THE BIG VOTE
For a prince; by a prince
By R. Prasannan
Story Dated: Friday, March 9, 2012 9:47 hrs IST
The Congress elders were there to make a success of Rahul's campaign.
Akhilesh helped elders win for the SP.
Akhilesh Yadav. Photo by Pawan Kumar
It is still the bicycle. Not the kind of bicycle that men of Mulayam
Singh Yadav's generation rode to farms and factories, with monstrously
stout bars and iron rods for brake levers. It is the new-generation
bicycle, painted red, blue and other bright hues, sporting elegantly
cabled brakes, gears and even tri-speed. The kind of bicycle that
Akhilesh Yadav's generation rode to school a few years ago and into
the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh recently.
A new generation of cyclists have come of age—voting age. They and
their children need computers, a demand which Mulayam had once scoffed
at. Not just computers, but laptops with Urdu keyboards that would
empower Moradabad's children to compete with Hyderabad's whiz kids, is
what Akhilesh has promised.
It is the same Samajwadi Party of Yadavs, Muslims and middle-peasant
Lohias, but with a refreshingly refurbished ideology. An ideology of
It was not different with the Akalis of Punjab—a party of injured and
insulted jathedars, who once talked of nothing other than Sikh
homeland, Blue Star revenge and stolen river waters. Keeping that
constituency as the base, young Sukhbir Singh Badal sold the dream of
a wi-fi-ed Punjab with laptops, highways and international airports.
The ideology of aspiration worked, finished an indifferent Congress,
and even its sleeping partner, the BJP. It was as if the BJP slept and
the Akalis dreamed.
The message is clear. Neither the call of caste, nor the charm of
charisma, not even the promises of patronage can entice voters any
longer. The old formula of caste and community still remains at the
base of any party's social structure, keeping its core voters. To win,
and win like the way Akhilesh did, you need more. You need the votes
of those who aspire and dream of a new India.
Despite his youth and charisma, Rahul Gandhi could not sell that
dream. Indeed, he set the agenda for the elections, focusing on
corruption, misrule and lack of development under Mayawati. "He sold
anger," said a senior Congress leader. "Anger against the misrule of
Mayawati. So did Mulayam. But that wasn't enough."
Said Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi: "Rahul contributed to creating
an atmosphere against the misrule of Mayawati. However, Mulayam Singh
has taken the advantage. The anti-vote always goes to the party which
people think will win, and in UP, that party was the SP."
Though both were dubbed crown princes, the campaign styles of Rahul
and Akhilesh were studies in contrast. Even while Rahul addressed 211
rallies in 207 constituencies, he had a battery of veteran generals to
insulate him from the barbs of enemies, and even from the ignominy of
a prospective defeat. There was hardly any strategy to energise the
party worker, except to make Rahul present everywhere.
By the time the second round of polling was over, Congress leaders had
given out enough hints that there would be others to take the blame if
Rahul failed. As the closing rounds approached, general secretary
Digvijaya Singh and state party president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said so
in no uncertain terms. The problem was that voter had sensed it from
It worked ditto after the elections. "Not even Rahul Gandhi's worst
enemies, political or otherwise, suggest that his leadership was
lacking," said Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi. "He has
provided the spirit, the euphoria, the leadership. If it doesn't
translate, it doesn't translate." Added another leader: "It is not
necessary that all films of a big star should succeed. Some of their
films do flop." Digvijaya kept his word. After a meeting with the
Congress president, he declared, "I am a loyal sepoy of the Congress.
I take full responsibility for whatever has happened."
It was hinted at even by Sonia Gandhi when she met the media the day
after the defeat. "I would say rather than lack of leadership, too
many leaders, that is our problem," she said. She also blamed bad
selection of candidates and price rise.
Akhilesh, too, had his share of veterans to advise him, but no such
protective ring or insurers to save him from defeat. Papa Mulayam
scrupulously kept miles away from the son. This worked to the party's
advantage in two ways. One, no untoward shadow from the party's rowdy
past fell on the young man. Two, by campaigning on his own, Mulayam
reassured the old Samajwadi loyalists—the old generation Yadavs and
Muslims—that it was still the same party they had been voting for two
decades and more.
Simply put, while in the case of the Congress it appeared as if the
party's elder statesmen were there to make a success of Rahul's
campaign, in the SP it was the other way round. It was seen as if
Akhilesh was there to help out the elders to grab a win for the party.
For once, the mood in the Congress and the BJP camp is the same: of
shock and despondence. BJP president Nitin Gadkari's solace is that
"majority of the voters have voted against the UPA. The BJP has
snatched Goa from the Congress and retained Punjab with the Akalis. We
are confident of forming government in Uttarakhand. Manipur does not
matter in the national context. It is only in UP that we have got less
than our expectations."
