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08 December, 2008

Lessons to draw from the Assembly election results

The State Assembly elections, which a section of the media projected as a semi-final, have ended in a draw of sorts. While it has thrown up enough material for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the major contenders for power at the national level, to make exaggerated claims, a close look reveals a slight advantage to the former over the latter.

Of the five States, where elections have been completed, three were under the BJP, one under the Congress and the fifth under a regional party.
The BJP retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and the Congress held on to Delhi State, overcoming the much touted anti-incumbency factor. The Congress actually bettered its position by taking Rajasthan from the BJP and Mizoram from the Mizo National Front.

The Congress win in three States suggests that the party has been able to break the chain of reverses that has dogged it since it came to power at the Centre in 2004 under the banner of the United Progressive Alliance. The Delhi triumph has special significance inasmuch as it gives the party a third successive term in office in that small but important State.

The outcome of the elections in all the States confirms the trend towards a two-party system, which has been in evidence in many States in recent years. In Delhi and the Hindi States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, two national parties are in contention. In Mizoram, the contending forces are a national party and a regional party.

For two reasons, it is risky to draw any conclusions from these Assembly election results about the prospects of the Third Front, which the Left wants to put together at the national level by bringing together disparate elements like Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. One is that Assembly results are not a reliable indicator of voter preference in parliamentary polls, as the BJP discovered in 2004. The other is that the potential Third Front partners are all bit players in these States.
The BSP, which is already the biggest party in Uttar Pradesh, has convincingly demonstrated its ability to grow. However, it has still a long way to go before it can climb to the top pushing the Congress or the BJP to the third place in the other Hindi States.

The BJP initially gave the impression that it will not make the Mumbai terror strike a campaign issue but quickly reverted to its narrow, partisan path. This, however, did not prevent the Congress from giving a good account of itself in the States which went to the polls subsequently. Significantly, both urban Delhi and rural Rajasthan rebuffed the BJP bid to derive political capital out of cross-border terrorism.

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