I can understand the UPA hasn’t been able to take advantage of the state elections held recently. Yes, the Congress was expecting a lot from UP and if it had done well there, it would have become stronger in Delhi. Likewise, if it had won Punjab, it would have been a strong push back to its opponents. But that didn’t happen and the Congress didn’t become stronger. But why should the UPA be considered weaker now than before the elections? Unless of course, “not becoming stronger” is taken to be the same as “becoming weak”!
The strength of a political party is contextual and comparative. The context at this point in time is that the state elections took place after a tumultuous period of more than 18 months for the Congress. During this period, various so called scams were unearthed. I say “so called” because the scams were vastly exaggerated and sensationalized by the CAG and media. For eg., the CWG scam that started it all off was called a Rs 70,000 crore scam. Really? What has Kalmadi been charged for even now…..so many months after the scam erupted? A Rs 200 crore rupee TSR order. How much could he have swindled in this order? 20%? 50% even? How much does that make it? The 2G scam soon followed with the CAG putting a highly sensationalized figure of Rs 1.76 lac crore. Now this is more of a political scam than a financial one. Should the Congress have allowed Raja to continue with the FCFS scheme? The SC has blasted the FCFS scheme – although I feel that is unfair. I am happy that the Center is challenging the SC’s order on FCFS in a review bench. But the indictment of FCFS is egg on both the Congress’s and the BJP’s faces. Then the Antrix scam, which according to the CAG was a Rs 2 lac crore scam. But a better understanding of the subject has now revealed that for the CAG to compare the S-band spectrum with 3G spectrum is downright childish and stupid. But for the CAG, big numbers have been its claim to fame. Somewhere down the line, I feel the CAG forgot where to put the decimal point at the right place! Be that as it may, the Congress failed to defend itself. It acted too slowly; and it put out the wrong people to build its defence (Kapil Sibal for one). One also has to keep the huge Anna movement that targeted the Congress singularly. One would have thought that the Congress would actually lose seats in these elections….
Given this context, the fact that the Congress actually gained 24 MLAs in the state elections must be seen as almost “heartening” by the party. Of course, it could have been a much better number – that’s what everyone was expecting it to be, but even if that didn’t happen, the fact that the Congress actually gained itself is a positive for the party.
The other way to assess the situation is to look at it in a comparative way. The arch rival of the Congress, the BJP, has actually lost 8 MLAs in the recent round. How did this happen? What happened to all the support they extended to Anna opportunistically? Did the fact that they stabbed Anna in the back (by doing a volte face on the Lok Ayukta clause) hurt them politically? Whatever the reasons, the BJP has emerged only weaker now than before. Even their so called win in Punjab is actually a win of the Akali Dal. The BJP itself lost one third of its seat in the state. For the party now to attack the Congress and the UPA and say that it has become “weaker” is a bit of a travesty of intelligence, logic and facts.
There are various things that are now supposed to become “worse” for the UPA. The first is the President’s election. People who have been overcome by the supposedly poor performance of the Congress have made us all believe that the UPA’s strength has been “eroded”. Really? Like I mentioned, the Congress’s own strength has increased by 24 MLAs. Its count of MPs hasn’t changed. If anything, the Rajya Sabha strength could go up a bit thanks to its slightly better MLA strength. Either way, its number hasn’t reduced. The Congress had about 30% strength in the Electoral College for electing the President; with its allies, that number was 40%. That hasn’t changed one bit after the elections. So why are we discussing the impact of the election results on the Presidential elections at all?
What about the opposition’s numbers? Clearly, the BJP’s strength has come down (marginally). The NDA also has managed no better. Yes, the BJP won Goa, but it lost Uttarakhand. Yes, the NDA won Punjab, but their MLA-count remained intact. There has been absolutely no improvement for the NDA at all. If anything, there has only been a slight drop in its strength.
The real change that has come about has been between the two regional parties in UP. The SP has turned the tables on the BSP. Now is this good or bad for the UPA? Of course it is good. The SP went to the polls in UP stating loudly and clearly that it will continue to support the Congress (even when the Congress kept denying the possibility). It did this all through its campaigning. Even after the last phase of polls, and before the results were out, the party stated that it would continue supporting the Congress at the Center. Will it now pull out support? No way. Will it exert more pressure on the UPA? Of course it will! But can the SP ever align with the BJP? No chance! The SP courted near-death by bringing in Kalyan Singh, a poster boy of Hindu policies of the BJP. It has learnt its lessons. Now it won’t touch the BJP with a bargepole! Would BSP have aligned with the BJP if it had had to? Yes it would have like it had done in the past. The BSP cares only for the dalits, and they don’t mind making an alliance with a Hindu party that caters primarily to Brahmins. So if the BSP weakens, who loses? The NDA!
The ideal situation for the Congress would of course have been if the SP hadn’t emerged so strong. And if it itself had come out stronger. Ideally, SP at 170 and Congress at 50 would have been better. Since this didn’t happen, there is disappointment. There is disappointment that things did not improve for the UPA. But that does not mean that the UPA has become weaker!
What happens to reforms now? Well, nothing has changed really. What could have become better, probably won’t. The SP will continue supporting the Congress – now with larger numbers (in the RS soon). However, the SP will not support FDI in retail; it won’t support the Lokpal; What however gives me hope is the statements that Akhilesh Yadav has made since winning the elections. He has been modest in his victory; has taken the first baby steps in controlling the post-results violence; importantly he has spoken kindly of Rahul (he worked very hard; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose etc). I think this augurs well for the UPA in a very general sort of way. The SP will not create problems for the Congress. The SP will keep the BJP at bay. Will that help reforms? It’s entirely possible as two young people (Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi) may find it much easier to tango than either Akhilesh and Nitin Gadkari or Mayawati and Gadkari or Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi could have. To that extent, SP’s win adds strength to the UPA.
The real truth is that the UPA has not become weaker by even one ounce. Yes, it hasn’t become stronger. So yes, the policy paralysis may continue. The ability to take tough decisions will be impacted. There will be more populism. Also, the Congress will have to mend its ways. It will have to become more “democratic” in handling its allies. But none of this means that the alliance has become weaker. For the life of me, I cannot understand why media has gone into such frenzy…..