Red Fortress Crumbles, Congress Too Dwindles
The election results in four state assemblies and one Union Territory are, though, a mixed bag, a close scrutiny divulges that the result made leftists bite the dust, as they lost both the states—West Bengal and Kerala—where they were in power. However, the outcome of West Bengal, in particular, is a severe jolt to the Leftists, since ‘Mamta Express’ derailed ‘Leftist Passenger’ completely, as the latter chugging its way, although through ‘scientific rigging’ for the last 34 years, pushing the state in abysmal depth of poverty and backwardness. No wonder that the map of West Bengal has turned green with intermittent patches of red as the Mamata-led Trinamool Congress (TC) swept to power bulldozing the CPM fort with a spectacular success rate. The party, which fielded candidates in 227 of the 294 constituencies, bagged 184 seats with a success rate of 81.05 per cent. In the 2006 assembly election, TC had managed to win only 30 seats with a vote percentage of 26.64. In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa stormed back to power for a third substantive term as Chief Minister as the AIADMK and its allies surpassed the 200-seat mark in the 234-member Assembly, decimating the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance. In a ding-dong battle in Kerala, the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) pipped the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) by just four seats. The Congress bucked anti-incumbency to retain Assam. However, in Puducherry, the breakaway NR Congress led by N Rangasamy cocked a snooke at the parent Congress party. In a 30-member House, the NR Congress-AlADMK alliance bagged 21 seats, while the DMK-Congress’ tally stood at nine. In Andhra Pradesh, another breakaway group of the Congress, the YSR Congress formed by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, has thrashed the ruling party by the enormous margins of its victory in the by-elections to the Kadapa Lok Sabha and Pulivendula Assembly constituencies. The rise of the YSR Congress threatens to destabilise the demoralised Congress regime in South India’s largest state.
As the Assembly election results poured in on last fortnight, it was woman power unsheathed: Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu swept into office on the back of humongous victories that surpassed the wildest pre-election calculations. Here it is worth mentioning that Mamta, unlike Jayalalithaa, did not have a godfather in politics and she rose to the present level by her sheer resolve, grit and charisma, starting from a scratch. Yet she had the guts to bite the bullet by throwing a gauntlet to Leftists and gave a final shove to the incrementally eroded Left fortress in Bengal, ending its record 34-year run in power. The support she now has can no longer be attributed to just the negative vote against the Left. That may have been the case for a long time in her political career. But her huge victory this time suggests that, apart from wanting the CPM to go, the people also have great expectations from her. Many of these expectations are about undoing things that made the people so angry with the CPM and so despairing of Bengal under it. Before she does anything to bring industries to Bengal, create jobs or dismantle the unconstitutional and illegal power structures created by the CPM, the people would like her to end the tyrannical “party society” that had its stranglehold on every aspect of the common people’s lives everywhere in West Bengal. The breaking of the party society would make the people breathe more freely, especially in the villages. There is a question staring the Leftists, whether they have been humbled by the defeat. The reason being that the inordinate influence they exercised in national politics and policy-making drew specifically from its substantial hold in West Bengal. In this backdrop, the Left Front must understand the loudest, Pan-Bengal accusation against it: arrogance, as the party-first culture crippled many things—economy, health services, the police and the administration. But its most damaging assault was on education which, under the long Left rule, became a matter of petty, sectarian politics that turned teachers’ bodies—in schools, colleges and universities—into communists’ “work units” or “propaganda teams”. Jayalalithaa defied pollsters and dumped the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Corruption was the main issue in the Tamil Nadu Assembly election. Probably the only broad message emerging from this election outcome is that regional parties remain entrenched and will continue to hold up ambitions of “national” parties to be rid of the compulsions of coalition politics. Rahul Gandhi’s “ekla chalo” call will remain deferred because the spokes aren’t adding up for the umbrella party of yore. And some of those that had lie splintered. The Congress, having lost a key ally in the south, will probably have to re-calibrate its choice of partners in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha polls. With Mamta Banerjee and Jayalalithaa—both doughty, and often troublesome, political customers—riding massive personal mandates, the Congress’s political managers are up against a challenge, as while managing relations with a strengthened TMC will be a challenge, its alliance with the DMK is likely to face an existential crisis sooner than later, given the comprehensiveness of the Tamil Nadu rout and the increasing heat of the 2-G corruption cases. Further aggravating the Congress problems is unabashedly partisan in his motives and actions, Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj, who has been, for a long time now, a disgrace to the constitutional office he holds. This subject has been dealt with in detail in the cover story, but I would like to add that Bharadwaj’s continuance in the Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru is no longer tenable. Gubernatorial posts are not for trigger-happy political adventurers. Hence, the sooner the Congress gets rid of him, the better it is for the Congress and for the integrity of the constitutional office.