Bold and better

Published : Jun 05, 2009 00:00 IST

UTTAR PRADESHGraveyard of dreamsBy Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Lucknow

THE most important message of the election results in Uttar Pradesh is about the revival of the Congress, Indias oldest party. It was the only real winner in a four-cornered contest in the countrys most populous State, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. The party improved its position from nine seats in 2004 to 21 this time. Numerically, the biggest loser was the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which came down from 36 seats in 2004 to 23. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which rules the State, was also humbled, with 20 seats, as it had raised visions of winning about 50 seats after its victory in the 2007 State Assembly elections. However, the BSPs tally registered a marginal improvement over its 2004 figure of 19. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained the 10 seats it had won in 2004, while its ally, the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), took five seats, improving on its earlier tally of three.

The Congress revival is historic. It is the first time in 20 years that the party has made such impressive gains in Uttar Pradesh. For the past two decades, the party has been at the receiving end of political forces such as the BJP, the S.P. and the BSP, all of which espoused identity politics. The party tried to revive itself in earlier elections without much success. This time around the efforts paid off rather dramatically. The Congress decided to fight the elections alone after the S.P. refused to have an alliance with it, stating that the Congress demand to contest 25 seats was too high. But the movement of a large segment of Muslim votes to the Congress across the State as well as the drift of the Brahmin, Dalit and Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) communities in select constituencies resulted in success for the party. After the results were announced, the S.P. leadership, including Amar Singh, the partys general-secretary, admitted that it was a mistake not to have aligned with the Congress.

The BSPs marginal growth too has a larger meaning. The party contested the elections on the expectation that the gains made would propel Chief Minister Mayawati, its leader, to the Prime Ministers position. At the level of social combinations, the idea was sought to be pursued through the concepts of Sarvajan Samaj and Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara (Dalit-Brahmin brotherhood), which aimed at developing a combination of Dalits and the upper castes. This formula worked in the 2007 Assembly elections, helping the BSP get enough seats to form the first single-party government in the State in 17 years.

In order to cement this formula, Mayawati gave the biggest share of seats to Brahmins. The BSPs 80 candidates included 29 from the upper castes: 20 Brahmins, six Thakurs, two Banias and one Punjabi Khatri. Dalits were fielded only in the 17 reserved constituencies and Muslims in 14. Other Backward Classes (OBCs) were allotted 20 seats, of which four each went to Yadavs and Kurmis, two to Gujjars and one to a Lodh.

This high-pitched campaign to install a Dalit Prime Minister, however, collapsed in the face of the Mayawati governments track record of the past two years. And this is what reduced the partys growth to just a single seat. Had the 2007 Assembly election results been replicated, the party should have got close to 50 seats. Of the 20 seats it won, Brahmins won five, Muslims and Thakurs four each, Dalits and OBCs three each and EBCs two.

Mulayam Singh Yadavs S.P. contested the elections on a broad backward-caste alliance, which was brought up through the association of Kalyan Singh, a former BJP Chief Minister and a leader from the OBC Lodh community. The OBC consolidation did work, as shown by the results in the Aligarh-Firozabad-Etah belt, but the association with the former BJP leader, who is an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, led to resentment among sections of Muslims. This acted as a catalyst for the drift of Muslim votes to the Congress. Separately, both the S.P. and the BSP were also harmed by the formation of new Muslim outfits such as the Ulema Council (U.C.) and the Peace Party of India (PPI).

The BJP, too, had high expectations, partly because of its conviction that its organisation had become more energetic in recent times and partly because of its alliance with the RLD, which has a sizable following in western Uttar Pradesh. But this too did not materialise as a section of its upper-caste core voters found the Congress more attractive.

A constituency where the joint shift of Muslim and upper-caste votes presented itself forcefully was Faizabad, where the temple town of Ayodhya is situated. Here, the Congress candidate, Nirmal Khatri, brought the party victory after a gap of 25 years. Another significant Congress victory was that of the cricketer-turned-political aspirant Mohammad Azharuddin, who defeated his BJP rival, Sarvesh Kumar Singh, by a margin of more than 50,000 votes. Other political novices who won on the strength of the Congress ticket were retired bureaucrat P.L. Punia (Barabanki) and Anu Tandon (Unnao), whose apparent strength is the support from the house of Mukesh Ambani. Anu Tandons husband is in a senior position at Reliance Industries Limited.

However, the S.P. withstood the Congress assault in constituencies such as Rampur, where it fielded actor-turned-politician Jayaprada despite opposition from senior S.P. leader Azam Khan. She defeated Noor Bano of the Congress. In Badaun, too, the story was repeated as former S.P. Member of Parliament Saleem Sherwani, who contested on the Congress ticket, lost to Mulayam Singh Yadavs nephew Dharmendra Yadav. Raj Babbar, actor-turned-Congress nominee, lost in Fatehpur Sikri to Seema Upadhyay of the BSP. All three former Chief Ministers in the fray Mulayam Singh Yadav, BJP chief Rajnath Singh and BJP rebel Kalyan Singh won from their respective constituencies: Mainpuri, Ghaziabad and Etah. BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi also romped home, defeating the history-sheeter Mukhtar Ansari of the BSP candidate.

Clearly, these election results mark a comeback for the Congress in the State. It has also given rise to projections within the Congress that with decisive steps it can re-establish its supremacy.

BIHAR Shifting vote bank By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Patna

THE result of the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar was on expected lines. The only surprise was the scale of the defeat suffered by the Fourth Front, comprising the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). Falling steeply from its 2004 tally of 26 (RJD 22 and LJP 4), the Fourth Front ended up with just four seats won by the RJD. In the process, the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) bagged 32 of the States 40 seats. Nitish Kumars party, the Janata Dal (United), won 20 seats and its partner, the BJP, 12. Two seats were won by the Congress, which contested the elections independently after being virtually thrown out by the Fourth Front parties. Two independents also emerged victorious. These were RJD rebel Om Prakash Yadav, who defeated Heena Shahabuddin, wife of former RJD MP Shahabuddin, in Siwan, and JD(U) rebel and former Union Minister Digvijay Singh, who emerged victorious in Banka.

