The ruling Congress party swept to unexpected victory in crucial Indian state elections on Monday. The party won three of five states, defying predictions of a voter backlash after the Mumbai attacks and an economic downturn.
Delhi state Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has won a third consecutive five-year term
The Congress stormed back to power in the north-eastern state of Mizoram and wrested power in Rajasthan as well as scoring a hat-trick in Delhi. The recent terrorist attack in Mumbai that its rivals had hoped would harm the electoral prospects of the Congress apparently failed to sway voters away.
For its part, the nationalist Bhatiya Janata Party, or BJP, managed to retain power by a narrow margin in Chhattisgarh and swept to victory in Madhya Pradesh.
The state’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who has ruled since 2003, thanked his voters: “The people have decided. If you carry out development work honestly, there will be benefits. The people have delivered the verdict with affection, love and blessings. I owe this victory to the people.”
The Congress admitted that it had read the situation in Madhya Pradesh wrongly. Jayanti Natrajan, the party spokesperson, said: “We expected there should be anti-incumbency against Shivraj Singh Chauhan. We expected that because of a lack of visible development we would be able to carry our message through.”
Failure to analyse Delhi properly
For their part, BJP leaders privately admitted that their analyses had gone wrong and that they had failed to derail the Congress in the manner they wanted to.
Hoping to take power following the Lok Sabha polls early next year, the party had pinned enormous hopes on Delhi, a mini India whose mood was expected to reflect the electorate of the entire country.
But despite soaring food prices in the city with millions of poor, the Congress swept back to power in the national capital with Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit winning a third consecutive five-year term.
The party also wrested the northern desert state of Rajasthan from its main rival and a strong anti-incumbency factor and aggressive campaign also helped the Congress to win the north-eastern state of Mizoram.
Delhi win “not a victory for Congress”
Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the BJP’s spokesperson, admited that Dikshit’s victory in Delhi was significant but was upbeat: “Certainly it seems that this election of Delhi is a personal victory for Sheila Dikshit. It is not a victory for the Congress. We have a charismatic leader in Arun Jaitley. We still have him for the Lok Sabha elections. So I don’t think there is any reason to get disappointed.”
The state polls were held against the backdrop of terrorist attacks and religious violence in several parts of the country.
The BJP had thought that raking up the Congress-led governments' failure to check the Mumbai terror massacre and its aggressive campaign against the arrests of Hindu activists following the September Malegaon bombings would result in good dividends. But this tactic seems to have failed.
For the Congress party, these elections are crucial. The results will reflect whether it can hope to return to power in the parliamentary election early next year, as well as how it can bargain with its alliance partners.