Gadkari had personally been in charge of the UP strategy and his men
had been expecting an incredible tally of 85 to 100 seats. The party's
consolation now is that it didn't communalise the election, not even
in Ram homeland. Even after the Congress talk of Muslim quota, the BJP
did little to muster Hindu anger. Narendra Modi was kept out, or he
opted out, of the campaign in UP. "In Goa, we fielded six Christians
and supported a seventh. All have won," Gadkari preened.
The BJP's biggest humiliation has been in Punjab where it lost seats
while its Akali allies not only improved their tally, but also made
history by surviving an election as an incumbent for the first time.
In fact, the BJP had been expecting a defeat for the alliance, and as
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad admitted, "We were sad that we may be
responsible for the defeat of our alliance, and even shared this view
with Badal sahib." As it turned out, the voters in Punjab punished the
BJP and promoted its very own ally.
The belief that caste or clever cross-caste formulations, like the
ones tried out by Mayawati, on their own can make a party ride to
victory has been shattered with this round of elections. "Mayawati
could have succeeded by setting personal examples of sacrifice and
simple living," pointed out CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, an old
friend of Mayawati's mentor Kanshi Ram. "But the Dalits, as well as
the upper caste supporters of Mayawati, saw that despite speaking of
sarvajana hitaya, Mayawati was splurging on self-love. This
contradiction of ideology and personal qualities brought Mayawati
More than the failure of the Rahul magic, the shocker for the Congress
is that even Priyanka Vadra drew a blank (save one seat) in the
Nehru-Gandhi pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli parliamentary
constituencies, to which she had devoted her entire campaign time. In
fact, the party had made fantastic calculations based on its tally of
22 seats in the Lok Sabha election. Since each Lok Sabha seat is equal
to at least four Assembly wins, the party had dreamt of around 80
seats this time. Thereabouts lies the party's big worry: how will the
party ensure a win in 2014?
And between now and 2014 there will be plethora of problems. The SP,
which was quiet on the Central front till now, will flex its newly
gained muscles, in concert with the independent-minded Trinamool
Congress, Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and AIADMK. Worse,
already burdened with the fiascos over both the executive order on
permitting FDI in multi-brand retail and the Lokpal bill within
Parliament, the Congress now has to prepare for concerted flak over
attempts to dilute the federal structure of the Constitution, with its
plans for National Counter Terrorism Centre, Railway Protection Force
restructuring and river-linking.
MPs from ruling parties in the eastern coalition of states led by
Navin Patnaik and Nitish Kumar have already announced their decision
to work together for "the economic and political welfare" of their
states. The Samajwadis, now expected to elect Akhilesh as their
parliamentary leader, have already indicated their opposition to FDI
in multi-brand retail.
With such imponderables ahead, the UPA government can now expect to be
reduced to a government on daily wages. No big-ticket reform issue can
be taken for granted. And the party would have to negotiate hard to
get its candidate for the May presidential election approved by the
allies. "Our support in Parliament will be completely issue-based,"
said SP leader Shahid Siddiqui. "We do not want a confrontation with
the Centre for the sake of it, but the Congress should realise that we
have been friendly and backed it on key policies such as the nuclear
bill earlier. In return, we expect that any package that will benefit
UP politically and economically is pushed through without glitches."
Already, SP leaders have charted out new lines of argument with the
Congress. "From the election results, it is clear that the Centre's
economic policies are not good for the people," said an SP leader,
implying that the party is not beyond joining a coalition of non-BJP,
non-Congress parties to set the agenda in the run-up to 2014.
The only comfort for the Congress, at least till the next election, is
the indifference of the BSP. Apparently, Mayawati is not holding Rahul
responsible for her defeat, her rival has always been Mulayam. Said
BSP MP Dr Baliram: "Attacks on Dalits are expected to increase in the
coming days. We are shocked by the extent of violence that took place
in Jhansi on the day of counting, which showed that the SP is yet to
get rid of its criminal elements."
Added fellow MP Dara Singh Chauhan: "A final decision on [attitude to]
the UPA will be taken by Behenji after a brainstorming session, which
is expected in the coming months. We have a sizable presence in
Parliament and that is a major deterrent for anyone harbouring ill
intentions about the BSP. We are not going to join hands with anyone
in a hurry. But if anyone extends a hand of friendship, we will
There are many in the Congress who believe that the Samajwadis, too,
are not likely to be as aggressive, now that the Congress has proved
to be unable to eat into Samajwadi support base. Now that there is no
threat to the SP from the Congress, these leaders hope, the "positive
personal chemistry" between Rahul and Akhilesh should prevail, at
least for the UPA to ensure that its bills get passed in Parliament.
with Prabha Jagannathan, Soni Mishra, Vijaya Pushkarna and Kallol Bhattacherjee
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