Will INC indian National Congress defeat echo in UP, Goa and Gujarat polls?

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The fall-out from the Congress’s failure to retain power in Punjab and Uttarakhand threatens to transcend the boundaries of these states. It raises questions whether it will have implications in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Gujarat, influence the choice of a new President for the Republic in July and have a bearing on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)  in the run up to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

“It is a political setback for the Congress, of course, though I don’t think it will affect UPA’s stability,” said Zoya Hasan, professor of political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). She said price rise, stemming from UPA’s economic policies, was a major issue in the elections — an assessment supported by many Congressmen privately. To the extent inflation hurts the common man, the party’s slogan of “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath” has taken a knock.

Former Delhi University Professor Manoranjan Mohanty made the same point: “The poll outcome is a timely warning for the UPA to address the twin issues of agrarian and employment crises so decisive in the Punjab and Uttarakhand elections respectively.”

In the backdrop of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) resurgence in Punjab and Uttarakhand, most independent analysts predicted a tough time for Sonia Gandhi’s party. Dr Pramod Kumar of Chandigarh’s Institute for Development and Communication foresaw bigger challenges emerging in the neighbouring Congress-ruled Haryana and Himachal, where elections are due in 2008.

Questions on inflation, land reforms and displacement caused by mega projects would become frequent, Dr Kumar said. The way the results emboldened BJP’s national leadership to train its guns at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Quattrocchi issue, party dissidents and the Opposition, including Indian National Lok Dal’s OP Chautala, would seek to push the Congress on the backfoot in Haryana. Political analyst PD Sharma’s antidote for it was a greater focus on the state’s farm sector.

“The BJP’s resurgence could be fatal,” warned Pushpesh Pant, Dean of School of International Studies at JNU. Electoral losses in states tended to influence voters’ mind-set and cloud perceptions about parties ruling the Centre. “If the edges are nibbled, nothing remains,” he said, recalling the Congress-UPA’s 2006 defeats in Kerala, Jharkhand and Bihar.

“You can’t secure the Centre while losing ground in states,” said Veer Arjun editor Anil Narendra, who keeps a close watch on Punjab.

Narendra felt the Congress would enter the UP battle in April with a huge psychological and political disadvantage. “The results have willy-nilly bettered BJP’s prospects,” he said. The poll outcome for the 403-member Assembly would simultaneously impact the composition of the electoral college for the President.

Pant also saw the Congress’ increasing dependence on the Left, notably the CPM, which stalled Presidential rule in UP as part of its long-haul strategy to forge a programme-oriented Third Front before the next General Elections.

The churning would kick off in the election of the new President — followed by polls in Gujarat in the second half of the year — as no single party has the numbers to push its candidate. “The Congress’s dependence on the Left will then be more acute,” Pant said.

He rejected the Congress’s “cyclical theory” to explain its defeat: “Why should it be touted in Punjab and Uttarakhand when it has been defied by the Left in West Bengal and by Chandrababu Naidu and Digvijay Singh in Andhra and Madhya Pradesh?”

Most observers diagnosed bad political management as a major contributory factor to the Congress’s defeat. ND Tiwari was a reluctant CM of the faction-ridden party in Uttarakhand. In Punjab, Amarinder Singh’s style of governance did not go down well with his own party colleagues.
Article by Saroj Nagi, HindustanTimes
(With inputs from Navneet Sharma and Archana Phull in Chandigarh)

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