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Essay on General Lok Sabha election in India

Election for the 14th Lok Sabha was held during April and May 2004. Verdict 2004 of the Indian masses betrayed all pre-poll and exist-poll forecasts of the media, the politicians and election experts. To the dismay of the nation and the world at large verdict 2004 happened to provided a fractured house with NDA, the ruling party reduced to minority and emergency of Congress party as the single largest party as also by pulling down the major partners of the NDA i.e.

Bhartiya Janta from top of second place in the house. But inspite of the verdict being fractured it clearly gives three messages viz. (i) it rejects the B.J.P. led NDA Govt. by reducing it to minority. (ii) The NDA govt’s claims about the growth and development of the country symbolized by India Shining Campaign has been totally dismissed and (iii) The overwhelming majority of people has rejected the campaign of foreign origin of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi which also goes to indicate that Indian masses do not feel her unfit or unworthy for holding the highest constitutional (executive) office of India.

The fourteenth general elections have witnessed an upset which can be compared to1977 elections when Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime was outvoted by Indian voters through a powerful and peaceful silent agitation. The NDA leaders were confident that with “India Shining” and the Vajpayee factor prevailing all over the country the NDA had become the natural party of governance just as congress had been for half a contrary to this, Congress was written off as a ruling party. The political pundits did never think that the congress, not the B.J.P., would emerge as the largest single party. No body could foresee that Congress-led alliance could end up 30 seats ahead of the ruling alliance. Significant weight of the leftists in national politics with more than 60 seats in a house of 543 was also unpredictable.

But the hurricane election campaign of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi accompanied by the advantage of Gandhi Nehru family influence, her sincerity and devotedness to the party and the flexibility shown by her in forging alliances and accommodating different parties throughout the campaign changed the entire scenario and the performance of her party was beyond expectations every where with the exception of Kerala where the congress party failed to get a single seat for the first time since independence. The leftists had a clean sweep here. The Bhartiya Janta party did well in its traditional strongholds such as Madhya Pradesh Rajastan and chhattisgada, slipped in Maharashtra and made substantial inroads in Karnataka. Its biggest upheavals came in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana and Himanchal Pradesh.

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In contradiction of forecast made by opinion and exit polls it is very difficult to decide who faced worse in the 2004 elections, the B.J.P. or its allies. During the last fifteen years the B.J.P. has advanced on the national stage gradually but staidly and has achieved a national vote share of 22…16% while contesting for 364 Lok Sabha seats by striking alliance in every region with regional parties. This is in contrast with the steady decline of vote share of the congress party which comes to 26:69% from 417 seats contested by it. In the 2004 elections three major partners of the N.D.A have miserable failed in key states. AIADMK led by Jayalalitha in Tamilnadu, Telgu Desham party led by Chandra Babu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and Nationalist Trinmool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal all have suffered a spectacular debacle.

Another ally, the Janta Dal (United) faced badly in Bihar. A good performance by Biju Janta Dal in Orissa and the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab could not compensate the flopping of the N.D.A allies in big states of the South and the East. Quite in contrast to the failure of N.D.A. allies, key allies of the Congress have clicked at the right moment and at the right opportunity in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Bihar and tamilnadu which has put the Congress alliance in a clear and comfortable lead over its national rival the B.J.P. and allies. They have thus acquired an unchallenged position to form a coalition Government at the centre which may not be wanting not only in terms of stability but also in terms of direction and sense of purpose.

The Congress party can be proud of its performance which surpassed all estimates and defied all predictions and has gone for above own expectation. The Congress not only increased its individual tally of 114 M. P’ in 1999 to 145 Lok Sabha seats in 2004 but with its allies has succeeded in capturing 220 seats. Factors responsible for the unexpected results are varied in different states. In Bihar social polarization seems to have contributed spectacular success of R.J.D. led by Laloo Prasad Yadav so much so that all other campaign issues, the Vajpayee factor, Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, N.D.A;s initiative to win over Muslim Votes and Nitish Kumar’s contribution to the state were pushed to the background. Another important factor which contributed to the electoral gain for R.J.D. in Bihar was the alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan. Thus social polarization along with the alliance of R.J.D. and L.J.P of Ram Vilas Paswan turned the table and N.D.A could hardly win 12 out of 40 seats against their tally of 30 seats in 1999 elections.

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There was time when U.P. used to be the dictating state for formation of Govt. at the centre because contribution of this single state used to be 85 (now 80 after formation of Uttranchal). But election 2004 seems to have disproved this popular belief. Supremacy of the congress has become a think of the fast. Then B.J.P’s strongholds have also been shattered and the two major parties of the state Samajvadi party and the Bahujan Samaj party.

Winning 35 and 19 seats respectively which were claiming to be king makers seem to have lost their relevance in national politics. In U.P neither the Hindutva factor of B. J. P. nor the shining factor of N.D.A was able to influence the voter. For the congress party the charisma of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and the magic of Rajeev Gandhi’s children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadera did not help the party improve its 1999 performance. In U.P. cleverness of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh in selecting their candidates and alliance between Mulayam Singh and Ajit Singh accompanied by caste factor humbled the B.J.P. and its allies.

