It’s a vote for credibility and hope—that would be the one-line qualification of verdict 2011. While the first-past-the-post system may exaggerate the verdict of the elections in many ways, the subtle message that inspired the mandate can be heard loud and clear— it’s all about credibility, hope and a non-interfering government.
In Assam, the Congress rode over a divided opposition to surpass its previous tally of 53, almost enhancing it by half. However, the subtext was the credibility enjoyed by Tarun Gogoi as a leader, something that a weary and quarrelsome Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leadership could not offer. That credibility mattered the most is amply illustrated by the context of the election. Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi had been leading some of the most aggressive anti-corruption campaigns, mobilizing peasants and farm labourers across the state. However, the AGP, a divided house by itself, could not take advantage of the situation. Importantly, it lost credibility with frequent flip-flops and a please-all alliance strategy. The Bharatiya Janata Party made a lot of song and dance with various corruption scams in the North-East. But with the absence of a credible leadership on the ground, the party failed to make any impact. The success of the peace talks of the Congress government with the United Liberation Front of Asom has led to a channelization of the peace vote in Assam towards the Congress. Importantly, panchayat (village councils) welfare schemes helped the Congress keep in touch with the ground. The Congress consolidated its position with a huge 10% swing in its favour, taking its vote share above 40%.
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The results in Kerala also reflect the value of a credible leadership. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the United Democratic Front (UDF) led in 100 assembly segments and polled 48% of the popular vote. While the Left Democratic Front (LDF) lost by a whisker, the credibility of chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan as an icon of the middle class and a life-long campaigner for cleaner public life helped narrow the gap with the UDF, with both within one percentage point of each other. In the 2011 assembly elections, the UDF polled about 46% of the votes, followed by the LDF, which polled 45%. The other important factor that worked in favour of the LDF was the goodwill of women voters earned by the LDF government through schemes such as the Kudumbashree anti-poverty programme. The UDF also enjoyed the complete backing of the minorities, with its ally, the Indian Union Muslim League, winning 20 out of 24 seats it contested and the UDF also doing very well in Christian-dominant districts such as Kottayam and Ernakulam.
Tamil Nadu, as J. Jayalalithaa herself put it, was a case of dynasty and democracy. Apparently, the voters agreed with her message and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the alliance led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The swing in favour of the alliance was more than 10%, taking her alliance vote share beyond 50%. This was much more than what a mere arithmetical addition of allies could have given her. Crucial issues on the ground were the acute power shortage and the relatively insecure environment for small and medium-sized businesses under the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) regime. The performance of the Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) calls for closer observation. The Congress won just five seats followed by the PMK, which won four. The two parties together were given 93 seats. The Congress almost parted ways with the DMK bargaining for three more seats. All the effort seems to have been in vain. The actual ground strength of the two parties will need to be evaluated seriously in the days to come. In spite of looking strong on paper, the DMK-led alliance does not appear to have crossed the 40% Rubicon, which is a cumulative effect of anti-incumbency and the shrinking base of parties such as the Congress and the DMK.
In West Bengal, it was clearly a vote to dismantle the three-and-a-half decade regime of the Left. A regime that had come to symbolize the domination of the party over the state apparatus and the complete politicization of the administration. What was a mere 1% lead over the Left in the Lok Sabha elections grew into a 9% lead in the assembly polls, with the Trinamool combine polling 49% of the vote vis-à-vis 40% of the votes polled by the Left. In what was truly a state-wide mandate, the geographical base of the Trinamool Congress spread from southern Bengal to south-western and central Bengal, with incursions into traditional Left territories and vote banks. In the three western-most districts, the Trinamool Congress alliance won 25 out of the 40 seats compared with a single-digit tally in the previous election. But for Kerala, this was an election where every state voted decisively, with the key driver in all the states being the promise of credibility and, importantly, a non-interfering government. Our democracy just got a little older and more mature.
Jai Mrug is a Mumbai-based election analyst.