The results only confirmed the three distinctive socio-political trends that had become increasingly visible in Bihar as the election process moved towards its finale. These were the virtual collapse of the once redoubtable Muslim-Yadav (MY) support base commandeered by Lalu Prasad; the near-total consolidation of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) communities behind the JD(U) and the States charismatic Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar; and the revival of the Congress in a number of constituencies through support from sections of the upper-caste communities and Muslims.

The three trends were expected to give an advantage to the NDA and it materialised forcefully. It was also surmised during the election process that the Congress revival might not result in an increase in the number of seats to the party but would lead to the defeat of the Fourth Front in many places. This too became a reality. But what many, including the leadership of the Fourth Front, did not gauge was the force of these trends. Such was the force that LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan, who has won Hajipur repeatedly with margins of two lakh votes and above, was defeated by the JD(U)s Ram Sundar Dass by 38,000 votes. Paswan was a constant fixture in all the governments at the Centre since 1996. Lalu Prasad lost from Pataliputra, one of the two seats he contested. He was defeated there by one-time associate Ranjan Prasad Yadav, who contested on the JD(U) ticket. However, Lalu Prasad defeated the BJPs Rajiv Pratap Rudy in Saran with a margin of 52,000 votes.

Vote share figures also emphasised the Fourth Fronts loss. According to initial estimates, the Fourth Front had a vote share of approximately 30 per cent (RJD 21.58 per cent, LJP 8.25 per cent), while the NDA had a whopping 41 per cent (JD(U) 29 per cent, BJP 12.09 per cent). The Congress, fighting alone, garnered 11.25 per cent. The figures for different combinations and parties in the 2004 elections were as follows: RJD 30.67 per cent, LJP 8.19 per cent, JD(U) 22.36 per cent, BJP 14.57 per cent, Congress 4.49 per cent. The JD(U) vote share recorded a rise of nearly 6.6 percentage points, while the RJD faced a huge loss in its vote share, approximately 9 percentage points, compared with 2004. The Congress added about 6.5 percentage points to its 2004 tally. The LJP vote share has been more or less steady, at 8.19 per cent.

According to RJD leaders, the vote loss has been primarily from its Muslim support base. The trouncing of RJD veteran Taslimuddin in the Muslim-dominated constituency of Kishanganj at the hands of the Congress candidate Maulana Ansarul Haque clearly shows this drift. Taslimuddin was defeated by over 1.15 lakh votes. After the announcement of the results, Lalu Prasad admitted that fighting the elections without the Congress was a mistake. According to initial estimates based on the vote shares of the RJD, the LJP and the Congress, a repetition of the 2004 combination could have led to a defeat for the NDA in a dozen more seats.

At the political level, the results mark the consolidation of the Nitish Kumar brand of politics in Bihar. Given the reverses suffered by the Fourth Front as well as the signs of revival of the Congress, this phenomenon is expected to gain greater momentum. There could be a further drift of the Muslim and Dalit vote towards the Congress from the RJD and the LJP respectively. By all indications, the Congress could be ready to revive its ties with Lalu Prasad and the RJD, while the LJP could be left out in the cold. This could well mark the disintegration of the Fourth Front.

MADHYA PRADESH Congress dozen By Purnima S. Tripathi

THE consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the Congress has given the party its best results in the State since 1991. Even belying its own best calculations, the Congress won 12 seats (it was hoping to win 10), while the BJP, which won 25 of the 29 seats in 2004, had to be content with 16 seats. Even the BSP managed to win one seat this time, Rewa, where it always had a substantial hold and had won in 1996 too.

The most striking story of Election 2009 is the return of Muslim voters to the Congress fold, and Madhya Pradesh, along with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is the best example of that. Besides its traditional seats of Guna, Gwalior, Chhindwara and Ratlam (previously called Jhabua), the party won eight seats where Muslim voters constitute a substantial number. Muslims turned out to vote in huge numbers, with their voting percentage going up to 65-70 per cent and even up to 90 per cent in some areas. Six of these seats are in the Indore region, which is called Malwanchal in popular parlance and accounts for 80 per cent of the States Muslim population of over 8 per cent.

The six seats that the Congress won in this region are the following: Dhar (Gajendra Singh Rajukhedi), Khandwa (Arun Subhashchandra Yadav), Ratlam (Kantilal Bhuria), Dewas (Sajjan Singh Verma), Ujjain (Guddu Premchand) and Mandsaur (Meenakshi Natrajan). It lost Indore and Khargone by narrow margins. In Indore, BJP veteran Sumitra Mahajan, who has been winning since 1989, just scraped through.

Two other seats the party won, Shahdol (Rajesh Nandini Singh) and Mandla (Basori Singh Masran), too, have a substantial Muslim electorate capable of influencing the outcome.

Muslim leaders of the State agree that the fear of L.K. Advani becoming Prime Minister, when the State had a BJP government, acted as an impetus for Muslims to vote in large numbers for the Congress. They feared communal tension in the event of a BJP government taking over at the Centre (Muslim factor, Frontline, May 8).

We were almost certain that Advani as Prime Minister would embolden the trouble mongers in the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), who, as it is, are quite fearless in the State. With Advani as Prime Minister, Madhya Pradesh would have certainly gone the Gujarat way, said Ishrat Ali, a leading cleric in Indore.

Another religious leader from Khandwa, which has elected the Congress Arun Yadav, son of former State Congress president Subhash Yadav, agreed that the fear factor led Muslims to vote in large numbers for the Congress.

State Congress leaders, however, give the credit for the partys showing to the exemplary performance of the United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government. This sentiment was nowhere in evidence during the campaign, though.

Among the other seats the party won are Guna, where Jyotiraditya Scindia defeated Narottam Mishra of the BJP by over two lakh votes, and Chhindwara, where Kamal Nath defeated the BJPs Marot Rao Khavase by over one lakh votes.

Interestingly, this time the Congress managed to win Rajgarh, too, with Narayan Singh Amlabe defeating the BJPs Laxman Singh, who is Congress general secretary Digvijay Singhs brother. Laxman Singh had crossed over to the BJP shortly before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and had Digvijay Singh campaigning against him this time.

Yet another notable victory was that of Meenakshi Natrajan in Mandsaur. She was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to take on the BJP veteran Laxminarayan Pandey, and few expected her to win. She won with a comfortable margin of over 30,000 votes.

