New Delhi: In Uttar Pradesh, the state which accounts for nearly 15% of the Lok Sabha seats, it was good news for the Congress, which is leading the United Progressive Alliance back to power at the Centre following a spectacular poll performance.
After winning or leading in 21 of the 80 seats in the state, Congress looks ready for a fresh innings in Uttar Pradesh, where it had been written off until last year.
Also See Crime Didn’t Pay (PDF)
Since 1989, the Congress—which once dominated Uttar Pradesh’s political landscape—hasn’t won an assembly election in the country’s most populous state, losing ground to parties with considerable influence among the backward classes.
The rise of such parties, such as Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party (SP), and the state’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati, into prominence, is attributed to a political polarization that followed the Mandal Commission report, which was implemented in 1989, reserving 27% of government jobs for the other backward classes.
Fading appeal? Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam ingh Yadav. PTI
“Uttar Pradesh this time has voted on development and not on caste lines... Mandal politics is fading,” said Indra Bhushan Singh, a Lucknow-based political analyst. “People had lost faith in both their regional parties...and they realized that these parties were only busy fighting among themselves instead of working for the state’s development.”
In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress managed to win only nine seats. In the 2007 assembly election in which the BSP swept to power, the Congress secured only 22 of the 403 assembly seats and accounted for less than 9% of the total vote share.
“The Congress is reviving itself in Uttar Pradesh and the party organization seems to be in place now,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
Like other parts of India, Uttar Pradesh, where elections have so far been dominated by caste and religious factors, seems to have voted on the development plank this time. A factor that, analysts said, contributed towards the improved performance of both the national parties—the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Says Javed Urfi, Uttar Pradesh state spokesperson for the Congress: “Development has been the main issue and people have voted for the Congress based on that. Another factor has been the minority and Dalit vote. Dalits were disillusioned with Mayawati and the BSP since she used their vote to come to power and did nothing for them. Similarly, the minority community saw how Mulayam (Singh Yadav) had betrayed them. In fact, that was our main campaign plank.”
If the development plank worked for the Congress, an apparent polarization triggered by BJP leader Varun Gandhi’s controversial and inflammatory remarks against the Muslim community didn’t help the BJP make any gains in the state. The BJP, which had won 10 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2004, retained its tally this year, indicating that there was no consolidation of Hindu votes.
However, the BJP’s ally Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), swept the polls in Bihar, another politically crucial state—also known for its distinct caste divides—on the development record. The Nitish Kumar-led government, which came to power in the state in October 2005 with a thumping majority, has earned popularity with its good governance, giving it an edge over rivals such as Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, or RJD, and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, or LJP. Although both the RJD and LJP were part of the UPA, they didn’t contest the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the Congress.
“While development is one of the issues, everyone is fighting on caste combinations. Caste is the reality,” Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Bihar state president of the RJD had earlier told Mint. However, the RJD-LJP combine’s caste strategy couldn’t surpass Nitish’s strong development record.
“The results are not surprising. The era of Mandal politics is completely over. The Mandal vote has been divided. The elections in Bihar, even when fought on caste lines, are decided by backwards and forwards,” said Ganesh Prasad Ojha, head of political science department at Patna University.
Utpal Bhaskar and PTI contributed to this story.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint