Big day for Congress

Big day for Congress
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First Published: Wed, May 06 2009. 11 47 PM IST

Final countdown: Congress party supporters at a rally in New Delhi. Gurinder Osan / AP
Final countdown: Congress party supporters at a rally in New Delhi. Gurinder Osan / AP
Updated: Wed, May 06 2009. 11 47 PM IST
New Delhi: Elections will be held in 85 Lok Sabha constituencies on Thursday and while that number isn’t high, analysts say the location of these seats makes them critical to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s attempt to return to power.
Final countdown: Congress party supporters at a rally in New Delhi. Gurinder Osan / AP
The fourth phase of the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha— by the end of day on Thursday, 457 of India’s 543 Lok Sabha constituencies would have completed voting—will be held across eight states, some of which were listed by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday as those that would add to his party’s gains.
Gandhi was involved in persuading Congress to go it alone in politically crucial states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and said that there were “undercurrents” in favour of the party in these states.
On Thursday, polling will be held in all Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan (25), Haryana (10) and Delhi (7), three states where the Congress is in power, and in four of Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha constituencies, 17 of West Bengal’s 42, 18 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80, and three of Bihar’s 40. The last four states are ruled by Congress rivals. One constituency in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) also goes to the polls on Thursday.
In Rajasthan, the Congress won the assembly elections riding on the anti-incumbency factor against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in last December, and the party expects to sustain the momentum and improve its tally of four seats in the 2004 elections.
Congress leaders also claim that the party will repeat its victories in Haryana and Delhi; it had won six of the seven seats in Delhi and nine of 10 in Haryana in the last general election.
Also See Quick Take (Graphic)
Prominent leaders in the fray in this phase of the five-round general election include BJP president Rajnath Singh, who is contesting from Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh), railway minister Lalu Prasad from Patna (Bihar), Samajwadi Party (SP) president Mulayam Singh Yadav from Mainpuri (Uttar Pradesh), National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah from Srinagar (J&K), and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh from Baghpat (Uttar Pradesh).
In Punjab, too, the Congress hopes to score against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance. The party had won only two of the 13 seats from the state in the 14th general election. In West Bengal, although the Congress was hoping to cash in on the general resentment against the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)-led government, its seat-sharing pact with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress—in which the party ended up fielding candidates only in 14 of the 42 constituencies—appears to have hurt its poll prospects, according to analysts.
Old friends:(from left) Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad, SP’s Amar Singh and Lok Janashakti Party’s Ram Vilas Paswan announcing their alliance in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress party decided to go it alone in these states. Ashok Dutt / Hindustan Times
The Left Front government in West Bengal has received widespread criticism over its handling of protests against land acquisitions in Nandigram and Singur in the state. The analysts, however, add that it will be the Trinamool, and not the Congress that will gain from this.
The penultimate phase will also see polling in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the stakes are high for Gandhi.
Justifying the decision to not ally with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) in Bihar and the SP in Uttar Pradesh, he had previously said that “fighting alone” would give the Congress the “space to build” itself in these states.
The fifth and the final phase of the general election will be held on 13 May and the results will be declared on 16 May.
Gandhi’s optimism on the party’s performance in the states that go to polls on Thursday isn’t shared by analysts.
“I do not think the Congress is going to gain in a big way in any of these states. The Congress’ tally will remain as it is in West Bengal (it has six seats), it cannot retain the number in Haryana because (the main opposition) Indian National Lok Dal is now in an alliance with the BJP. It may do well in Delhi, but there are just seven seats there and in Rajasthan, it looks like very tough for the Congress to repeat its performance (in the assembly election) as the BJP is fighting this election unitedly,” said Subrata Mukherjee, professor at the department of political science in Delhi university.
V. Krishna Ananth, a Chennai-based columnist and political analyst, said even if the Congress does very well in the fourth phase, it would not add much to its tally: “If we put together Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana, it makes just 42, which is just one-11th of the Lok Sabha.”
Rival BJP, meanwhile, said it too was hoping to gain significantly in the fourth phase.
“We are hopeful of a major gain from western Uttar Pradesh. We are going to polls with a strong ally, RLD, in the region. In Delhi, we are confident of increasing our tally considerably from last time, and we would be giving a tough fight to the ruling Congress in Haryana and Rajasthan,” said Prakash Javadekar, a BJP spokesman.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
Santosh K. Joy also contributed to this story
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First Published: Wed, May 06 2009. 11 47 PM IST