Seedhi is a seat the Congress lost because of differences over the choice of candidate. It is the stronghold of Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh. He wanted the ticket for his daughter Veena Singh, but the party said no. Veena Singh contested as an independent and ended up spoiling the chances of the Congress Indrajeet Kumar, who lost to the BJPs Govind Prasad Mishra by 45,740 votes. Veena Singh secured over 67,000 votes.

Vidisha is another seat that became high-profile for two reasons. One, the BJP candidate was Sushma Swaraj, and the other was that the Congress candidate, Rajkumar Patel, failed to file his original papers in time and his nomination was rejected. He had deposited photocopies of the documents required. People in Vidisha talked of Patel having deliberately done that. But this virtually ensured a walkover for Sushma Swaraj; she defeated her nearest rival, Munabbar Salim of the S.P., by 3,89,844 votes.

The BSPs performance deserves mention. The party won the Rewa seat, where its candidate Deoraj Singh Patel defeated Sunderlal Tiwari of the Congress by 2,310 votes. The BSP also came second in Satna, where Sukhlal Kushwaha lost to the BJPs Ganesh Singh by 4,418 votes.

The BSP made an aggressive bid for power in the Assembly elections last year but failed to make any impact despite its vote share climbing to over 11 per cent from 7 per cent in 2003. It won only seven Assembly seats and came second in 18.

The BJP was stunned by the results. There was no BJP leader available in Bhopal to explain the outcome, which was not difficult to understand because Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had set a target of 25+1, which meant he hoped to get at least one seat more than last times tally. He was optimistic of doing that as he told mediapersons in Bhopal on March 27, BJP ka kaam aur Sushmaji ka naam jadoo karega (the work done by the BJP and the personality of Sushma Swaraj will do the magic for us).

Though he still can take consolation from the fact that he delivered the party at least 16 seats, owing mainly to the popularity of his governments schemes for the girl child and women and also moves such as giving farmers bonus for procurement of foodgrains.

RAJASTHAN Saffron slide By T.K. Rajalakshmi

IN an uncanny reversal of the results in 2004 when the BJP won 21 seats and the Congress four the Congress, led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, won 20 seats this time and the BJP four. If in 2004 the BJP was the party in power in the State, having come to power in December 2003, this time the Congress is the party in power after the December 2008 Assembly elections.

It was a largely bipolar contest with a not-so-high voter turnout of 47 per cent. But there were surprises too. The Dausa (Reserved) seat was won by well-known independent and rebel BJP Minister Kirori Lal Meena. Here, both the Congress and the BJP nominees forfeited their deposits.

Prominent winners included Sachin Pilot from Ajmer, where he trounced Kiran Maheshwari, the national president of the BJPs Mahila Morcha; Congress national secretary Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, pradesh Congress president C.P. Joshi, who had lost in the Assembly elections by a single vote; chairperson of the National Commission for Women Girija Vyas; and Dushyant Singh, son of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, from Jhalawar-Baran.

Prominent losers included former BJP Minister Ghanshyam Tiwari from Jaipur; Manvendra Singh, son of BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who lost to Harish Chaudhary, a Gehlot confidant, in Barmer; former Union Minister Subhash Maharia in Sikar; and Buta Singh, who contested as an independent in Jalore.

The four seats that the BJP won were Bikaner, Jalore, Jhalawar-Baran and Churu. In fact, it was felt that the Congress could have won Jalore and Churu had it fielded strong candidates. A section of the minority community was reportedly peeved with the party for having fielded Rafiq Mandelia from Churu, a predominantly Jat area. He was pitted against Ram Singh Kaswa of the BJP and stood no chance. It felt that a minority member could have instead been fielded from Tonk-Sawai Madhopur or Nagaur.

It was probably the disenchantment among the minorities that was responsible for the narrow victory of Union Minister Namo Narain Meena over Kirori Singh Bainsla of the BJP in Tonk-Sawai Madhopur. The assessment was that the minorities did not vote for the Congress candidate. In a feudal setting such as ours, it was a fallacy to imagine that Jats in a predominantly Jat constituency would have voted for a non-Jat candidate, said a local journalist.

Former Congressman Buta Singh lost Jalore, now a general seat, to a BJP newcomer of the Kalbi community, an OBC group that has considerable influence in the area. In fact, it was felt that Buta Singh should not have contested from a general seat. The Congress nominee, also from the Kalbi community, came third.

The social composition of the winning candidates reflects the existing social realities in the State. There are eight Jats, four Rajputs, three Brahmins, four members representing the Scheduled Caste groups, four members representing Scheduled Tribes, one from the Kalbi community and one Gujjar. The BSP, which lost all its six members in the State Assembly to the Congress, drew a blank but managed to increase its vote share.

The BJP, of course, did not expect such results. The thinking was that it had not done too badly despite the infighting. That all was not well within the party was evident after the Lok Sabha results emerged. Senior leaders such as Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi and Hari Shankar Bhabhra openly blamed former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and State party president Om Prakash Mathur for the poor showing and said the party should have rectified its mistakes. The leaders admitted that while the national outcome was unexpected, the outcome in the State was on expected lines. That the BJP lost even Jaipur, which it had won in the last six rounds of Lok Sabha elections, came as a shock to the party.

One phenomenon that has emerged, and which Frontline has reported, is the growing tendency of people to elect parties or individuals who represent alternatives in some form. The almost complete rejection of the BJP in favour of Congress candidates was a reflection of the disenchantment among the electorate, which the parties failed to grasp. Incidentally, even Congress members were unaware that they would be the beneficiaries of such largesse.

The BJPs image as a party, despite having a slew of heavyweight leaders, is prone to pendulous swings. Had the party fielded new candidates, it may have had a chance. To an extent, the victory of its candidates in Jalore and Bikaner could be attributed to this phenomenon, though observers have been critical of the opulent backgrounds of some of the candidates.

Dushyant Singh would not have won, said informed sources, had not his mother, Vasundhara Raje, put in all her might in that constituency. It was felt that she did not spend much time in other constituencies. Despite the shocking defeat, the BJPs organisational structure cannot be negated. A political observer in Jaipur pointed out that it was impossible for Subhash Maharia, who was nowhere in the reckoning in Sikar, to emerge suddenly and finish second, behind the Congress winner, Mahadev Singh. The CPI(M) candidate, Amra Ram, came in third but got almost a lakh more votes than last time. Amra Ram is an MLA from Danta Ramgarh, where he trounced former pradesh Congress committee chief Narain Singh Chaudhary in the Assembly elections.

