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Saturday, October 16, 2004


Major defeat for BJP

Just months after a stunning defeat in the general election the BJP has suffered another body blow. The party's alliance with the Shiv Sena suffered a major defeat in the important state of Maharashtra. The incumbent Congress-NCP alliance barely fell short of a simple majority. The final results show out of 288 assembly seats contested the Congress-NCP combine have won 140 (145 needed for a majority) and the BJP-Shiv Sena combine secured 118 seats. The Congress alliance shouldn't have a problem conjuring up support to form the next government.

The BJP's defeat is noteworthy on many fronts. After the national debacle in May when the Congress shocked them in the parliamentary elections the BJP badly needed a morale booster. Maharashtra was one state where they had a good chance of regaining some political momentum by defeating the incumbents. The anti-incumbency factor that dominates polity in India had the Congress alliance worried as well. A victory for the BJP would have stopped the bleeding and given hope for a revival. That hope is now lost. The BJP entrusted the emerging leadership of its party to work these elections. They have failed. With the older leadership on the way out this signals a strategy vacuum in the BJP. The BJP's national status has thus taken a beating.

At the state level this verdict displays a level of political saturation for the BJP and its chief ally the Shiv Sena. The alliance's "Hindutva" calling failed to deliver. The religious and regional exclusivity that the alliance covertly pushed on the electorate was rebuffed. The inability of the BJP alliance to motivate people on issues of development against a not so popular incumbent shows a paucity of real policy thinkers within the party. If I were the BJP leadership I would find that alarming.

The Congress alliance must not see this as an overwhelming mandate. They must proceed in a sincere spirit of cooperation with all sides and fix the mistakes they made in their last term. They have a great opportunity on their hands and one would hope that they can move beyond infighting and achieve something for the people of the state.

Sonia Gandhi's leadership is now being commended by the BJP too. That says something. She has clearly emerged as a national leader. Her giving up the post of the Prime Minister and instead working for the party is paying dividends. The Congress is slowly but surely emerging after a decade or so of political oblivion. They must, however, not become complacent. Something very difficult in politics.

This victory gives the Manmohan Singh government a much needed shot in the arm. With the BJP, their chief opposition, somewhat on the ropes they may have an easier time getting things done. The hope is that they do the right things. All in all a momentous day for Indian politics as this result signals the start of an interesting chapter in the polity of the nation.


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