Monday, October 17, 2011

Anna effect seen in Hisar……Congress bruised everywhere

There is never any harm in accepting either a mistake when one is made or a defeat when one is so apparent. I must accept my mistake in my forecast of Hisar. And the Congress has no option but to accept that it was battered badly by the Anna effect in Hisar. It’s true that neither Hisar, not Bihar, nor Telangana were important seats for the Congress and its performance in these seats is hardly reflective of the mood against it nationally. But the Maharashtra loss must hurt it quite badly.
This much is obvious – the Congress has been bruised quite badly in Hisar. What is also clear is that the Anna factor has had a significant impact – the only question is whether the impact was direct (as a result of the campaigning against the Congress) or indirect (as a result of his two fasts and the burden of corruption that the Congress carries).
The Hisar result shows a few interesting points. Firstly, the BSP votes (BSP did not field a candidate this time) must have gone to HJC and INLD and not to the Congress. What’s surprising is that the Valmikis – the main support base of the BSP – were expected not to vote for any party this time. Since both the HJC and the INLD have grown, one must assume that the BSP supporters voted and in fact preferred to vote against the Congress. The second point is that in spite of one lesser party in the fray this time, the Congress’s absolute vote count fell by 55,000 while both the HJC and the INLD grew by more than a lac each. If the BSP’s absence had had a uniform impact on all other parties, the Congress also should have grown. This shows that the Congress has been singled out for punishment. The third point is that the BJP continues to be a non-entity in Hisar. The BJP switched sides from INLD to HJC this time around – but the gap between the top two parties narrowed from 7000 to 6000 odd. In fact, the BJP must have had a negative impact on the HJC because the HJC was expected to grow strongly this time because of the sympathy wave in favor of the party after patriarch Bhajan Lal’s death. But in fact, the lead over the INLD has come down. This has to be the impact of the BJP. If the BJP had been a factor in Hisar, its switch should have increased the gap, not narrowed it down. And fourthly, caste factors were important in these elections also. Clearly, the Jats have stuck to INLD and not gone over to the Congress as was expected by some. Caste is paramount even now in this state.
It’s obvious the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in Hisar. Agreed, the seat was never important to the Congress; but the margin of defeat must have stunned it. In my mind, the only major contributing factor to this huge defeat is the Anna factor. I’m not sure if it was the recent campaigning done by Team Anna against the Congress. The real impact has been the perception of the Congress as being a more corrupt party than any other – and this is clearly the result of the larger Anna campaign of fasts against it. Hisar is next door to Delhi and the impact of the Anna fasts was felt quite strongly in Haryana. The Congress must worry that if this is indeed indicative of a trend, then it will have to move quickly on neutralizing the challenge posed by Anna. The only way to do that will be by working honestly on a strong Lokpal Bill. The move to make it a Constitutional Body is a good one…..but it must be backed up with strong laws as well. Fortunately for the Congress, there is some sort of a thaw developing between Anna and the party with Rahul Gandhi expected to visit Ralegan Siddhi shortly. For some reason, Anna seems to have faith in Rahul – now it’s for the Congress crown prince to turn on the magic – or watch the party go into a downward decline.
The Telengana result only shows the impact of the current Telengana movement. The candidate who won – Srinivas Reddy – was the winner in 2009 also. However at that time, he was the candidate of the TDP party. After quitting the TDP on the issue of Telengana, he joined the TRS. This time, he beat the Congress since the TDP did not field any candidate. The fact that he won again shows two things. That the Telangana issue is paramount even in this part of AP (this is one place where the population of non-Telanganites is pretty high). And two that people of Telangana are willing to support candidates who switch sides to support the demands of its people. This should fuel even more nervousness in the political parties in AP. In my own view – the bypoll results could swing the mood of the Center in favor of Telangana. The Congress’s grand strategy will be to grant statehood to Telangana but to make TRS an ally in the new state.
In Bihar again, the results are unimportant for the Congress. The fight was a straight fight between the JD(U) and the RJD. The BJP itself is a minor player in this state. Clearly, Nitesh Kumar has been given a thumbs up yet again by the people. But one must remember that the bypoll was happening as a result of the death of a JD(U) leader Jagmato Dev and it was his daughter-in-law who stood on the JD(U) ticket. The sympathy factor must also have been a factor to go in the JD(U)’s favor.
It is in Maharashtra that the Congress will feel the most pain. Khadakwasla was expected to go the NCP way; but the BJP-Shivsena-RPI alliance has proved stronger. To be honest, the loss is more a commentary on the NCP than the Congress. But as allies, both parties will have to suffer the defeat together. Interestingly, it was the death of an MNS legislator which necessitated this bypoll. And the wife of the deceased contested on the NCP ticket this time. Clearly, there was no sympathy factor working for her. This is either an indication of either the disillusionment of the people with the MNS or a lack of confidence in the NCP; either way, the BJP-Shivsena has benefitted.
The four results taken together however prove the point that I made in my post a few days back If the General Elections happened today….” (September 28, 2011). The Congress lost all four seats today. Yet, the BJP did not win even one on its own. Besides, the Hisar victory is hardly the BJP’s victory at all. The party has a negligible presence in that state. The Telangana region also does not even have a presence of the BJP. The Bihar victory is clearly the JD(U)’s victory – where it is the dominant party and where Nitesh Kumar’s performance is helping the combine. It’s only the Maharashtra victory that the BJP can claim some success for. In Maharashtra, the BJP-Shivsena alliance is an alliance of equal partners. The results of the bypolls show that when the Congress loses, the seats of the regional parties go up (HJC, JD(U), TRS); not the seats of the BJP. But when the BJP loses (like it will in Karnataka…..maybe also in MP, Chhatisgarh, Uttarakhand), the direct beneficiary will be the Congress. This Congress benefits because it is the only truly national party with representation all over India. This must be the only consolation for the Congress after yesterday’s poll results.

The real truth is that the Congress has been given a strong warning signal. I’ve always said that the voice of the people – as expressed in elections – is the only thing that counts in a democracy. If that’s true, then the Congress had better wake up…..

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