There were a few surprises that emerged in the course of these elections. At Alwar, a non-Yadav got elected; at Dausa, a Gujjar fighting as an independent came second; and at Jalore, a relatively unknown community made its presence felt. There is no doubt that the performance of the Congress will strengthen the hands of the Chief Minister. Gehlot still heads a State that is yet to get out of the BIMARU tag, where water and electricity continue to be festering issues for the predominantly agrarian community.

JHARKHAND Secular division By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

PRE-POLL projections of a mixed result came unstuck in Jharkhand as the BJP-led NDA scored a significant victory by bagging eight of the States 14 seats. Secular parties as a whole suffered reverses. While the two major constituents of the UPA, the Congress and the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM), and Third Front partner the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) just about retained their place in the winners list, Fourth Front parties such as the RJD and the LJP drew a blank.

It is indeed a significant victory for the NDA, and Arjun Munda, chief campaigner for the BJP and former Chief Minister, described it as a total regaining of lost ground. The JMM and the Congress had to be content with two seats and one seat. In 2004, the Congress won six seats, while the JMM got four.

The remaining seats went to two independents and Babulal Marandi, the president of the JVM, a partner of the non-Congress, non-BJP formation led by the Left parties. The independent candidates who won were former Chief Minister Madhu Koda and former Speaker of the Assembly Inder Singh Namdhari, who has had stints earlier in parties such as the BJP and the JD(U).

The BJPs gain is all the sweeter because it has in the past three years lost four Lok Sabha and four Assembly byelections in Jharkhand, once considered its stronghold. Its winning eight seats this time does not match its 1999 performance of 12 out of 14 but is still rated good by the party. The reasons for this victory are both political and organisational. The State has been under administrative entities controlled or supported by the Congress and the JMM since September 2006. This period was characterised by many flip-flops in terms of governance, which finally ended with the imposition of Presidents Rule in January 2009. Large segments of the people of Jharkhand have held the Congress-JMM combine responsible for the not-so-good track record in governance.

On top of it, there was no clear understanding between the two parties organisationally. So much so they fought against each other in many seats. The internecine fighting took its most conspicuous shape in Godda, where Durga Soren, the son of JMM chief and former Union Minister Shibu Soren, fought against State Congress president Furkan Ansari. Shibu Soren was not present for most of the campaign on account of ill health and was not able to smooth over the differences. It was the cumulative impact of all this that helped the BJP.

The BJP candidates who won were former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha (Hazaribagh), Arjun Munda (Jamshedpur), Karia Munda (Khunti), Nishikant Dubey (Godda), Sudarshan Bhagat (Lohardaga), Devi Dhan Besra (Rajmahal), P.N. Singh (Dhanbad) and Ravindra Pandey (Giridih). Union Minister Subodh Kant Sahay was the only sitting Congress MP to win, defeating the BJPs Ram Tahal Chaudhary in Ranchi by a margin of over 13,000 votes. According to Sahay, the JMM alliance proved counterproductive in several seats.

Shibu Soren managed to win from both the seats he contested the Dumka Lok Sabha and the Jamtara Assembly seat but the partys three sitting MPs, from Rajmahal, Jamshedpur and Giridih, lost. In an interesting twist, the second seat for the party, at Palamau, was won by former Maoist leader Kameshwar Baitha. Baitha defeated the RJDs Ghuran Ram. Madhu Koda defeated his one-time ally and five-time Congress MP Bagun Sumbrui by over 89,000 votes in Singhbhum. JVM leader Babulal Marandi, former BJP Chief Minister, won from Koderma but could not meet his stated objective of getting the BJP defeated in a majority of constituencies in the State. Talking to Frontline, Marandi lamented the division of the secular vote, which he said was the primary reason for the BJPs gain.

The results have sent a message to the UPA that it should not repeat the experiments it has carried out in the past three years such as deploying independents like Madhu Koda. There are indications that the State Assembly, now in suspended animation, will be dissolved and fresh elections ordered before July, when Central rule is set to expire.

CHHATTISGARH BJP sweep By Purnima S. Tripathi

THE chawalwale baba, as Chief Minister Raman Singh of the BJP is known here, triumphed over the Congress, defying the countrywide trend in that partys favour. Of the 11 seats, the BJP won 10 and the Congress one, Korba, where its earlier State unit president, Charandas Mahant, defeated the BJPs Karuna Shukla by more than 23,000 votes. Mahant had been replaced as State unit chief by Dhanendra Sahoo just before the elections. Karuna Shukla is the niece of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is a national vice-president of the BJP.

The Congress lost Rajnandgaon, which it won in a byelection last year. Its candidate Devwrata Singh lost to the BJPs Madhusudan Yadav. The Congress, which had set its eyes on increasing its tally substantially, could not win even Bilaspur, which witnessed a high-profile contest between Renu Jogi, wife of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, and Dilip Singh Judeo of the BJP. Judeo, a Minister in the Vajpayee government, had been caught on camera taking cash in a sting operation just before the 2003 Assembly elections in the State. He won by over 20,000 votes. Political observers attributed the BJPs sweep to the good performance of its government. They claimed that it was an endorsement of schemes such as the Rs.2-a-kilo-rice and free salt to below-poverty-line families, which also helped Raman Singh return to power for a second term in the Assembly elections held in November last year.

The governments inability to tackle the naxalites and its support for the hugely unpopular Salwa Judum campaign (which was aimed at fighting naxalites but created new problems instead) earned it the ire of civil rights activists. But this did not prevent the BJP from winning the two seats in the naxal-affected areas, Bastar and Kanker, convincingly. In Bastar its septuagenarian candidate, Baliram Kashyap, trounced the Congress Shankar Sodi by 81,493 votes and in Kanker, Sohan Potai defeated the Congress Phulo Netam by 16,192 votes.

Surprisingly, the Congress was not able to retain even the Mahasamund seat, which Ajit Jogi won in 2004 and was the only seat the party won then. Mahasamund is a traditionally Congress seat, but this time it went to the BJPs Chandulal Sahu, who defeated the Congress Motilal Sahu by over 27,000 votes.

