With the benefit of hindsight, the full story of 2012’s mini general elections can be told.
First, Uttar Pradesh. The clean sweep by the Samajwadi Party (SP) appears to have resulted from two causes: an anti-Mayawati consolidation where voters who may have been marginally favourable to Congress and BJP shifted their votes to the SP to enable a change in the government; and the SP’s ability to project a new look through the campaigning of Akhilesh Yadav. The second factor cannot be underrated.
Between Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, the former came across as just an angry young scion, while the latter came across as a mature young man with this own agenda for change and development. Akhilesh was the man who enabled UP’s electorate to forget the Samajwadi Party’s previous stint of “goonda raj.”
What is equally clear is that Mayawati is by no means a spent force. The early indications of voteshare show SP at 29-30 percent, with BSP just 3 percentage points behind. She has every reason to bounce back the next time, but a lot depends on how the SP runs Uttar Pradesh in the meantime, and how Mayawati plays her cards in the coming months and years.
The two national parties fared disastrously – but with vote shares of around 15-16 percent each, they need not always be bit players. What they clearly need to do is create pre-poll alignments with the major parties. This works if they are happy playing second fiddle in the state in return for a higher seat arrangement in the Lok Sabha polls.
If they want to go it alone, the national parties cannot hope to do so with zero local leadership. A Rahul Gandhi or a Uma Bharati parachuting from Madhya Pradesh at the last minute cannot be the formula for success. Even a few months ahead of polls is not good enough.
Moreover, UP managed to vote across caste and religious lines – though the Muslim vote probably proved decisive in swinging the election fully SP’s way. But Dalits did not all vote for Mayawati, and the upper castes did not all vote Congress of BJP. The OBCs went many ways. Class is beginning to matter as much as caste in UP politics.
Second, Punjab. The Congress was possibly overconfident about its win. It assumed wrongly that anti-incumbency will always work. It also hoped that the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), launched by Manpreet Badal, will dent the Akalis enough to deny them victory.
However, it is now clear from the vote-count that in many constituencies, the Akali-BJP margin of victory was less than 1,000-2,000 votes. The Congress should either have aligned with the PPP or worked harder in marginal constituencies to make the vote share bring in additional seats. If they had done so, the results would have been much closer. But then, the Congress has won on its own in the past. This may not happen again. The next time, if it wants to defeat the Akali-BJP combine, it should think alignments.
The Akali-BJP team, as long as it delivers on development, is Punjab’s natural party of governance as it combines the dominant Jat Sikh and urban Hindu votes to make for a winning combination. The Congress needs to create its own formidable vote combinations to break through this alliance.
A clear takeout is the overwhelming strength of the Badals. The father-and-son duo, complemented by fiery bahu Harsimrat, were able to cash in on their developmental work and their own personal image. Capt Amrinder Singh, despite being a strong opponent, did not have that little extra, having spent most of the last five years doing things other than politics in this state.
Sukhbir’s succession as Chief Minister is thus a foregone conclusion once his father decides to retire.
Third, Goa. After Uttar Pradesh, this is the clearest verdict and the BJP clearly carried the day, riding both the anti-incumbency and anti-corruption waves in a state marred by various mining scams.
In Manohar Parikkar, the BJP had a modern faced leader (IIT, etc) with a clean image. The BJP also made special efforts to woo the Goan Catholic vote by putting up many Catholic candidates.
The strategy worked, and Parikkar is home and dry with his own majority. The BJP’s Goa victory could show a party how to recover from a sectarian past.
Fourth, Uttarakhand. The BJP surely did the right thing by bringing back BC Khanduri as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand last year. He arrested the party’s negative image, but thanks to some local skullduggery, lost his own seat, even while taking his party close to victory.
Last, Manipur. The Congress romped home on the Tina factor – There is no Alternative to the Congress in this suffering state, with the rival formations too divided to mount a challenge.
The bottomline: there is no common thread running between the state election results. Each was different in its own way. National parties can win only if they have local leadership or align with regional parties.