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16 May, 2011

People prevail over system

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Voters in four Indian states and one Union Territory which went to the polls over the past month demonstrated yet again that they are capable of choosing wisely, keeping in view the public good, even amidst cacophonous campaigns.

In West Bengal, they booted out the Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which they had voted to office in election after election during the past three and half decades.

In Tamil Nadu they threw out the discredited government of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and gave a resounding victory to the All India Anna DMK, which has been alternating in power with it for decades.

In Kerala, they administered a rude shock to the Congress-led United Democratic Front, which was hoping for an easy return to power after five years in the opposition. As it happened, the UDF scraped through with 72 seats against the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front’s 68 seats.

In Assam, they gave a rare third term to the Congress, with an improved majority which frees it from having to rely on a regional ally for an absolute majority in the Assembly.

In the Union of Territory of Puduchery (formerly Pondicherry), they dumped the Congress and plumped for the breakaway faction led by N Rangaswamy.

On a superficial view, these are mixed results but a close look reveals a common resolve on the part of the voters to rise above petty loyalties and transient sentiments and choose the best option in the given circumstances. Overcoming the cynicism engendered by the there-is-no-alternative theory propagated by political establishments of all hues, they adroitly engineered results that convey a clear message: don’t take us for granted.

The Left Front had established a solid popular base in Bengal’s countryside by initiating radical land reforms soon after it first came to power in 1977. There was no looking back thereafter. The CPI-M’s well-oiled machinery made sure that the alliance romped home every time elections were called. The opposition accused it of rigging but the Election Commission’s observers found no evidence of major irregularities.

The cosy situation that ensured the Left Front’s unbroken reign ended when the government, eager to generate employment opportunities, decided to acquisition farm land and turn it over to domestic and foreign promoters to set up industries. When farmers resisted, the police and CPI-M cadres unleashed a violent campaign to suppress the farmers’ resistance. The party was unprepared for the backlash it produced.

Mamata Banerjee, a Congress woman who had broken away from the party accusing it of pussyfooting, took upon herself the task of challenging the might of the Left. The Trinamool Congress, which she founded in 1998, soon outgrew the parent body, and became the state’s main opposition party.

The Election Commission staggered polling in the state over several days to ensure close and prevent malpractices. The Trinamool Congress registered an impressive victory, winning 184 seats in the 294-member house. The Congress, which accepted the role of junior partner, got 42 seats. The Left Front got only 63 seats.

The DMK faced the elections with its reputation sullied by corruption charges. A Raja, one of its ministers in the Central government, is now in jail as an accused in the 2G case. Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s daughter and MP, Kanimozhi, is also an accused in this case. The DMK attempted to bribe its way back to power but was rebuffed. The AIADMK and its partners made a sweep with 203 seats in the new Assembly against the DMK-led alliance’s 31.

Every election held in Kerala in the last 30 years has resulted in a change of government. The LDF, which, under Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan’s leadership, launched a vigorous campaign this time for a second successive term, came close to breaking the established pattern.

The people voted the UDF to power by a slender margin, clearly showing signalling that the choice before them cannot be reduced to one of picking the two fronts alternately. They are ready to give a front a second term if it lives up to their expectations.

Having lost control of West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI-M now wields power only in the small state of Tripura, which has the same area and population as Lebanon.

While the Congress can rejoice over the gains in Assam, its dismal showing in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puduchery and in two by-elections held in Andhra Pradesh reflects poorly on the national leadership’s management of state party affairs. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 16, 2011.

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