South regained

Published : Jun 05, 2009 00:00 IST

Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy after steering the Congress to victory in Andhra Pradesh.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy after steering the Congress to victory in Andhra Pradesh.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

ANDHRA PRADESH Cautious mandate By S. Nagesh Kumar in Hyderabad

VOTERS in Andhra Pradesh displayed an uncanny political maturity by voting differently in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and yet ensuring stability and continuity in governance. Although they gave the mandate to the Congress in both the elections, the magnitude of the partys victory in the Assembly elections was lesser, signalling a warning of sorts to the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government. The Congress won a whopping 33 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, but the juggernaut slowed down when it came to the Assembly as the partys tally stopped at 157 in a 294-member House.

One reason for this variation is that the voter did not see a viable alternative to the Congress at the national level from among the regional and national parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is almost non-existent in Andhra Pradesh, while the Third Front, of which the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is a part, and the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) were not seen as serious contenders for power at the Centre. Heavyweights such as K. Yerran Naidu of the TDP and PRP leader Chiranjeevis brother-in-law and film producer Allu Aravind lost in the Srikakulam and Anakapalle Lok Sabha constituencies. Another significant electoral outcome is the marginalisation of the lesser players. The PRPs dreams of wresting power from the Congress were shattered as the party won just 18 Assembly seats and drew a blank in the Lok Sabha elections.

It has now become evident that people prefer only two major parties the Congress and the TDP and do not want to give political space to a third party. Chiranjeevis oft-repeated assertion that voters wanted a change and would hence create a space for his party has been proved wrong. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), a sub-regional party, took a beating for its political opportunism, its single-point agenda of separate Telangana. The communist parties too received a severe drubbing as they could win only five Assembly seats out of the 30 they contested as part of a grand alliance, or mahakootami, with the TDP and the TRS. Tacit support for the separate Telangana demand also cost nine Ministers their Assembly seats.

TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu, who spearheaded the mahakootami, misread the political situation totally. For one, the anti-incumbency factor on which he hoped to ride back to power was absent. A slew of development and welfare measures initiated by Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy, such as new irrigation projects, provision of old-age pensions, subsidised housing and supply of rice at Rs.2 a kilogram to the poor and, above all, the novel health insurance scheme, Rajiv Arogyasri, ensured that the Congress vote bank remained intact.

Chandrababu Naidu hoped to march into this vote bank by stitching up the mahakootami in anticipation of the four alliance partners transferring their votes to one another. In order to pave the way for the alliance, he did a U-turn on the TDPs time-honoured stand in support of an integrated Andhra Pradesh and declared support for a separate Telangana. Much to the shock of the grand alliance, the Congress won 50 of 119 Assembly seats in Telangana, most of them from the TRS. The TRS tally of 26 seats in 2004 nosedived to 10 and only the party president K. Chandrasekhar Rao (Mahabubnagar) and secretary-general Vijayashanthi (Medak) scraped through in the Lok Sabha elections, thanks to the TDPs support.

The much-talked about vote transfer did not happen. The TDP said it was done in by the TRS in Telangana and that it suffered in some constituencies because of the non-cooperation of the communist cadre. The TRS retaliated by accusing the TDP of fielding candidates in six of its Assembly and two Lok Sabha constituencies much against the alliance dharma. Before 2004, Chandrababu Naidu was considered a hard-line economic reformer stubbornly opposed to giving freebies. People should not get free lunches, he used to say. The TDP supremo did a volte-face even on this stand by promising dozens of sops, including free colour television sets and transfer of cash to the poor and certain categories of the middle class. In hindsight, these did not cut ice with the voters.

Another redeeming feature of this election was the limited role that caste appeared to have played in spite of the competition among political parties to divide voters along caste lines. The PRP ought to have swept most of the seats in East and West Godavari districts if the majority of the Kapus had voted for it as was widely believed. But the PRP managed to win just five out of the 34 Assembly seats on offer in these two districts and conceded all the five Lok Sabha seats to the Congress.

Rajasekhara Reddy, who spearheaded the Congress election campaign, had consistently held that the PRP would split the anti-establishment vote and help his party. This is precisely what has happened. The TDP lost heavily in the PRPs core area, including districts such as Srikakulam where it held its own even during the wave against it in 2004. The Congress ultimately benefited from this division of votes.

The Chief Minister has much to celebrate for his partys victory as it put paid to the campaign launched against him by the mahakootami, through a book titled Raja of corruption. The results have justified his confidence in the Congress winning prospects so much so that he sought a mandate for his governments performance rather than making any fresh promises. The Congress high command has much to be pleased about as Rajasekhara Reddy has delivered to the United Progressive Alliance the largest contingent of MPs from any State.

