New Delhi : It was a day of grand wins and bruising defeats. As counting ended Tuesday for elections in five states, the Samajwadi Party (SP) surged back to power in Uttar Pradesh and the Akali Dal broke a four-decade jinx to win another term in Punjab, leaving India’s ruling Congress battered and the main opposition BJP counting its losses.
Two ruling parties ousted, two holding on to power despite the odds and neck-and-neck in a fifth state – the electoral pastiche following the February-March polls in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa proved that the voter, weary of corruption and inflation, refused to be dazzled by either promises or star value and used only hard pragmatism in exercising choice.
The biggest popularity test since the 2009 general elections had also seen record turnouts.
India’s most populous state voted out Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and voted in Mulayam Singh Yadav and his SP for a fourth term in office with a triumphant mandate of over 220 seats in the 403-member house.
The Congress, which tied up with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), trailed a sorry fourth with a combined tally of 36 seats. The BJP came up third with an estimated 48 seats.
Punjab went back to the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine, the first time in more than 40 years that a party got a second consecutive term, with 68 seats against the Congress’ 46 in the 117-member house.
In Manipur, it was the Congress which overcame anti-incumbency to sweep the polls.
However, the Congress government in Goa prepared to make way for BJP rule.
It was a close fight in Uttarakhand with the Congress and the BJP locked in a close contest till evening with no clear winner in the 70-member assembly.
As pundits and voters alike tried to make sense of the scenario, all were agreed that this electoral battle had left the Congress badly bruised and the famed Gandhi charisma in serious question. The only silver lining for the party was Manipur, where its chief minister O. Idobi Singh held on to power for a third time.
Attention swivelled to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, son of party president Sonia Gandhi, who had addressed over 200 rallies in Uttar Pradesh. Notwithstanding the star attraction or the crowds, the Congress won barely 27 of 403 seats — marginally more than the 22 in 2007.
Prince Charming’s charm failed, said a sceptic, pointing to the Congress rout in Rae Bareli, represented by Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha, where it lost all five assembly seats. Sister Priyanka Gandhi, her husband and even her children had campaigned in what is known as the pocket borough of the Gandhis.
The party sprung to chief campaigner Rahul’s defence but the man himself accepted responsibility for the debacle.
“I fought, so it is my responsibility,” he said. “Organisationally we are not where we should be… The Congress fundamentals were weak. Until we set that right, that weakness will not go away.”
Other party leaders admitted they were stunned.
“The UP results are deeply disappointing,” said Law Minister Salman Khurshid, whose wife Louise was defeated in Farrukhabad.
The BJP put up a brave face.
“It’s a mixed bag for BJP,” its leader Sushma Swaraj said, adding that the party had won Punjab, Goa and expected to bag Uttarakhand too.