Publikation International / Transnational - Asien Indian Election Results: Triumph for the Congress, Tragedy for the Left

Analysis of the results of the general elections in India in April/May 2009. By Prof. Subhoranjan Dasgupta, local coordinator of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Kolkata

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Mai 2009

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Almost everyone among political analysts and forecasters had predicted that the Congress would emerge as the single largest party with BJP coming a very close second. Almost everyone had predicted that the post-election scenario would be extremely confusing because a hung parliament would be the obvious outcome, which would provoke the two contending power groups, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), to fish for allies and supporters in the muddy waters of Indian realpolitik.

Well, the analysts have been proved wrong. It is true that the Congress has emerged as the single largest party but its really impressive tally of 203 has given it a decisive victory over the BJP which could secure only 117 seats. In short, BJP has not emerged as the close second. Moreover, the triumphant UPA as a political bloc has secured 258 seats as against the NDA’s 160 in a parliament whose total number of seats is 543. In other words, in order to form the government the Congress would need the support of just 14 to 15 more members of parliament. Procuring this limited support would not be at all difficult.

Already, political analysts are equating ‘hand’, which is the Congress symbol, with the ‘hand of India’ and correctly suggesting that this time the Congress, because of its decisive majority, would be in a position to govern in a much more independent and convincing manner. That is, the Left in particular would not be around to question, criticize and stall the moves Congress would like to take. This freedom to formulate policies and implement them is the greatest advantage or benefit that the Congress has attained from this election. It had fondly hoped that it would not have to depend on the Left’s support to form the government, and its hope has been realized. Obviously, this means that the Left has lost its political clout substantially at the Centre.

The crucial question is how could the Congress manage to register such a splendid success. Let us try to list the reasons one by one.

1) There was no overarching electoral issue this time. The Congress had governed reasonably well and therefore the logic of anti-incumbency did not play any role in this election. The voters genuinely thought that the Congress deserved another chance on the basis of its last performance.

2) In the absence of any overarching political issue, the main contender BJP concentrated its attack on the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It labeled Manmohan Singh as the ‘weakest Prime Minister’ who was solely directed by Sonia Gandhi. This viciously ‘personal’ campaign did not pay off. In fact, the more BJP harped on this theme, the more the voters thought that Manmohan Singh is a decent and effective Prime Minister who is acting in close concert with Sonia Gandhi but is not being directed by the latter. Indeed, the country was impressed by the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh duet. While the educated and decent Manmohan Singh appealed to the urban middle class and upper middle class voters, Sonia Gandhi attended to the vast common population with a string of social welfare measures. What distinguished them was their sincere and dedicated approach. In sharp contrast, BJP leaders opposing the Congress failed on both the sincerity and dedicated benchmarks. As a political commentator said, “The BJP offered no new ideas or vision that could compete with the UPA’s promise of development, stability and inclusive politics.”

3) The allies of the Congress like DMK in Tamilnadu and Trinamul Congress in West Bengal emerged victorious and this added substantially to the kitty of the UPA. The DMK, for example, won 18 seats and the Trinamul 19. In short, the Congress received good support from its allies.

4) Rahul Gandhi played a crucial role as the star campaigner of the Congress and was instrumental for the remarkable revival of Congress in the key state of Uttar Pradesh. Compared to the nine seats that the Congress had won last time, on this occasion it won 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh in a closely fought four-cornered contest. Indeed, by winning 20 seats in Rajasthan, 21 in Uttar Pradesh, 12 in Madhya Pradesh and by sweeping the polls in Haryana, the Congress has announced its resurgent comeback in the Hindu heartland.

5) Not only in the Hindi heartland, the nature of Congress’s victory has proved beyond doubt that Congress is a truly pan-Indian party whose influence extends from the remote North East to Maharashstra in the west, and from Punjab in the north to Kerala in the south. It is this truly pan-Indian character that has urged commentators to describe it as a ‘national’ party in the real sense of the term. The voters this time have chosen this liberal, national party which embodies the idea of India as opposed to the ideas and ideologies of caste and religion. Stressing the importance of this overarching aspect, the distinguished political commentator Manini Chatterjee has observed, “The idea of India – a vibrant, secular, plural, resurgent nation that can transcend its myriad differences and complexities to reaffirm an essential unity of purpose – received a resounding victory as the world’s largest electorate shed the politics of extremes and delivered a decisive mandate to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.” I think that this is one of the best comments on the outcome of the recent election.

Tragedy for the Left

From 62 members of Parliament to barely 24 now, this election can be regarded as a tragedy for the Left. The Left Front has secured only 15 seats in West Bengal and 4 in Kerala, two states which are considered to be Left strongholds. In Kerala where the Left is in power, anti-incumbency played quite some role in bringing down the Left to just 4 seats. Moreover, strong inner party differences and factionalism within the CPI (M) also prevented the Left from putting up a really cohesive and united front in Kerala.

What was however even more shocking was the Left’s clear retreat in West Bengal. Analysts had predicted that the resurgent Trinamul Congress plus Congress combine and the Left would win more or less equal number of seats but that did not happen. Why did this debacle take place? Here are the reasons :

(1) The Congress and the Trinamul Congress welded and put up a United Front this time against the Left. Hence the anti-Left vote did not get divided between the two, that is the Congress and the Trinamul. And this united opposition secured much more votes than the Left in many constituencies.

(2) The happenings at Nandigram influenced the voters’ reaction considerably. The voters did not forget the fact that the police firing at Nandigram had caused the death of 13 villagers. In fact, the fierce dispute centering the takeover of arable land for industrialization alienated thousands of farmer-voters in the rural regions.

(3) Many would say that the voters in West Bengal were looking forward to a change after 32 long years of uninterrupted success of the Left Front. The word ‘change’ or ‘parivartan’ (in Bengali) was used and proposed by many during the election campaign. The feeling gained ground that “we have had enough of the Left Front for a long time, now let us opt for a ‘change’ ”.

(4) The remarkable success of the Congress in the country as such also helped to marginalize the Left in West Bengal. As the analyst Asish Chakravorty has observed, “The favourable Congress wind from the rest of India met and merged with the wind rising in the Bay of Bengal, turning it into a fierce gale that swept the CPI(M) of the ground.”

The success of the Congress and Trinamul Congress will have a far-reaching impact on the future politics of West Bengal. State elections are due two years later, in 2011, and this period of remaining two years will be utilized to the hilt by both the contending power blocs to consolidate their position. This could lead to intermittent outbreaks of violence. The leader of the rejuvenated Trinamul Congress, Mamata Banerji, has only one dream – unseat the Left in West Bengal and install the Trinamul in power. She might use her newly-acquired importance and influence at the Centre to press for an early election in West Bengal, that is even before 2011. The reason that she could cite to bolster her claim is “the recently concluded election has proved that the Left has lost the confidence of the people, hence a new state election is imperative”. But one sincerely doubts if the Congress in power at the Centre will succumb to this pressure, which goes against the principles of federal democracy, if at all it is applied by Mamata Banerji. The moot point is, no matter when the state election takes place, West Bengal will pass through a restless, exciting and inflammable phase in the coming months.

West Bengal

Left Front              -   15 seats

Congress               -    6 seats

Trinamul Congress  -   19 seats

Congress and Trinamul together have won 25 seats.