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Post Poll: Weak national parties, strong regional ones

Saturday May 21, 2011 04:14:41 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

The peculiarity of the latest election results is they will please no major national party. Instead, three regional outfits - the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the so-called NR Congress named after its relatively unknown leader, N. Rangasamy, in Puducherry - will be satisfied with the outcome.

Neither the Congress nor the Left nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be pleased with the voter's verdict.

The most disenchanted will be the Left despite an unexpectedly good showing in Kerala, where it came close to beating the Congress. But the outcome in Kerala, where it nearly upset the five-year cycle of alternately sharing power with the Congress, has been overshadowed by the drubbing the comrades received in West Bengal.

However, the resultant further weakening of the Left at the national level may not bring much joy to the Congress. The reason is that the latter's Achilles heel has been exposed in West Bengal, where it is very much a junior partner of the Trinamool Congress, and in Puducherry, where it has been evicted from power after more than a decade by the newly-formed NR Congress.

What is more, the successes of these two breakaway groups in West Bengal and Puducherry highlight the mother party's organisational deficiencies, which made it first alienate the two potential winners and then play a subservient role to them. Evidently, both Mamata Banerjee and Rangasamy are more popular locally than the party to which they originally belonged.

But it wasn't only the local Congress leaders who were blind to their popularity, presumably because of their own personal ambitions, but the national leaders too. The so-called "high command", did not have the foresight to retain these match-winners in their side. The result is that as the Congress plays second fiddle to Banerjee in West Bengal, the latter is now in a stronger position than before to assert herself at the centre, especially on sensitive issues like the land acquisition bill on which she differs from the Manmohan Singh government's views.

The Congress can derive some satisfaction from its victory in Assam, the third in a row by Tarun Gogoi, who has repeated Sheila Dixit's similar feat in Delhi. But Assam is too far away to have much of an impact on the national scene just as Delhi is too small to be of consequence despite its location.

Since it is the big states which matter, the Congress' focus will now be on elections in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab, which are among seven states that will go to the polls next year. But the party is unlikely to be hopeful about either Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat although in the former, the anti-incumbency factor is bound to hit Mayawati even if the gains of her opponents are divided, and dissipated, between the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the BJP.

It is not only in West Bengal, Puducherry and Kerala that the Congress' position is under strain, the overwhelming victory of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's son, Jagan Mohan, over the Congress candidate in the Kadapa parliamentary constituency, and of his mother in an assembly constituency, have exposed the Congress' weakness in yet another big state.

But even as the Congress copes with lacklustre electoral performance and unforced errors - to use a term from tennis - like including the names of suspects who are in India in the list of the "most wanted" sent to Pakistan, none of the two other national organisations - the BJP and the Left - can derive anything more than muted, vicarious satisfaction from their opponent's discomfiture.

While the commissars will have to mull over their ideological and organisational inadequacies, including the in-house criticism of their "arrogance", the BJP is still groping for an issue which can give it the kind of boost it received in the 1990s.

However, after the loss of power at the centre in 2004, and with their two seniormost leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, in their twilight years, the party hasn't been able to put its house together either on the ideological or on the leadership front.

Its only solace is that it has fairly stable governments in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar, which is more than what can be said of the Congress. But the BJP's position is apparently weakening in Punjab and Uttarakhand, which are facing elections next year.

India presents a curious spectacle, therefore, of a country with weak national parties but reasonably strong regional outfits which include, apart from the Trinamool and NR Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Janata Dal-United in Bihar and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at




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