The downturn in the economy and the Mumbai terror attacks set an unfavourable backdrop for the state elections as far as the Congress party, leader of the ruling national coalition, goes. The Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, should have been on a strong wicket. But this has not been the case.
The unexpected wins by the Congress in Delhi—a record third win for chief minister Sheila Dikshit—and Rajasthan tell us something more: There is no pan-India issue that grabs the electorate. The Mumbai terror attacks did not, contrary to expectations, prove to be decisive in the three states—Madhya Pradesh (MP), Delhi and Rajasthan—that went to polls. It definitely spurred the vote, but did not guarantee victory for the BJP. It may or may not have enhanced the party’s victory margin in MP, but failed to get it anywhere, either in Delhi or Rajasthan. Given that Delhi is primarily an urban area, the disconnect with terrorism is revealing.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Nor has incumbency been a liability, especially with three chief ministers winning another term. Similarly, double-digit inflation has not played out with the electorate the way it should have.
Clearly, negative campaigns do not draw the mileage that they may have in the past. This may have something to do with the dramatic change in the economy over the past five years, providing more economic opportunities than ever before. As a result, people are looking to politicians. Both in Rajasthan as well as Delhi, the BJP sought to woo the electorate largely through a negative campaign against the Congress with particular accent on the party’s inability to protect the country against terror attacks. Particularly disconcerting were the distasteful advertisements—pictures of blood splatters and warnings against continuing with the Congress—inserted by the BJP in newspapers a day after the Mumbai attacks.
Looking forward, the just-concluded elections have also highlighted the role of women voters. Reservations for women at the panchayat level and their progressive empowerment have shone the spotlight on a key population segment.
While voting patterns in the assembly elections do not necessarily replicate at the level of the Lok Sabha, it would be tempting to read the tea leaves for pointers. The message, if any, is that no political party can take the electorate for granted. Even in bad times such as now, the people of India are seeking positive alternatives.
What are the lessons from the state elections? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org