While the mood in the BJP camp was understandably muted despite the partys spectacular performance in the State, Congressmen were busy finding scapegoats for their partys poor showing. While some, who did not want to be named, said it was Ajit Jogis doing because his choice prevailed in the ticket distribution, others blamed it on the lack of unity among senior leaders. Besides, they said, replacing Charandas Mahant with Dhanendra Sahoo as the State president at that late stage meant that Sahoo could not provide the required impetus to the party. According to the State Congress spokesman Ravindra Shukla, the performance of the Raman Singh government prevailed over everything else.

UTTARAKHAND Congress sweep By Purnima S. Tripathi

Uttarakhands is perhaps one of the most spectacular stories in this election. If the results flummoxed BJP leaders, it took the Congress by surprise because a sweep in its favour was something it did not expect. A State that has seen the BJP win the majority of seats since 1991 voted Congress this time. The party won all the five seats, belying the BJPs claims that it would put up a good show.

In another sense, Uttarakhand is also the story of how the BSP turned out to be more of hype than a real threat to the Congress in terms of splitting the anti-BJP votes, which was the Congress main worry. This was substantiated in the Haridwar constituency where the BSP candidate, Mohammad Shahzad, was projected to win on the basis of the Dalit-Muslim vote combination going in his favour. Shahzad ended up third and a rank outsider, Harish Rawat of the Congress (Rawat hails from Almora), emerged the winner trouncing Swami Yatindranand of the BJP by over 1,16,698 votes.

Uttarakhand has always favoured national parties and this time the voter, though silent, favoured the Congress over the BJP or the BSP, said a political observer in Dehra Dun. Surprisingly, the BJP lost the Tehri Garhwal seat, too. Its candidate, ace shooter Jaspal Rana, was seen as the favourite, but the Congress Vijay Bahuguna, son of the late Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, emerged the winner by a margin of over 54,720 votes.

There can be no other justification for this spectacular victory but the fact that the people actually approved of the UPA governments functioning and also the fact that there was a positive vibe for Manmohan Singh here, said Surinder Agrawal, an aide of Congress candidate Harish Rawat, on phone from Dehra Dun.

Interestingly, in the Pauri Garhwal seat, too, where the Congress fielded Satpal Maharaj, who is known more for his religious activities, the party emerged winner. Satpal Maharaj defeated the BJPs T.P.S. Rawat, a retired lieutenant general, by over 20,206 votes.

In Nainital, the Congress K.C. Singh Baba, its sitting member, defeated BJPs State president Bachi Singh Rawat by over 88,412 votes. Bachi Singh Rawat was a Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and had won the adjoining Almora seat since 1991.

In Almora, a reserved seat this time, the BJP fielded one of its State Ministers, Ajay Tamta. But he lost to the Congress Pradip Tamta, a novice in politics. Tamta won by 6,896 votes.

The BJPs debacle in Uttarakhand is sure to lead to a demand within the party for Chief Minister B.C. Khanduris removal. In July-August last year there was a clamour within the BJP for Khanduris removal and a number of MLAs had descended on the capital pressing this demand. They were persuaded by the party high command to give up the demand in view of the civic elections and then the Lok Sabha elections. Party insiders, however, opined that the BJPs dismal performance was sure to encourage the dissidents and that this time the high command would find it hard to ignore them. Some insiders speculated that the partys dismal performance seemed like sabotage from within. Nobody in the BJP was willing to speak on record for the partys poor showing, except for saying that we will analyse the results once the full details are in.

Delhi Pro-incumbency wave By Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

THE 7-0 verdict in favour of the Congress can be seen as a reaffirmation of the mandate that the people of Delhi gave to the party in the Assembly elections last year. A clean sweep by the Congress in the National Capital Region is likely to affect the already demoralised BJP further.

Although the Congress was hoping for a decisive win, it had not been very confident of improving its 6-1 tally in the 2004 elections. But with South Delhi, which the BJP won last time, also in its kitty, the Congress has not only made its victory complete but also managed to push the BJP into a severe leadership crisis in Delhi. Among the prominent winners are All India Congress Committee spokesperson Kapil Sibal from Chandni Chowk, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshits son Sandip Dikshit from East Delhi and Union Minister of State for Urban Development Ajay Maken from New Delhi.

One thing that comes out clearly is the emergence of Sheila Dikshit as the most important leader in the national capital. Her efficient performance as Chief Minister had earned her a third consecutive term, defeating the BJP easily and, in the process, discounting poll predictions of an anti-incumbency factor working against her. Though she was not given a free hand in the selection of candidates for the Delhi parliamentary constituencies, the clear victory is largely seen as a response to her performance as Chief Minister in the past 10 years and more.

Speaking to mediapersons after the results, she attributed the Congress success to the pro-development policies of the Delhi government and firmly disagreed with the view that people voted on caste and community lines. While she made her importance in Delhi politics pretty clear with this statement, she, in a way, also gave indications of playing a greater role in the decision-making processes that falls in the purview of the MPs elected from Delhi. Most of the MPs elected this time, barring Sandip Dikshit and Mahabal Mishra, are perceived to be in the camp of her detractors. The emphatic win would enhance the Chief Ministers position within the party.

While Sheila Dikshits idea of pro-incumbency vote would find many takers in most of Delhis territory and could be partially true, the role of caste and community equations in the ticket distribution cannot be ruled out completely. The Congress, before giving the ticket, had calculated the demographic equations quite well. The voting trends in Delhi show that the Scheduled Castes (S.C.) and OBC in Delhi voted for the Congress as they had done in the Assembly elections. The Jats and the Gujjars, who are the major OBC communities in Delhi, seem to have voted en masse for the Congress. Even in the rural South Delhi seat, they voted for the Congress despite the BJP fielding a Gujjar candidate. And as expected, the Jats rallied behind their leader Sajjan Kumar and voted for his brother Ramesh Kumar, who was largely seen as a proxy candidate; Sajjan Kumar, an accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, had to withdraw his candidature following widespread protests from the Sikh community.

The other important factor that contributed to the Congress victory was the continued support of the Poorvanchali people (migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who form 40 per cent of the States population). The candidature of Mahabal Mishra, a Poorvanchali, in West Delhi seems to have consolidated this sections vote in favour of the Congress. Overall, the Congress managed to strike the right equation by giving representation to all the dominant communities of Delhi. The BJP failed to do this.

