Indian Decade

Rahul Rocked in Election

Rahul Gandhi suffers a big blow to his political prospects after Congress suffers a major electoral setback.

The results from key assembly elections in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa – are out, and they suggest political turmoil ahead. The results indicate both the rise of regional parties and the decline of national parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the process, they have exacerbated fears of political instability at the center, and will have alarmed the United Progressive Alliance government a little more than two years ahead of the scheduled general election.

In the most populous (and politically important) state of Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party has ousted the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party, with the BJP and Congress finishing third and fourth respectively. In Punjab, another regional party, Shiromani Akali Dal allied with the BJP to break an almost five-decade jinx on incumbents to retain power. The Congress, meanwhile, pulled off a similar feat in Manipur, where the party scored a third successive victory. In Goa, the BJP has wrested power from the Congress, while in Uttarakhand the Congress has emerged as the single largest party with 32 seats in the 70 member assembly, closely followed by the BJP with 31 seats. In all probability, Gov. Margaret Alva will invite the Congress, as the largest party, to form the government.

But all this means that the UPA II government is looking ever more shaky, and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, isn’t far off the mark in saying that a mid-term general election could be a possibility.

The assembly elections were also a major blow to Rahul Gandhi, widely seen as a future prime minister, after he failed to deliver in UP, a state he has been working hard in for several years. The Congress also lost in seven of the ten assembly seats in the twin high-profile parliamentary constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareilly, represented by Rahul and his mother Sonia Gandhi. Rahul’s failure looks all the bigger when compared with the stellar performance of another rising young politician, Akhilesh Yadav, son of Samajwadi Party supreme leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Akhilesh is seen as having offered greater empowerment to so-called “other backward classes” and Muslim backward castes than his father could manage. Equally important, he transformed the SP’s image from the old “muscle party,” instead appealing to young people with the promise of better law and order and zero-tolerance for criminals.

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Akhilesh also shook off the anti-English old guard within the party, promising a free laptop to all students who complete school and a tablet to those who pass 10th class. In addition, he managed to get English education included in the party manifesto. However, he had to walk a political tightrope given his uneasy relationship with his uncles Shivpal Yadav, who was the leader of the opposition in the outgoing assembly, and Ram Gopal Yadav. Akhilesh had a running feud, particularly over the selection of candidates. The massive mandate for SP will inevitably spark a power shift within the party, with Akhilesh Yadav emerging as the new fulcrum.