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Analysis: Advantage Congress, BJP shell-shocked

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | December 08, 2008 13:15 IST
Last Updated: December 08, 2008 16:25 IST

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Coverage: Assembly Elections 2008
At 11.15 am on Monday no senior leader was available at the Bharatiya Janata Party's national headquarters on New Delhi's [Images] Ashoka Road. That speaks volumes for the shell-shocked party.

The results are out and the Congress has won handsomely.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit deserves a salute for winning an election for a third time on a development plank. Her victory is so impressive in the face of the adversity she has faced, that she has surely elevated herself in national politics.

The BJP has not only lost, but its entire stance on terrorism stands exposed. It will need many chintan baithaks (seminars) for party leaders to discover why the voters did not buy their serious and quite justifiable allegation of the Congress party being soft on terror.

In New Delhi, BJP workers are stunned and floored by the Congress's fitting reply to their propaganda on terrorism. The issue of terrorism has cut both ways, and the BJP is bleeding.

A senior member of the BJP national executive told, "The Congress has not just got breathing space, but a huge supply of oxygen by winning New Delhi and Rajasthan. I think the voters of India have shown maturity."

New Delhi went to the polls just three days after the Mumbai terrorist attacks and Rajasthan voted eight days later, but the electorate showed extraordinary maturity by de-linking the issue of terrorism from the state elections.

Local issues have prevailed in these elections; it has once again been proven that Indian voters want their leaders to address the issues of sadak, pani, bijli (roads, water, electricity) and education as much as national security.

One charitable explanation on the BJP's behalf could be that the voters think the issue of terrorism is a central subject and state assembly elections are for the basic issues of good governance. The huge polling percentage seen in Jammu and Kashmir [Images] is also part of the same mood of the Indian electorate.

The impact of the Mumbai terror attacks [Images] is so overwhelming that it has subsumed the reputation of both the Congress and the BJP. The people understand that both parties have a poor track record in national security. Both parties also indulge in petty politics over terrorism. The Congress is weak in taking tough decisions and the BJP is confused in its thinking; the latter party often appeared eager to cash in on the tragedy.

The attacks have sent the message clearly to the BJP that its exploitation of terrorism will not get the party votes, unconditionally.

The voting pattern in New Delhi and Rajasthan suggests that on the issue of terrorism the voters have put the Congress and BJP in the same bracket and have voted decisively on other issues.

If Sheila Dixit and the Congress won seats in the posh South Delhi area (barring BJP chief ministerial candidate V K Malhotra's seat in Greater Kailash) it means the voters have not voted against the Congress for being soft on terror nor have they voted for the BJP on the terrorism issue.

It is interesting to note that even the arrest of sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit in the Malegaon blast case has not helped the BJP in any way in Rajasthan and New Delhi. If it helped the party in Madhya Pradesh [Images], it is merely one of the issues that helped the BJP win that state.

BJP leaders accept that if a pro-Hindu or anti-Muslim factor had been dominant after the Mumbai attacks, then Rajasthan would have surely stayed with the BJP.

The profile of middle-class Hindu voters in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are similar, and the entire belt would have voted in identical fashion had the Hindutva issue been on voters' minds.

BJP workers are livid that they lost Delhi in spite of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images] campaigning for the party and the deployment of an army of volunteers from Bihar and Gujarat. They claim that reckless distribution of tickets to unworthy candidates and a spent force like Vijay Kumar Malhotra as its leader sunk the party. In Rajasthan, they blame the caste factor, former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh's no-cooperation, and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's maharani-like behaviour with party workers.

Raje's haughty behaviour is said to have prevented the party from going to battle in a coherent manner. As a result, there were 65 party rebels in the fray. The rebels and Jat voters in Rajasthan damaged Raje's prospects of re-election.

Meanwhile, the Congress is back on its feet; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] will gain most from this unexpected victory. He will now have the space and time to decide India's response to Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks. There will be little direct party pressure on him, and that will give him enough area to manoeuvre and implement his kind of diplomacy as a response to the Mumbai attacks.

Elections are all about seizing the psychological advantage in a war of nerves. Winning or losing is just the one part of a big story. The Congress has miraculously survived the debate on terrorism to fight the next battle.

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