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In west Bengal the left Front not only held on its traditional strongholds but also improved its position by winning a total of 35 seats against 29 in 1999 elections. Congress also improved its performance by capturing six seats whereas the Trinmool Congress was ridiculed to only one that of its president Mamata Banerjee. Mamata Banerjee’s inconsistent political stands and continuous infighting in the party accompanied by the disenchantment of the urban middle class with the N.T.C. and B.J.P. combine on account of progressive mainly located in West Bengal leading to widespread retrenchment, accounted for Mamta Banerjee’s downfall and subsequently that of NDA which had to canted with only one seat out of 42 in the state.

In Madhya Pradesh Bhartiya Janta party was able to encase its gains in assembly election in the recent past by adding four more seats to its tally of 25 seats in 1999 election raising its total to 29 seats, the remaining four going to the congress. Poor performance of the congress may be attributed to weaker election campaign, half-hearted battle by the congress workers who could never imagine the comeback of their party at the centre. Moreover, senior leaders of the Congress party like Digvijay Singh refrained from contesting election and Sonia Gandhi also did not give much importance to this state. The Samajwadi party and Bahujan Samaj party were unable to open their account.

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Jharkhand proved to be the worst battle field for N.D.A. and Bhartiya Janta party. Leaders like Yashwant Sinha, former External Affaires Minister were defeated. This was probable the result of arrogance shown by the party leaders and their overconfidence. But the anti-incumbency factor supported by the smugness reflected in Mr, Sinha’s statement also contributed to the dismal performance of the ruling party. They did not realize the ground realities and did not care for their junior allies. As a consequence the party which held 12 out of the 14 seats in the state could retain barely one seat whereas the congress-led alliance recorded victory in 13 seats. Thus the game of politics is a game of uncertainties.

Tamil Nadu, where Jayalalitha was supposed to be unbeatable produced an absolutely different picture. A wave of people’s anger completely routed the AIADMK and its ally the bhartiya Janta party. Out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats they could not get even one. The alliance of the congress, the P.M.K, M. D. M. k, C. P. I (M),C. P. Iand I.U.M.L captured all the 39 seats. Anger of the voters was based upon the “current bill whereby the state Govt. has scrapped the free electricity schemed to the farmers and hut dwellers. Their anger was further aggravated by the installation of meters to measures the consumption of electricity.

Then Govt’s assaults on the public distribution system added fuel to the fire. The Govt. also introduced an impracticable coupon system to draw rice, sugar or kerosene. The factors that worked against the AIADMK-BJP alliance include a ban on sacrifice of animal s and birds in temples, implementation of mid-day meals for children, stopping of supply of eggs to children, termination of the services of about 10,000 road workers taking over of sand mining by the Govt. and denial bus passes for a section of students. Minority communities were feeling restless. Jayapalitha’s action against her opponent was also a contributing factor towards the defeat of her party and the ally thereof.

Kerala, as usual remained the stronghold of the leftists. But there was one exception that for the first time since independence congress could not get a single seats. The ruling United Democratic Front, an ally of the congress was also rejected right out showing that Kerala prefers the left rather than the congress as an anti B.J.P secular alternative. Out of 20 seats the communist parties secured 15 seats leaving one each for the K. E. C, M. U. L, J. D. (S), I. F. D.P and one independent.

In Maharashtra of the past the congress used to enjoy monopoly but after the assembly elections of 1995 the alliance of Shiv Sena and Bhartiya Janta party have gained a formidable strength. In the Lok Sabha elections of 1998 the congress had won 33 out of 48 seats against Shiva Sena Bhartiya Janta party combine’s 10 but due to the spilt of the congress, in 1999 elections the position was reversed, the congress getting 10 seats and N.C.P. only 6 while the Shiva Sena and B.J.P combine won 28 seats. Taking a lesson from their debacle the congress and N.C.P decided to fight 2004 election together. As a result the two together got 23 seats with a gain of 3 seats each as compared to 1999 elections. The Shiva Sena B.J.P alliance won 25 seats. Here Bahujan Samaj party played a trick and contested 46 out of 48. Although it did not secure a single seat but the split in vote Bank upset the fortune of many candidates and proved that Mayavati is a significant player in Maharastra and also that she has better understanding of caste politics than other leaders.

In Gujarat the Bhartiya Janta Party which is ruling the state for mire than a decade had to face major reversals of fortune. It could hardly win 14 out of 26 Lok Sabha seats against 21 seats won in 1999 election. Here the anti-incumbency factor played a major role. Godhra episode and police atrocities there after magnified by the media brought the anti-establishment wave in the state. The congress regained its hold over Adwani vote. The anti-government wave paved the way of effortless comeback for the Congress. Infighting among B.J.P workers was also rampant and Sangh Parivar workers were not as much devoted and motivated as they are known to be. Authoritarian ways of Narendra Modi invited the anger of the agriculturist, many of whom have gone bankrupt and are under heavy debts. It can be assumed that the B.K.S. workers did not work for the party.