Many leaders of the BSP, which had got around 14 per cent of the votes in the Assembly elections, joined the Congress just days before the general elections. Organisationally, the BSP in Delhi is hardly a force to reckon with but its increasing presence in certain pockets kept the Congress and the BJP on their toes. The Congress managed to get the BSP votes not just because of these defections but also because of the BSPs failure to have a committed policy on the choice of candidates. Its ticket distribution was based on the aspirants money power or muscle power. In fact, three of its candidates were accused in criminal cases. Just two days before the elections, the BSP candidate in North-East Delhi, Hazi Dilshad Ali, decided to withdraw in favour of the Congress. This helped the Congress consolidate the Muslim votes. Ramesh Bhardwaj, the BSP candidate for West Delhi, was the richest candidate in this elections with assets worth Rs.622 crore but with hardly any political experience.

In the case of the BJP, the lack of a prominent leader in the Delhi unit seems to have worked against the party. Moreover, except for Vijay Goel, all other BJP candidates were new faces. On the other hand, the Congress fielded its leaders who were strong at the national or State level. The BJPs problem can be attributed to its weak organisation in Delhi; the party has hardly done anything to strengthen its base. Compounding the problem was the increasing number of rebels.

In fact, Ramesh Bidhuri, the BJP candidate for South Delhi, told Frontline: There are many reasons for the bad performance of the BJP in Delhi. We could not reach all the places in my constituency and hopefully we will do that next time. But a very important reason is the growing infighting within the party. Out of the 10 Assembly segments in my constituency, I performed well only in three despite predictions favouring us. This was because there were many cadres who were campaigning against me.

Apart from all these factors, the Congress took the moral high ground by withdrawing the candidatures of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, both accused in the 1984 riots. In both these seats, the Congress chances of winning were very high. By this action the party managed to win over the Sikhs.

Punjab Akali upset By Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

FROM just two seats in 2004 the Congress has surged ahead of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), winning eight of the 13 seats in Punjab. The SAD managed to win four seats, and its ally, the BJP, retained Amritsar. Since the Congress was expected to win at least 10 seats before the elections, the results indicate that the SAD has avoided a drubbing and has retained some respect.

Accepting defeat, Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal said that his government had failed in certain areas and promised to rectify its shortcomings. He, however, maintained that his party was better placed than the Congress, which had won just two seats in 2004 when it was in power in the State. Former Congress Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the results were an expression of the resentment of the people against Sukhbir Badals [the Chief Ministers son] arrogance. Sukhbir Badal, in turn, termed the Congress as an endangered species moving fast towards extinction and predicted a political implosion in the State Congress.

Even the outcome of the elections could not prevent the rival families from attacking each other. Such exchange of words percolated down to the grassroots and workers of the two parties clashed in various places soon after the results were announced. The outbursts were helped by a close contest between the SAD and the Congress. The narrow victory margins in all the constituencies, except Bhatinda, show that the voters focussed mainly on local issues. The Congress projection of Manmohan Singh as a Sikh Prime Minister failed to work to a large extent. The voting trends show that the Congress could not muster enough support. Eventually the people voted mostly on the basis of the candidates merits. Anti-incumbency sentiment and better candidate selection by the Congress were the factors that helped the Congress upset win.

For instance, Navjot Singh Sidhu defeated the Congress O.P. Soni by just over 6,000 votes in Amritsar. Sidhu had earlier won the seat by around one lakh votes. Similarly, Pratap Singh Bajwa defeated the BJP candidate Vinod Khanna by 8,342 votes in Gurdaspur. But the most striking example of the close contest was Hoshiarpur (S.C.) where Santosh Chaudhary of the Congress defeated the BJP candidate by just 291 votes.

The election contest was more a clash of two political families than of two political parties, and Bhatinda, Patiala and Khadoor Sahib became the major arenas. These seats saw the Akalis edging past the Congress. Sukhbir Badals wife, Harsimrat Kaur, defeated the Congress candidate and Amarinder Singhs son Raninder Singh comprehensively. The seat recorded 84.75 per cent turnout. In the Khadoor Sahib constituency, which was significantly altered following the delimitation exercise, the Congress could not get past the Akali candidate and sitting MP Ratan Singh Ajnala as had been predicted. Winning the seat was important for two reasons: it had been proclaimed the capital of Khalistan during the 1980s and the Akali Dal had always won here except in 1991, when it boycotted the elections. The saving grace for the Congress was the victory of Amarinders wife Preneet Kaur in Patiala.

The highlight of the election is the significant shift in the voting pattern in the Malwa region. The SAD performed much better in this region than it did in the last Assembly elections in 2007. Apart from Bhatinda, the SAD managed to win Ferozepur and Faridkot. Interestingly, the Congress had won comprehensively in this region in 2007 with the active support of the Dera Sacha Sauda. The region had always been an Akali stronghold, but the SAD was defeated in the Assembly elections because of its active involvement in the widespread violence against the Dera followers in recent years. Since the Dera did not announce its support for any party this time, it is possible that the Dera followers did not vote as a block. This helped the SAD get back to power in the region as other factors such as caste and community equations worked out well for the Akalis.

Another trend that is noticeable is the exemplary performance by Rahul Gandhis favourites. Two of them, Ravneet Singh Bittu and Vijay Inder Singla, have won by huge margins. Bittu, the first elected president of the Punjab Youth Congress (PYC), and former PYC president Singla are likely to emerge powerful in Punjab politics. The third candidate, Sukhvinder Singh Danny, lost the Faridkot seat by a narrow margin.

Another highlight is the election of four women for the first time in Punjabs political history. Apart from Preneet and Harsimrat, Santosh Chaudhary of the Congress has won from Hoshiarpur and Paramjit Singh Gulshan of the SAD from Faridkot. In a State with the largest number of female infanticide and foeticide cases, growing political representation to women implies a new beginning.

HARYANA Hoodas victory By T.K. Rajalakshmi

THE unexpected happened in Haryana too: a Congress sweep. Defying all logic and taking advantage of a fractured Opposition, the Congress, led by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, managed to win nine of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the State. In the process, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the main opposition party, and its NDA ally, the BJP, were wiped out.