TAMIL NADU A wave that was not By T.S. Subramanian in Chennai

THE mood at Anna Arivalayam, the headquarters of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), in Chennai, was euphoric as news started coming in about a string of victories for the party candidates. It was understandable as the results belied the pollsters predictions that showed the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led front to be ahead. Poll surveys and journalists interactions with voters had indicated that the electorate was disillusioned with the DMK and its ally, the Congress, over issues such as price rise, power cut and their stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil problem. The results proved otherwise.

The DMK and its allies won 27 of the 39 seats while the AIADMK-led front won 12. It was essentially a battle between the two alliances one led by the DMK with the Congress, the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) as allies, and the other led by the AIADMK, with the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Communist Party of India (CPI) as partners. The BJP had cobbled up an alliance with the All-India Samathuva Makkal Katchi and the All-India Naadaalum Katchi. The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) led by actor Vijayakant and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were in the fray in all the 39 seats.

The DMK won 17 of the 21 seats it contested, the Congress eight of 15 and the DPI one of two. The IUML won the single seat it contested. The AIADMK was victorious in nine of the 23 seats in which it fielded its candidates. The MDMK, the CPI(M) and the CPI won one each. While the MDMK put up candidates in four constituencies, the CPI(M) and the CPI contested from three each. The BJP and its allies, the DMDK and the BSP drew a blank.

If conventional wisdom gave a definite edge to the AIADMK-led front because of the arithmetic of its alliance, it simply did not happen. The results threw several big surprises: the unusually high voter turnout of 72.46 per cent with Madurai, Karur and Tiruvannamalai recording more than 80 per cent polling; a strong performance by the DMK candidates contrary to expectations; the rout of several senior Congress leaders, including Union Ministers; the defeat of the PMK candidates in all the seven (six in the State and one in Puducherry) seats they contested; and the defeat of MDMK general secretary Vaiko and CPI State secretary D. Pandian; the DMDKs failure to win a seat although some of its candidates polled more than 60,000 to one lakh votes and spoiled the chances of candidates such as Vaiko and Pandian. What was inexplicable was the sudden surge of confidence in the DMK camp a few days before polling on May 13 even as the opposition made allegations of widespread use of money power by the ruling party.

The prominent losers from the Congress include Union Ministers E.V.K.S. Elangovan from Erode and Mani Shankar Aiyar from Mayiladuthurai, former Union Minister R. Prabhu from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.V. Thangkabalu from Salem, Sarubala Thondaiman from Tiruchi and S.K. Kharventhan from Tiruppur. In a see-saw battle, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram of the Congress won by a narrow margin of 3,354 votes in Sivaganga, defeating R.S. Raja Kannappan of the AIADMK.

Important DMK candidates who won include M.K. Azhagiri, son of DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, from Madurai, Union Ministers T.R. Baalu and A. Raja from Sriperumbudur and the Nilgiris respectively, and former Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran from Central Chennai. Azhagiri defeated CPI(M) candidate P. Mohan by a margin of more than 1.4 lakh votes. The Madurai contest was marred by violence and widespread allegations made by rival parties of the use of money power. Things reached such a pass that CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner, Navin Chawla, on April 29 about the gross misuse of official machinery and an unprecedented use of money and goods to lure voters.

AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, Vaiko and PMK founder S. Ramadoss alleged that the DMK won the elections by distributing money to voters and misusing power. Vaiko said democracy was murdered in many constituencies by using money. That money was given to voters in constituencies where the PMK candidates contested is an understatement, said Ramadoss. Money was splurged.

A prominent loser for the PMK was J. Guru from Tiruvannamalai. His vitriolic speech was one of the reasons for the split between the DMK and the PMK. Another prominent PMK loser was former Minister of State for Railways R. Velu from Arakkonam.

It is a creditable performance by the DMK given the fact Karunanidhi, an able leader and orator, could not spearhead the DMK campaign because he fell ill. In his absence, his son M.K. Stalin led the DMK campaign, travelling to hundreds of villages and explaining to the people the plethora of welfare schemes initiated by the government.