Rajsthan is the only state where pre-poll and exist poll surveys were not belied and dominance of the B.J.P was no surprise. Out of 25 Lok Sabha seats the B.J.P captured 21 seats leaving a merge 4 to the Congress. Congress failed to retain the 9seats previously held by it and stalwarts like Balram Jakhar, Butta Singh and Girja Vyass had to face defeat. Sabotage within the Congress party may be a factor contributing towards the miserable show of the party. Caste combination tried by the Congress party did not work and anti-incumbency factor could not be generated. Election machinery of Congress party was practically missing and the fact that the state Govt. was headed by Vasundhara Raje Scindia gave an edge to the Bharatiya Janta party over its opponents.

Election result of Himanchal Pradesh gave a several blow to the B.J.P. where it could win only one out of the 4 parliament seats, the remaining three going to the Congress. The merger of Himachal Vikas parishad with the Congress just before the election was a big boost to the Congress party. It was estimated that the B.J.P. and the Congress will win two seats each but B.J.P. suffered major set back when its stalwart Shanta Kumar suffered defeat at the hands of much less known person Chandra Kumar. Caste factor was probably the main contributing factor for this turn over. Congress Govt. in the state being only one year old there was no anti-incumbancy factor and as such A. B. Vajpayee’s image and the schemes attributed to him proved to be insufficient to win the seats. Furthermore, the Govt. employees who form a formidable strength remembered how their protest had been crushed by the former B.J.P. Govt. led by Dhumal.

Unpredictable results were seen in Delhi where Congress won 6 seats and B.J.P. had to contend with only one seat. The Congress victory seems to be the result of good government given by Sheila Dixit. The issue of local development was at work among the voters. Slogans raised by Bhartiya Janta party candidates failed to allure the voters. Muslim vote also went for the Congress. Govt. Employees were also against the riling party. Slum dwellers were also unhappy with the lack of basic amenities in their areas. Star actress Smiriti Irani also failed because the polling percentage of women was lower than that of gents. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s strategy worked and once again the came out victorious.

Election result in Jammu and Kashmir are very much intriguing. Out of 6 Lok Sabha seats the Congress won two, the National Conference two, the people’s Democratic party one and one went to an Independent. The Bhartiya Janta party got none. All parties had their different themes. But it can be hardly believed that any them appealed to the voters or the voters were at all politically motivated. The influence of the terrorists and then intimidation by them hardly allowed free and independent franchise. It seems that while the results of Jammu and Kashmir are deeply concerned about political affairs yet they are faced with the issues of daily life. They are deeply concerned with restoration of peace in the valley and availability of their daily necessities of life. Hence it is extremely difficult to draw conclusions from the polling results.

Haryana is the state where anti-incumbency factor proved to be too strong for the ruling party, the Indian National Lok Dal headed by Om Prakash Chautala. Incidentally Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in one of his election meetings had advised the residents of Haryana not to waste their votes for regional parties and that if they were not prepared to caste their votes for B.J.P. it would be better that they if they vote for the Congress and this is exactly what they did. They gave 9 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress and one to B.J.P. with no seat for the ruling party which finished third in four constituencies and fourth in one. The anti-incumbency factor routed both the B.J.P and INLD.

Voters in Punjab are quite sensible and politically educated. They keep local and development issues in consideration and are hardly lured by false baits. Out of 13 Lok Sabha seats Shiromani Akali Dal won 8, 3 went to B.J.P and Congress had to contend with only two, one of which was won by the wife of the ruling Chief Minister. The anti-incumbency factor worked to such an extent that Congress candidate R.L. Bhatia who had been elected from his constituency six times was defeated by Navjot Sidhu who was dubbed as political novice and outsider. Dissidence and lack of alliance in Congress also contributed towards its failure whereas there was absence of internal bickering in SAD leaders and voters.

Anti-incumbency factor that influenced practically the whole of the country did not touch the seven North Eastern States of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland. Out of 24 seats from the region the Congress won 11 seats, two seats went to the Leftists. The Bhartiya Janta party and its allies won 7 seats and the Assam Gan Parisada got 2. The election results provide a ray of hope to the opposition parties to return to power in forthcoming Assembly elections. At present Congress is ruling in Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur, the B.J.P is in power in Arunachal Pradesh and is sharing power in Nagaland with Mizo National Front is ruling Mizoram.

An unprecedented condition of social forces which were lost under the neo-liberal economic regime has given an unequivocal mandate for a change and has brought the Congress to power after a decade. It is up to the new regime to follow the path of an alternate economic policy falling which may amount to betrayal of the mandate and the newly formed alliance may go to wilderness once again.

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