By Anil Dharker
There are several ways of looking at the election results (and it goes without saying that TV channels with their blanket coverage and their exhausted—and exhausting—panels have looked at every which possibility).
You could call it the fall of Rahul Gandhi. Especially in UP where he invested so much time and energy, the returns have been dismal, though in absolute terms, the Congress has done better than in the last elections. Even in Punjab where he confidently anointed Amarinder Singh as the next chief minister of the state, the Congress has been mauled badly enough to necessitate deep introspection.
Another way of looking at the UP election is to say that the Congress, and especially Salman Khurshid, played the minority card and the promised reservations etc to such a degree that credibility was lost. Overplaying the card could possibly have had the effect of alienating voters who do not belong to the minority.
Yet another way of looking at the elections in UP, Punjab and Goa is that these states veer between the two leading parties in the state. This may not be as drastic as in Tamil Nadu where DMK and AIADMK ride high, then fall hard at each succeeding election; nevertheless in UP (SP and BSP), Punjab (Congress and Akali Dal) and Goa (BJP and Congress), power does seem to change hands quite often. Voters of these states may not be as volatile as those of Tamil Nadu, but once they have reached the limit of their tolerance, they kick the incumbent out, and vote the alternative in.
None of these analyses cancel each other out; they can all co-exist and can all be partially true. There's also the added complication of caste, though I have seen—and seen this too often—political pundits confidently assert how caste factors will affect results, only to fall flat on their faces when the actual results come out. The only fact we can be sure of is that India’s voters cannot be taken for granted; not just that, but even politicians cannot really read them.
To me there is yet another way of looking at the results, especially if you see them as a whole rather than piecemeal, state by state. Taken across the board, the one constant is that the Congress party has been rejected by the electorate, and whether Rahul Gandhi campaigned in a particular state or did not, really didn't matter too much.
Why should that surprise us? Right across the nation, disillusionment with the government at the centre is widespread and complete, even amongst diehard supporters of the Congress party. The disillusionment is so strong that even its committed supporters would abandon the party; if they don't, it’s only because the alternative is the BJP, and it's therefore an option not acceptable to many.
I know I am taking the strong feelings against the government in Delhi, and transferring them to the states which went to the polls. But is that such a far-fetched possibility? Apart from local factors which might have influenced voters’ choices in each state, it is quite likely that the general feeling of drift also preyed on the voters' mind.
We cannot be certain of any of this. But what we can be certain of is that these election results can have a disastrous effect on governance. Already the UPA government is crippled by its unpredictable allies (DMK, TMC and NCP). The Congress’ poor showing is only going to bolster the trouble-making abilities of the Mamtas and Karunanidhis. They will now feel emboldened to make further demands for many pounds of flesh; stall legislation which may be good for the nation but might be unpopular in the short-term with the electorate.
Manmohan Singh and his team can react in one of two ways. Sit and watch helplessly as they have been doing till now. Or realise that it’s now or never, and get galvanised into action. The prospects don’t look good because the word Action seems to be not in Singh’s dictionary.