The DMKs victory is generally attributed to the DMK governments welfare schemes reaching the people at the grassroots level and the Centre providing enormous funds to Tamil Nadu for various projects. The schemes included the provision of 20 kg of rice at Re.1 a kg in ration shops, waiver of farm loans to the tune of Rs.7,000 crore, old-age pension, distribution of two acres to landless peasants, financial assistance to poor women during their marriage and pregnancy. People were not hostile to the DMK government. Besides, Karunanidhi has been working sincerely for the past three years, a DMK leader said. While some political analysts said the non-performance of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre was an important reason for the defeat of seven Congress candidates, the infighting within the party added to it. Informed sources said the DMK was also unhappy with Congress candidates such as Thangkabalu, Elangovan, Prabhu and Kharventhan because they were in favour of an alliance with the AIADMK. Yet another reason for the defeat of these leaders was the peoples resentment over the power cut that has affected production in the industries located in the western belt of the State and the resultant retrenchment of workers.

The AIADMK-led front lost despite a galaxy of leaders, including Jayalalithaa, Prakash Karat, Vaiko, Pandian, CPI national secretary D. Raja and Ramadoss, campaigning for the candidates of the alliance. While the leaders of the AIADMK, the MDMK, the PMK and the CPI highlighted the plight of the people owing to price rise and power cut, they perhaps overplayed the Sri Lankan Tamil problem. Jayalalithaas volte-face on the issue was perhaps unconvincing. Considering that the DMK-Congress alliance won a majority of the seats despite a concerted campaign against its stand on the Sri Lankan problem, it is not clear whether the issue figured prominently in the voters mind.

In the Union Territory of Puducherry, Union Minister V. Narayanasamy (Congress) won by a margin of more than 91,000 votes, defeating M. Ramadass of the PMK. The voters of Puducherry have generally preferred the Congress to the DMK or the AIADMK. The wide margin that Narayanasamy secured is not surprising because the Puducherry Munnetra Congress, founded by P. Kannan, pledged its support to the Union Minister.

At the end of the day, one wonders if there will emerge an explanation for the high voter turnout in the State.

KERALA Red signal for LDF By R. Krishnakumar in Thiruvananthapuram

THERE is no mistaking the verdict in Kerala and its target, the CPI(M) and the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF). The opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) won 16 of the total 20 seats, avenging the humiliating defeat it had suffered five years earlier.

Riding a wave of anti-incumbency factors, infightings within the CPI(M) and the LDF, a series of poll-eve decisions of the CPI(M) that went terribly wrong and the anger of large sections of the Kerala electorate, including, significantly, the powerful Catholic church, against the CPI(M), the UDF won a swathe of 10 southern and central Kerala constituencies from Thiruvananthapuram to Thrissur (except Attingal, a traditional CPI(M) stronghold in the south) and the rest of them in the north, except Palakkad, Alathur and Kasargod.

Of the UDF partners, the Congress won 13 of the 17 seats it contested, the Muslim League won both Malappuram and Ponnani, its strongholds, and the Kerala Congress (M) won Kottayam, its home turf, for the first time, defeating three-time CPI(M) MP, Suresh Kurup.

The CPI(M)-led LDF, which had won 18 seats in 2004 and came to power with a 98-seat victory in the Assembly elections in 2006 (of 140 seats), could barely manage four Lok Sabha seats this time. The CPI(M) itself lost 10 of the 14 seats it contested, among them, shockingly, its fortresses, Kannur and Vadakara.

All the four candidates of the CPI, the second largest LDF partner, failed to make it in Thiruvananthapuram, Adoor (now Pathanamthitta), Thrissur, where the party won comfortably in 2004, and Wayanad. Another LDF partner, the Kerala Congress (Joseph), lost Idukki. A bitter fourth partner, the Janata Dal(S), which was not allowed by the CPI(M) to contest from Kozhikode from where it had won in 2004, played an obvious role in the 838-vote victory of a Congress candidate there, as well as in Vadakara, Kannur and Wayanad and in several other constituencies to a lesser extent.

This it did along with a group of former CPI(M) supporters, who have formed a Left Coordination Committee. The committee had fielded candidates in five constituencies and in at least two of them, Palakkad and Vadakara, secured over 20,000 votes. But its candidates could get only about 50,000 votes, either because they had exaggerated their real strength or because they chose to divert their votes to the UDF candidates.

In Palakkad, M.B. Rajesh, a leader of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, scraped through with a margin of 1,820 votes. In Vadakara, where the CPI(M) candidate P. Satheedevi used to win with record margins, an old Congress warhorse, Mullappally Ramachandran, won by over 56,000 votes. The CPI(M)s only consolation was Kasargod, where P. Karunakaran managed a victory margin of over 64,000 votes. P.K. Biju, the Students Federation of Indias national president, won Alathur (reserved) by 20,960 votes and CPI(M)s former MP A. Sampath won Attingal by 18,341 votes.

