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.

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.

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