Dec 9, 2008

India - State Elections;Congress wins 3,BJP 2

New Delhi: The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday settled for two each out of four in the Assembly elections to the north Indian States of Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Congress won in the northeastern State of Mizoram also.

The five States went to the polls over the last three weeks, starting as early as November 14 in Chhattisgarh, but the counting was taken up only on Monday.

Though the BJP managed to retain Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh handsomely, it failed to prevent the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress from scoring an unprecedented hat-trick in Delhi.

BJP president Rajnath Singh described the Delhi loss as “surprising.” It evidently marred the party’s joy of beating back the anti-incumbency factor in the much larger Madhya Pradesh and in Chhattisgarh.

The Congress came within a whisker of winning a clinical majority on its own in Rajasthan; with at least 96 seats won in its kitty (out of 200 ) the party seemed to be poised to form a government.

In Mizoram, the Congress dislodged the Mizo National Front from power by making a clean sweep of it, winning 32 out of 40 seats.

This round of Assembly elections was being widely billed as a “semi-final” before the early-2009 Lok Sabha elections. And, since Madhya Pradesh , Rajasthan and Delhi voted in the shadow of the Mumbai terror attacks, the BJP expected to make big gains in these States.

The outcome seemed to give an indication of the electorate’s mood, one that is unreceptive to the BJP’s high-decibel campaign that sought to highlight the terrorist threat.

The Congress victory in Delhi and Rajasthan apparently checked the party’s recent string of electoral reverses; conversely, the much-felt loss in Delhi and Rajasthan is seen to have applied the brakes on the BJP’s seemingly inexorable march to the national capital.

Curiously enough, both of the BJP’s winning Chief Ministers —Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh — distanced themselves post-results from the party’s accent on the terror-and-security theme, and attributed their success instead to performance.

All the four north Indian States saw a vote for or against a strong chief ministerial mascot. If in Delhi it became a stand-off between Sheila Dikshit and V.K. Malhotra, in Chhattisgarh it came down to a choice between the soft-spoken Raman Singh and the controversial Ajit Jogi. In Rajasthan, the Congress managed to focus on Ms. Vasundhara Raje’s presumed imperious style of functioning, while in Madhya Pradesh the unassuming Shivraj Singh Chauhan turned out to be a match-winner against the Congress’ Suresh Pachauri.

Among the big winners are Ashok Gehlot and Ms. Raje in Rajasthan; Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Jamuna Devi and Ajay Singh in Madhya Pradesh; Raman Singh and Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh; Sheila Dikshit, Chaudhry Prem Singh, V.K. Malhotra and Harsh Vardhan in Delhi; and Lalthanhawla in Mizoram.

Among the big losers are Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, and Uma Bharti and her Bharatiya Jan Shakti Party in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, State Congress chief C.P. Joshi lost by one vote. In Chhattisgarh, the State presidents of both the Congress and the BJP lost their seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party made its presence felt in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Though it could win only two seats in Delhi, it got about 13 per cent of the votes. However, in no State did the party’s performance match Ms. Mayawati’s claim of being the national game-changer.

The mood in the Congress was expectedly upbeat over the hat-trick in Delhi and the defeat it could inflict on an aggressive Ms. Raje.

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