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Friday, April 18, 2008

Election results send different messages to parties

The by-election results Wednesday spread across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa have different messages for political parties preparing for the 2009 general elections, with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) the clear winner and the Congress yet to get its act together. If there is one party that can clearly bask in satisfaction, it is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s BSP that has swept all five by-elections - two Lok Sabha and three assembly - in the state.

“Mayawati’s performance has got the alarm bells ringing for the Samajwadi Party which may now come to the negotiating table with the Congress,” said political commentator G.V.L. Narasimha Rao.

Neither the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor the Congress is on firm ground in Uttar Pradesh. The battle for the 2009 parliamentary elections will be fought out between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.

In the last assembly elections in May 2007, the BJP and the Congress were a distant third and fourth in the race for power.

In this round of by-elections Mayawati has once again pulled off her strategy. “She clearly has a head start, has picked the right candidates in terms of caste, ability to deliver and local clout,” said Rao. “She has already chosen candidates for 50 Lok Sabha seats.”

The Samajwadi Party, on the other hand, is yet to recover from the losses in the 2007 assembly elections. It has been toying with the idea of making peace with the Congress to counter the BSP, but nothing tangible has materialized.

Like the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress seems unable to find the right strategy in Madhya Pradesh, which goes to polls in November this year.

The party lost the Betul Harda assembly seat to the BJP by 35,440 votes. This is despite the fact that Kamal Nath, the Congress high profile cabinet minister, spent considerable time campaigning in the by-election.

The campaigning between the Congress and the BJP came to be touted as a tussle between the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and cabinet minister Kamal Nath.

The latter could turn out to be the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate if the party wins the assembly elections.

“The by-election in Madhya Pradesh was significant because the result showed that the Congress is yet to get its act together,” said Sudha Pai, senior fellow, Nehru Memorial Library.

“It is a precursor to the face-to-face combat that we will see between the Congress and the BJP in 2009,” she said.

The results were also a loss of face for Congress leader Suresh Pachauri, who is in charge of Madhya Pradesh. Pachauri was recently relieved from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers and put in charge of the state. Like Kamal Nath, Pachauri too spent a great deal of time campaigning in the by-election.

The time and the energy invested by the Congress leaders have not paid off. The strategy, Pai pointed out, was wrong.

“The Congress should start talking about development issues. Even Rahul Gandhi is not focusing on this. He goes and spends time with Dalit families but does not take up policy issues,” said Pai.

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