A New Wave of Uncertainty: Key State Elections and their Aftermath
March 15, 2012
By Preeti Singh
Despite coming to power at the Centre with a convincing majority in 2009, the Congress-led UPA government is facing more than a crisis of governance. Following massive electoral setbacks in the recently-concluded elections, the UPA is struggling to come to terms with opposition from usual political friends and foes alike. With a stormy start to the current parliamentary session, and the presentation of the Union Budget a day away, what does the Indian political landscape look like?
There seems to be no end to the Congress-led UPA government’s woes. Recent elections in five states saw the Congress Party face its heaviest losses yet. Leading the pack was the largest and most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh (UP), where the party failed to make a much-hyped dent in the rising fortunes of regional parties. Projected to win 100 seats in a state that elects 403 legislators, the UPA failed miserably with a total of only 28.
Resting almost solely on the apparent political star power of the Gandhi family – and Rahul Gandhi specifically – Congress seems to be out of sync with the aspirations of a changing India. Public and political concerns – corruption, arrogance, and the failure to deliver on development promises – could well be cited as the reasons that the Congress Party finds itself frozen at a juncture from where it can neither go forward nor retreat.
Source: Mint News
In other states, the BJP wrested Goa, while in Uttarakhand the Congress inched ahead by one seat. Yet despite an initial victory in Uttarakhand, within hours of forming the government a revolt in the Congress’s ranks split the party in half and thrust the state into fresh uncertainty. The situation in Uttarakhand mirrors the larger discontent within a party that is finding it hard to come to terms with the changing landscape of support and opposition for the party itself. In addition, the Congress lost to the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) combined party in Punjab – a result that shocked even seasoned political pundits – as the state’s electorate voted a sitting government back to power for the very first time. The Congress’s victory – giving its government a third straight term – in the northeastern state of Manipur was the one of the only rays of hope.
Ultimately March’s elections seem to be a verdict on the Congress’ own mismanagement at the Centre, rather than a clear comment on the abilities of the victors in each state. The UPA’s impressive and substantial return to power in 2009 now stands neutralised in the face of the growing public discontent. It remains to be seen how the elections will impact Delhi’s ability to take tough policy decisions or push key policy reforms, but most experts believe there will be little movement on the difficult issues given the weakened condition of Congress-led UPA Government.
The Rise of Regional Parties
In recent months, regional parties, especially the Congress’s allies at the Centre – significantly among them Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) – have begun to distance themselves from the UPA’s decisions. Whether it is opposition to the proposed National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) or the issue of cutting fuel subsidies, the Congress has found itself routinely cornered by its allies joining cause with the Opposition. In a significant embarrassment to the Centre, the TMC went as far as to propose an amendment to the President’s joint address to Parliament, asking for the deletion of the reference to the now-controversial NCTC, though it was rejected.
Regional parties are already in power in at least half a dozen states, including Bihar and Tamil Nadu. There has even been much hype around the possibility of an emerging ‘Third Front’ – with a motley crew of parties in power because they are not the “Big Two” – the Congress and the BJP – both of which are struggling to fill a crippling leadership void. Though past experiments to create a viable alternative to the Big Two have been stormy and short-lived, regional parties can still wield significant power, particularly when they join together in common cause.
Further Implications of the Election
An SP-Congress coalition in UP was widely touted as the Congress’s way out – one that could have reduced its dependence on volatile allies like Mamata Banerjee, to vote on much-needed economic reforms. That possibility is remote now, though the SP might selectively provide issue-based support to the UPA’s economic reforms agenda. With the Congress under attack on various fronts, it remains to be seen whether the Finance Minister can find a way to offset the apparent dwindling support for government reforms. More realistically, it seems that the UPA’s flagship, but highly unpopular, reforms like FDI in multi-brand retail and the deregulation of diesel prices will have to be postponed if it is to see the budget session through to its end.
* Preeti Singh is an Editor at 9.9 Media