As the verdict indicated, the CPI(M), the party with which Kerala had often trusted its future and fortunes, had, in the past three years in power, alienated itself from large sections of voters, squandering the emphatic mandate that it had received in the two preceding elections with an intense factional war (which mainly revolved around the SNC-Lavalin corruption charge against party State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and which saw frequent altercations between Vijayan and Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan), and what many people saw as haughty public posturing by leaders on issues where the party was not always right and the neglect of peoples concerns and governance.

Besides the crucial issue of party factionalism, there were problems within the LDF itself the CPI(M)s decision to take over the Ponnani seat from the CPI; its decision to seek the support of Abdul Nasir Maudanys Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in order to defeat the Muslim League in Ponnani; its unilateral decision to wrest Kozhikode from the JD(S); and so on.

As a result of these problems, the bad blood created between the CPI(M) and the CPI, and between the CPI(M) and the JD(S), continued to affect the campaign throughout the run-up to the elections, threatening the prospects of a number of LDF candidates. The CPI(M)s attempt to woo communal forces such as the PDP proved counterproductive, with a large number of secular votes going to the UDF. The Muslim League, a party that had learned its lesson well after its humiliating loss of Manjeri (now Malappuram) in 2004, regained both its bastions. In Malappuram, Union Minister E. Ahmed had a victory margin of over 1,15,569 votes and in Ponnani, the scene of the failed PDP experiment of the CPI(M), former State Minister E.T. Mohammed Basheer scored 82,765 votes over Dr. Hussein Randathani, the common candidate acceptable to all, as the CPI(M) had described it.

Ultimately the LDF partners did not vote for each other and Kerala voted against most of the LDF candidates for exactly the same reason for which it had delivered a crushing mandate against the UDF in 2004: for indulging in factionalism and coalition wars and neglecting governance. In addition, the alienation of the church, especially, and other major community organisations from the LDF government, long in evidence in the State, had an impact in all the constituencies.

Prominent LDF losers are Satheedevi (Vadakara), T.K. Hamsa (Malappuram), Suresh Kurup (Kottayam), Dr. K.S. Manoj (Alappuzha) and P. Rajendran (Kollam) all sitting MPs of the CPI(M) and K. Francis George (Idukki) of the Kerala Congress(J).

Three Congress candidates won with a margin of nearly or over one lakh votes. They are Shashi Tharoor, former United Nations Under Secretary General and Congress high commands nominee, in a prestigious five-cornered fight in Thiruvananthapuram; PCC secretary P. Anto Antony in the UDF stronghold of Pathanamthitta, and PCC general secretary M.I. Shanavas, who had tasted defeat in all the five previous elections, in Wayanad. Shanavas scored the highest victory margin ever in the State of 1,53,439 votes in the UDF stronghold. He defeated A. Rahmathulla of the CPI and K. Muraleedharan, K. Karunakarans son, who was the NCPs nominee. He obviously, gained a lot of votes of the JD(S), CPI(M) dissidents and perhaps even the CPI(M)s.

The Congress had fielded three of its MLAs, Prof. K.V. Thomas (Ernakulam), K. Sudhakaran (Kannur) and K.C. Venugopal. All of them won. Strangely, N. Peethambarakurup, Karunakarans only nominee to find a place in the Congress list, defeated P. Rajendran in Kollam.

A surprising victim of the anti-LDF vote was the BJP, which saw a dramatic fall in its traditional votes in many constituencies where it had fielded prominent candidates, including its State president P.K. Krishnadas (who came fourth, behind a BSP candidate with 84,094 votes in Thiruvananthapuram) and former State party president C.K. Padmanabhan (who got 68,804 votes in Palakkad). Only in Kasargod did the BJP candidate (K. Surendran) manage to get over a lakh votes.

The BSP, which attempted a major foray into Kerala by fielding candidates in all the 20 constituencies, could make an impact only in Thiruvananthapuram where a former State Minister, Neelalohitadasan Nadar, came third with 86,233 votes.

The UDF has triumphed in 100 (out of 140) Assembly segments. That should serve as a wake-up call for the CPI(M) and the coalition it leads, as they enter their fourth year in government on May 17.

KARNATAKA BJPs march By Ravi Sharma in Bangalore

IN an issueless, ideologically barren round of elections where most people voted for their caste, the ruling BJP won 19 of the 28 seats, the highest number of seats it has ever won in Karnataka, in spite of infighting, the anti-incumbency sentiment caused by its inability to rein in the fringe elements of Hindutva, and an understanding between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). The Congress came out a distant second with six seats and the JD(S) was restricted to three seats.

