “pro-poor and pro-farmer” policies of the ruling coalition as well as a divided Opposition.
“Congress is on roll and is the only name in town. In Maharashtra, surprisingly, there was a lack of issues,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.
A buoyant Congressman said the results would be a big morale boost for the government. “It has strengthened the hands of Congress. The party will continue its pro-poor, pro-farmer policies that have won us votes,” Congress general secretary B.K. Hariprasad said.
Another Congressman, who declined to be identified, said, “This victory belongs to Congress as a party and its policies.”
Listen to B Venkatesh Kumar, a political science professor at Mumbai University, analyse the Maharashtra election verdict
“It also means the party’s intervention will be stronger when it comes to important policy matters,” this person added, referring indirectly to the perceived disconnect between the party and the government over important policy issues as Mint reported on 22 October.
Mehta, however, isn’t sure the victory will achieve that. “The electoral victories could give more confidence to go ahead with what it wants to do. But there is no sort of telling on how it would impact (policy)...it could go either way.”
The Maharashtra victory
Analysts attribute the marginal improvement in the performance of the Congress-NCP alliance to a split in the Opposition, particularly the good showing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a splinter group of the Shiv Sena.
The performance of the alliance, which had been in power for a decade, left a “lot to be desired”, said B. Venkatesh Kumar, professor of political science at Mumbai University, but “the Opposition failed to capitalize on the poor governance record”.
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“The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance was unable to challenge the performance and policies of the incumbent by not raising crucial development issues, thereby failing to provide a comprehensive alternative to the voters,” he added.
An early assessment of results from the state indicate that the ruling alliance’s performance in rural Maharashtra was better than expected. “The policies of the state and the Central governments have been appreciated by the voters,” claimed NCP chief and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
In the outgoing assembly, the Congress had 69 seats to NCP’s 71; in the new one it has 82 (including leads in two seats as of 8.20pm) to the latter’s 62. Pawar, however, said this was because of the “compromise” his party had agreed to during seat-sharing discussions between the two parties.
The other highlight of the Maharashtra elections has been the performance of Raj Thackeray’s MNS, which appeared to make significant gains at the cost of both the Congress and, more significantly, the Shiv Sena.
Meanwhile, the results have spelt further doom for the BJP, already roiled by growing internal friction. “The results also show that the BJP has not woken up despite repeated knock out,” said Mehta.
Conceding defeat, the BJP called for an “honest analysis” of its intraparty issues as well as electoral performance. Its ally, the Shiv Sena, has blamed the MNS for its poor show.
While the Congress lost ground in Haryana, it has managed to stay in the contention for power in one of India’s richest states. The party had swept the 2005 assembly elections and controlled two-thirds of the House. Analysts and Congressmen said a combination of local issues and a fragmentation of the Jat-vote—the Jat community constitutes around 30% of the population—eroded the Congress’ support base.
“It is the overconfidence of the state leadership and a biased ticket distribution in favour of (candidates put forward by chief minister Bhupinder Singh) Hooda that caused the party’s less-than-desirable performance in the state,” said a Union minister, who did not want to be identified.
The Congressman, who didn’t want to be identified, said that despite the victory, the party’s leaders would have to tread cautiously while dealing with internal matters, a reference to the the internal crisis it is facing in Andhra Pradesh.
The Congress’ leadership has been in a dilemma over a demand to appoint Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, the Kadappa MP and son of late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, as CM of Andhra pradesh. According to a Congress general secretary, who declined to be identified, Jaganmohan Reddy, who met Gandhi on Thursday at her residence, insisted that he enjoyed the support of the majority of legislators in the state assembly.