Gloom for Congress as lotus blooms

Last Updated: Mon, Dec 09, 2013 01:02 hrs

New Delhi: The mobiles were switched off, the tweets suspended, all cockiness gone. Pulverised at the hustings - having lost all four Assembly elections - a visibly shaken Congress accepted its defeat, but party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi blamed it on price rise, among other reasons.

Internally, the party was more forthright in putting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on the mat for the defeat. Spokesperson Janardan Dwivedi said the party and the government in Delhi had not been on the same page for the past five years.

However, sources close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ruled out either his resignation or his replacement. They said the Lok Sabha polls would not be advanced, though they conceded this demand would be voiced loudly in Parliament.

In Parliament, the Congress' setback means a more triumphant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), less ready to be conciliatory in doing business. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha implied as much when he said: "BJP has scored a fabulous victory. The Congress-led UPA is in its last leg. I would ask market participants and others expecting legislative support for Bills from us: Wait for a few months. We will bring in reforms. Why leave it to the Congress, which is in its dying throes anyway." The government needs BJP's help in passing several Bills, including the direct taxes code, an increase in FDI caps for the insurance sector and reforms related to coal mining.

For the Congress, what was more breathtaking than the defeat itself was the margin of defeat. In Delhi, which got a hung verdict, the party was able to win just eight seats, compared with 43 in 2008. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit lost her own seat to the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP's) Arvind Kejriwal by more than 20,000 votes. Many of the ministers in her government were also beaten.

In Rajasthan, the party managed to win just 21 seats, 75 less than in 2008. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress slid to 58, below its own 2008 tally of 71. In the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly, it managed to get only 39 seats, despite losing a large part of its state leadership in a Maoist attack.

An elated BJP preened over a stunning performance in Rajasthan (162 of the 199 seats) and Madhya Pradesh (165 of the 230). Also, it managed - but only just - to get enough seats to form the government in Chhattisgarh (49 seats).

The day, however, belonged to AAP, which won a stupendous 28 seats in Delhi- a victory far bigger than most expected, bolstered by votes from areas and groups that had traditionally been the Congress' supporter base. AAP had announced it would neither seek nor extend support to anyone for forming the government. Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate and a member of AAP, on Sunday said the party would contest on some seats in the Lok Sabha elections, too.

Even without a question on this being posed, BJP President Rajnath Singh said BJP's victory was attributable to its prime ministerial candidate Narendra modi. Through the day, though, BJP's spokespersons had been saying the victory belonged to the party's chief ministerial candidates.

This election spanned only across 72 Lok Sabha seats, but BJP leader Arun Jaitley said extrapolating the result suggested BJP had won 65 of the 72 seats. For the Congress, the defeat could have other ramifications, too: It is feared UPA might unravel, as alliance partners begin to put pressure on it.

Internally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which shares power with the Congress in Maharashtra, is already flush with sly triumph. "What has happened is the best thing possible - now the equilibrium in the alliance will be better," said an NCP leader who is part of the central government.

Within the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), too, a big lobby that did not want to join forces with the Congress in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections has already begun to say quite vocally that the party should explore its options with BJP, without further ado. "Who will want to ally with us now... in this kind of an environment," asked a senior member of the Congress from Tamil Nadu.

A top official who did not want to be identified said the scheduling of the Parliament session was entirely the prerogative of the government. If it decided to extend the winter session, a demand made by the Opposition, it would be the surest sign that Lok Sabha elections would be advanced. However, he added, he did not detect signs of any such move yet.

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