The INLDs vote share fell to 15.6 per cent from 22.43 per cent, while the BSPs rose sharply to 15.73 per cent from 4.98 per cent in 2004. The newly formed Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) found a foothold in Hisar, where its president and former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal won by a narrow margin of 6,983 votes against Sampat Singh of the INLD.

On the other hand, Deepender Hooda, the Chief Ministers son, created a record of sorts at Rohtak by winning with a margin of 4,45,736 votes in a four-cornered contest against political heavyweights from the INLD, the BSP and the HJC. The huge victory margin is perhaps an indication that the Chief Minister may have not only secured the confidence of the electorate but also emerged as the undisputed leader of his community in the Jat belt.

Another important outcome of the results is that Bhupinder Singh Hooda may have managed to silence his detractors once and for all, which makes his task easier in the Assembly elections due next year. Despite a situation where the Chief Minister had to face considerable opposition from his own party members, including senior Ministers, the partys candidates managed to post comfortable victories even in constituencies such as Faridabad, Sonepat and Gurgaon, over which there was much infighting in the party.

At Sonepat, considered to be the safest seat for the Congress, Hooda put up his confidant and party MLA Jitendra Malik, who defeated Kishan Singh Sangwan of the BJP with the second highest margin of 1,61,284 votes. Sangwans defeat was certain, and almost every Congressman had wanted to stand from this constituency. One such contender for the seat was Finance Minister Birender Singh, who made his grouse very clear after he was denied the ticket. Despite all the infighting, the Congress still managed to do well.

The BSP, which had put up candidates in all 10 constituencies, came second in two, pushing the INLD to the third place. At Karnal, in a triangular contest, the sitting Congress member, Arvind Sharma, defeated Virender Verma of the BSP by 76,346 votes. The BJP nominee, former MP I.D. Swami, came third.

Similarly, in the newly created seat of Gurgaon, the Congress Inderjit Singh defeated Zakir Hussain of the BSP by over 84,000 votes. Clearly, the Congress not only managed to get a grip over the politically dominant Jat community but also secured the confidence of other communities, including the minorities and Dalits.

Faridabad was another seat that was considered a shaky one for the Congress; here Hooda was accused of neglecting the interests of certain communities and it was felt that infighting in the Congress could lead to the defeat of the sitting member, Avtar Singh Bhadana. However, Bhadana retained his seat, defeating Ram Chander Bainda of the BJP by over 68,000 votes.

The third highest margin in the State after Rohtak and Sonepat was seen in Kurukshetra, where sitting Congress member Navin Jindal defeated Ashok Arora of the INLD by over a lakh votes. The party won by relatively low margins in the reserved seats of Ambala and Sirsa, where it had formidable candidates in Kumari Selja and Ashok Tanwar, president of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), respectively.

In the Bhiwani-Mahendargarh seat, where State Minister Kiran Chaudhary and the Chief Minister disagreed over the choice of candidate, the partys Shruti Chaudhary won comfortably against Ajay Chautala, general secretary of the INLD and former MP. This is the second time that the son of former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala has had to taste defeat, the first being in 2004, when he lost to Kuldeep Bishnoi, who then contested on the Congress ticket. Kuldeep Bishnoi, along with his father Bhajan Lal, broke away from the Congress in 2007 and formed the Haryana Janhit Congress. This time Bishnoi withdrew from the race, leading to speculation that there was an understanding to ensure Ajay Chautalas victory at Bhiwani-Mahendargarh in return for Bhajan Lals victory at Hisar.

There was no palpable anti-incumbency sentiment against the Hooda government, but this is not to say there are no problems in the State. The Chief Minister is being viewed as a better alternative not only within the existing leadership of the Jat community but among others as well. The Assembly elections next year will be the ultimate test of Hoodas popularity.

There are serious questions about the trajectory of development in the State, the law and order situation and the rising discontent among farmers and industrial workers. At the moment the Chief Minister is seen as a man with a clean image, but that alone may not be enough.

Jammu & Kashmir A winning Combination By Shujaat Bukhari in Srinagar

THE results for the six parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir are on expected lines, and the victory of the ruling National Conference (N.C.) in south Kashmirs Anantnag constituency is quite significant. The N.C.-Congress coalition swept the elections in the State by winning five seats, those of Srinagar, Baramulla, Jammu, Udhampur and Anantnag. The sixth seat, that for the Ladakh constituency, is also in its kitty as the independent, Hassan Khan, who won it belongs to the N.C. and had rebelled against the party decision to leave the seat for the Congress.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was routed in the valley, and the BJP, which registered a spectacular victory in the Assembly elections in Jammu, faced a humiliating defeat. Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Gani Lone has also been stunned, finishing third in Baramulla, which he considered his safe turf.

The biggest advantage the ruling coalition had was that the N.C. and the Congress had a pre-poll understanding according to which they did not field candidates against each other. It helped them consolidate the vote. This was evident in the Jammu constituency, where the Congress candidate, Madan Lal Sharma, pushed back the Amarnath wave with a huge margin of more than 1.21 lakh votes. He trounced Leela Karan Sharma, who had banked upon the agitation he led for several months in Jammu last summer on the issue of land for the Amarnath shrine board.

The results proved that the people of Jammu are against communal forces and they cannot be hoodwinked on religious sentiments, said Madan Lal soon after he was elected.

Likewise, the Udhampur seat was retained by Chowdhary Lal Singh, who tasted defeat in Kathua in the Assembly elections. Neither he nor his wife, Kanta Andotra, who lost in Basohli, could withstand the BJP wave in the region in December 2008. But this time, even though the BJP candidate Nirmal Singh gave him a tough fight, he won in the Udhampur-Doda constituency, which has a large Muslim population. These results indicate that both the Congress and the N.C. have managed to get a foothold in the Jammu region, that too within the first five months of the coalition government headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. What makes it more significant is that the N.C.s voters did not drift away and in fact voted for the Congress against which they were pitched in the Assembly elections.

The three seats of the Kashmir valley put the N.C. and the Congress and the opposition PDP in a do-or-die situation. It was expected that the PDP would retain Anantag, its bastion in south Kashmir, where it won 12 out of 16 Assembly segments in 2008. But it faced a humiliating defeat as the N.C.s Mehboob Beg won the seat, defeating his rival Peer Muhammad Hussain. This was the constituency where Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi chose to campaign against the PDP, which was his partys ally until June 2008 when it withdrew its support in the wake of the Amarnath agitation.

