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More Congress, less UPA

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Manmohan Singh ready for second term; Advani quits; Mulayam out in the cold.

The Congress beat all forecasts and won a resounding victory in the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha, bagging as many as 206 seats, a sharp rise from 145 in the 14th Lok Sabha. This is the first time since 1984 that any party has won over 200 seats in an election. That year, the Congress had won 404 seats in the 543-member house, after a wave of sympathy swept the country following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her bodyguards.

The Congress defeated the Left in Kerala and West Bengal (with Trinamool Congress), held on to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and swept away states like Rajasthan (20 out of 25 seats), Delhi (seven out of seven seats), Jammu and Kashmir (five out of six seats with ally National Conference) and Uttarakhand (five out of five seats). After many years, it won a respectable 21 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Till reports last came in, the Congress had got 28.99 per cent of the votes polled in the recent elections, up from 26.53 per cent in 2004. The gains were at the cost of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which saw its share drop from 22.16 per cent in 2004 to 19.06 per cent in 2009.

The party, ecstatic at its victory, was quick to announce that Manmohan Singh, 76, will continue as the country’s prime minister. After Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Singh will be the third Congressman to serve as the country’s prime minister for two consecutive terms. Congress President Sonia Gandhi credited Singh for the victory. She stepped back at a press conference at her residence in the evening to make way for Singh. In his turn, Singh announced that he will try to induct Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi in the Cabinet. Rahul Gandhi, who had suggested that the Congress should go solo in Uttar Pradesh and engineered the alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, chose to spend the day in his constituency, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, with his sister Priyanka.

The large numbers will reduce the Congress’ dependence on its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies for survival. Worst hit were Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). Their strength went down from 66 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha to just 27 seats this time. Their tough posturing in the run-up to the polls could hurt their prospects when the new government is formed and Cabinet berths are allotted. Still, Lalu Prasad, it is learnt, has been invited to join the government. Only the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) improved its tally to 18 from 16 in 2004.

All told, UPA and its Fourth Front allies (Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Nationalist Congress Party, Trinamool Congress, SP, RJD, DMK and LJP) won 285 seats — 13 more than the majority mark in the house. A large proportion (70 per cent) of these seats was won by the Congress.

As a result, said Congress sources, the party would retain the key portfolios of defence, finance, external affairs and home. Pranab Mukherjee may continue as the finance minister and P Chidambaram as the home minister in the next government.

A resurgent Congress will take back some important portfolios that were last time given to the allies. As a reward for wresting West Bengal from the Left, Mamata Banerjee is sure to bag a senior Cabinet rank.

The cabinet is expected to have a bevy of young faces. Apart from Rahul Gandhi, the other names that were doing the rounds included Supriya Sule of NCP, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners managed to win only 161 seats, down 28 from the last term. A dejected Lal Krishna Advani, the NDA candidate for the prime minister’s job, offered to step down as the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. The position is likely to be taken by Rajnath Singh or Sushma Swaraj, both of whom won in the elections. BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley said Advani would “continue to guide the party.” Political observers said it is now up to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to revive BJP’s fortunes.

The tally of the Left parties plummeted from 60 to 24. This was the first time that Prakash Karat, the secretary general of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the largest Left outfit in the country, had led the party in a general election. The Left parties, which played a major role in the government’s functioning during the initial four-and-a-half years of UPA rule, will now watch the Congress run the country from the sidelines. “CPI (M) and the Left have suffered a setback in these elections. This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party’s poor performance,” Karat said. The Third Front, spearheaded by the Left, was able to get more than 75 seats but has become politically irrelevant, as UPA can reach the magic figure of 272 without its help.

With the Left and BJP in the opposition benches, Singh and his team will now have the benefit of a fractured opposition in the house — the two don’t see eye to eye on most issues.

The strong showing will help the Congress pursue its own agenda of economic reforms, senior party leaders told Business Standard privately. “The Congress will be less dependent on allies and can therefore assert itself more,” said a top-ranking Congress leader. Most important, the Congress will not require the help of the Left in running the next government. The Left had blocked pension and insurance reforms and had withdrawn support to the Congress over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.

The 2009 election results showed that voters finally came of age and voted in favour of those state governments which provided good governance. Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Tripura and Gujarat, which are perceived to be run by able governments, voted in favour of the incumbent. The exceptions were Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where voters favoured the opposition parties. In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had swept the last assembly polls on her plank of social engineering, suffered a huge setback and Mayawati’s dream of becoming the next prime minister was shattered.

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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 00:02 IST