The BJP, which has increasingly been seen as a party supported by the Lingayats (who along with the Vokkaligas constitute the two most economically, numerically and socially dominant communities in the State), has also been able to secure the backing of those sections at the bottom of the social pyramid, most notably the Other Backwards Classes (OBCs), the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs) and the Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts). The party won both the reserved S.T. seats Bellary (by 2,243 votes) and Raichur, and two (Bijapur and Chitradurga) of the five reserved S.C. constituencies. The Congress bagged the other three (Gulbarga, Chamarajanagar and Kolar). Seventeen seats were decided by margins lower than 50,000 and four by lower than 8,000.

Northern Karnataka, especially the Bombay-Karnataka region, continues to be the BJPs bastion. With the exception of Bidar and Gulbarga (which were won by Congress stalwarts N. Dharam Singh and Mallikarjuna Kharge respectively), the party, propelled by its Lingayat base, swept Chikkodi, Belgaum, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Raichur, Koppal, Bellary, Haveri and Dharwad. Besides retaining its hold over the coastal constituencies of Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi-Chickmagalur, the saffron party was able to make inroads into central Karnataka, which includes the Malnad region and the upper reaches of what was the princely state of Mysore.

It won Davangere (by a slender margin of 2,024 votes), Shimoga (where Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappas son B.Y. Raghavendra defeated the former Chief Minister and Congress candidate S. Bangarappa), Chitradurga and Tumkur, only losing Hassan (by a margin of over 2.91 lakh votes to JD(S) leader H.D. Deve Gowda).

Despite its highly questionable Operation Lotus, by which it lured Congress and JD(S) legislators successfully, the BJP has not been able to make any inroads into the southern parts of the Vokkaliga-dominated Old Mysore region. The Congress won four seats (Mysore, Chamarajanagar, Chickballapur and Kolar) and the JD(S) bagged Mandya and Bangalore Rural there. The BJP has been able to consolidate its grip on the urban constituencies of Bangalore: it won all the three seats (Bangalore North, Central and South) in the capital.

Although Yeddyurappa had refused to call the elections a referendum on his government, he maintained that the mandate was an appreciation of the development works initiated by him over the past year. According to Energy Minister K.S. Eshwarappa, credit for the BJPs performance should go to the party organisation and the achievements of the Yeddyurappa government. In his view, the voters had forgotten issues such as moral policing.

Another BJP leader attributed the partys growth to the Congress weakness. The Congress lacks leadership and has no face [leader] that the people can identify with. But he admitted that the BJP had not been able to establish a base or even nurture grassroot-level workers and leaders in the Old Mysore region. Former Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily, who won the Chickballapur seat, said the Congress needed to be rebuilt at all levels in Karnataka. The people are still with the Congress, but we have to re-engineer the party. The BJPs success is only transitory, he said.

The Congress was unable to capture the Lingayat or Vokkaliga vote. Siddaramaiah, who is set to become the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, was not projected adequately to make the caste arithmetic work. Infighting rendered the State Congress leadership incapable of taking advantage of weak candidates put up by the JD(S).

A senior leader said the Congress should have entered into a pre-poll arrangement with the JD(S). But new entrants to the party from the Janata Parivar, such as V. Sugrappa, B.L. Shankar, M.P. Prakash, Siddaramaiah and R.L. Deshpande, were against it as their dislike for Deve Gowda is stronger than their aversion to the BJP. Kharge said: In 2008 we were ahead in 14 parliamentary constituencies, the BJP won 10 and the JD(S) four. But we failed to take advantage [of our strength]. We were expecting 10 to 12 seats.

The elections in Karnataka also saw the marginalisation of the JD(S), the only regional player in the fray. Of the 20 seats it contested, only Deve Gowda, his son and former Chief Minster H.D. Kumaraswamy (Bangalore Rural), and Cheluvarayaswamy (Mandya) emerged winners. The party finished second only in one seat.

According to party spokesperson Y.S.V. Datta, the partys performance was satisfactory, though not up to our expectations. People have recognised us as a regional party. Another JD(S) leader said, on condition of anonymity, that it was time Deve Gowda paid more attention to regions other than Old Mysore.

The JD(S) must nurture the party in northern Karnataka. We have no Lingayat leaders, there is no internal democracy and things are run as per the whims of Deve Gowda.

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