The N.C. candidate scored comfortable leads in Dooru and Kokernag, represented in the Assembly by Congress MLAs, and also in the Kulgam Assembly segment, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA M.Y. Tarigami supported him. Interestingly, the PDP lost the most important segment of Wachi, represented by its president Mehbooba Mufti. In other segments also it could not retain its 2008 vote. Boycott played an important role in the N.C.s victory as our voters could not come out, and government forces made every effort to create fear in the areas where we dominated. The government machinery was also used to the hilt, said the PDPs Peer Hussain. However, Beg termed it a major victory for him. People realised the PDPs bad politics and voted for me, he said. It will be hard for the PDP to retain its vote bank in coming years.

The results in Baramulla were significant. All eyes were on Sajjad Lone, who left separatism to join electoral politics. He staked his political career on this change of course but ultimately failed to convince the common voter why he switched from demanding Azadi to fighting elections under Indian colours. Sajjad Lone cannot be rejected outright on this single verdict, but his loss is significant as far as the immediate future of separatists in mainstream electoral politics is concerned. Here it was a direct contest between the N.C.s Shariefuddin Shariq, who was supported by the Congress as all the N.C.s candidates were, and the PDPs Dillawar Mir.

In Srinagar, N.C. president Farooq Abdullah won the election, retaining the seat for his family. It was represented by Omar Abdullah in 1998 and 2004. The N.C.s win is not necessarily its victory alone but is essentially one for the coalition. Apart from the Congress, smaller groups, headed by Ghulam Hassan Mir and Hakim Yasin, MLAs from Tangmarg and Khan Sahib, besides Tarigami, had vociferously supported it to push to the wall its arch rival, the PDP.

It was the PDP versus the rest. Dont underestimate the fact that all the political forces were against us, said PDP leader Nizamuddin Bhat. However, N.C. leader Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, who stalled Sajjad Lones march in his Handwara bastion, said that it is essentially the N.C. which holds the key in Kashmir. People have reposed faith in us.

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst who teaches at Kashmir University, said that the results did not depict the actual situation. Most people stayed away from the elections, and the boycott was instrumental in throwing up this verdict, he told Frontline. He felt that it was the writing on the wall for moderate separatists as people have made it clear that no U-turn was acceptable to them as far as the basic cause of freedom is concerned.

HIMACHAL PRADESH Solace for BJP By T.K. Rajalakshmi

IF there is one State in the north where the Congress has been denied the pleasure of a decent performance, it is Himachal Pradesh. Rahul Gandhis magic failed to work here and neither did Sonia Gandhis impressive rally in Shimla help the twice-elected party nominee retain his seat.

Of the four seats here, the BJP won three, and the Congress one, Mandi, where its candidate was five-time Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh. However, his victory margin of 13,000 pales in comparison with the 66,000-vote-margin defeat his wife Pratibha Singh inflicted on Maheshwar Singh of the BJP in 2004.

Election 2009 was, in some ways, a virtual re-enactment of Election 2004 when the Congress won three seats and the BJP barely held on to Hamirpur. This time round, the BJP managed to wrest Shimla, a traditional Congress stronghold. It had won the seat in 1977 and then in 1999 at the time of the Kargil wave but in alliance with the Himachal Vikas Congress. Dhani Ram Shandil of the Congress, who had won this seat twice, conceded defeat to the BJPs Virender Kashyap, who had lost ten times in the past.

At Hamirpur, Anurag Thakur, the sitting member and son of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, defeated Narinder Thakur (Congress) by 73,000 votes, which was far less than the margin of over a lakh he secured to win the May 2008 byelection to the seat. At Kangra, BJP MLA Rajan Sushant who was the partys nominee, defeated Chander Kumar of the Congress by 30,000 votes. In 2004, Chander Kumar had defeated BJP Chief Minister and former Union Minister Shanta Kumar by 16,000 votes.

While the BJP can take comfort that it won three seats, including storming the Congress bastion of Shimla, the victory margins have not been that convincing. The fact that Anurag Thakurs victory margin has gone down is a pointer to the Chief Minister as well, said a Congressman.

BJP spokesperson Ashok Kapatia said that while there was a lot of sadness that the party had not been able to form the government at the Centre, its victory in Himachal Pradesh was like a shining beacon for most of North India. Though there was no wave in the State, it was clear, as pointed out in Frontline (Uphill task for Congress, May 22), that the BJP had a natural advantage by virtue of being in power in the State. Kapatia said the BJP owed its performance to the work done by the State government. The employees play a major role here in elections. We took care of their interests as well, he added.

Sohan Lal, a Congress MLA, said people forgot the good work done by the Congress. The BJP also put pressure on employees, threatening them with transfers and so on, he said. Asked if there was any truth in the theory that the Congress campaign started late and whether Virbhadra Singhs absence in Shimla was a factor, Sohan Lal replied in the negative. He said the party secured a lead in not only the former Chief Ministers home constituency, Rohru, but also in rural Shimla and Kasumpti.

Some political observers felt that the BJPs victory could be interpreted as an endorsement of the performance of the P.K. Dhumal-led BJP government in the State. Apparently, the State leadership had indicated to its party members and elected representatives that they would witness development in their constituencies only if they got a lead for the candidates in their respective Assembly segments. This was also a message for those who did not vote the BJP in the Assembly elections, said one political observer. Indeed, for the first time the BJP nominee in Shimla secured a lead in five segments of Sirmaur district, considered a Congress fortress.

The Congress ran a lacklustre campaign. It focussed more on what it would do if it came to power at the Centre rather than take up issues relevant at the State level, such as the agrarian crisis and rising unemployment. It was only on May 8, less than a week before polling on May 13, that the Congress released its much-touted charge-sheet against the BJP. This left the Congress very little time to campaign on the issues it had raised.

Besides, there is no doubt that when compared with the BJP, the Congress was more faction-ridden and continues to be so. There were hardly any unified campaigns by senior leaders, who spoke in different voices and made their disunity apparent. Other parties, such as the BSP, the S.P. and the LJP, failed to make an impact.

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