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A Decisive Mandate

Despite losing many of its coalition parties before the polls, the United Progressive Alliance managed to win emphatically in the 15th Lok Sabha elections. Yet another spell in opposition awaits the Bharatiya Janata Party, while the Left has suffered its worst defeat in many years.


A Decisive Mandate

Srinivasan Ramani

– the Congress won 43% of the vote as compared to the 39% it garnered in the 2007 assembly elections – and in Madhya Pradesh – 40% as compared to 32% in the assembly elections in 2008 – suggests the

Despite losing many of its coalition parties before the polls, the United Progressive Alliance managed to win emphatically in the 15th Lok Sabha elections. Yet another spell in opposition awaits the Bharatiya Janata Party, while the Left has suffered its worst defeat in many years.


elying expectations of a fragmented verdict, the mandate of the 15th Lok Sabha elections has been decisive in favour of the Congress Partyled United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The alliance has managed to win 261 seats, with the Congress itself winning 206 seats, its best tally since the 1991 elections when the party had won 244 seats. From initial observations, a mix of state-level factors and a preference for the UPA nationally can be seen as responsible for the victory. The UPA managed the win defeating not only the Left-anchored “Third Front” (TF) coalition of regional parties and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led N ational Democratic Alliance (NDA) emphatically, but also despite the breaking away of several partners (who formed the Fourth Front or the FF) from the alliance before elections.

The UPA came on top in 17 out of 29 states (including the National Capital Territory of Delhi). Excepting the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, the performance of the regional and left parties in the TF ranged from underwhelming to the disastrous. The NDA won overwhelmingly in Bihar, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh but was defeated in many a major state by the UPA in direct fights.

Mix of Factors

The Congress, in its manifesto as well as during its campaigning, emphasised the implementation of the National Rural E mployment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the Bharat Nirman programme and other s ocial and welfare measures, not to mention the farmer loan waiver. From the indications available, this has elicited a f avourable response, which has played out well in different states, irrespective of whether the Congress (or the UPA) has been in power. Also, minorities appear to have voted for the UPA enthusiastically, explaining the wins for the Congress and its allies in states such as West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. The performance of the party in states such as Gujarat

Economic & Political Weekly

may 23, 2009 vol xliv no 21

resonance of its national agenda.

The broad geographical distribution of the mandate for the UPA points towards an undercurrent favouring the Congress in general, but local issues have also mattered significantly. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the implementation of welfare measures by the state government has meant that the alliance has been victorious in a second consecutive Lok Sabha election. The state assembly elections’ r esults also gave a majority mandate for the Congress.

In the Left-ruled West Bengal, a highhandedness in administration, unpopular industrialisation policies, land acquisition, and the unity of the opposition spelt doom for the ruling coalition. In Kerala, a perception of inadequate levels of governance by the state government and factionalism in the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) helped the UPA.

In Tamil Nadu, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has done particularly well, on the might of its populist schemes while the incidents in northern Sri Lanka have complicated the verdict – resulting in some losses to senior Congress candidates.

The presence of the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena has dented the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and boosted the UPA in Maharashtra, while the “honeymoon period” enjoyed by the Congress governments in Rajasthan and Delhi has meant big wins for the party. In Uttarakhand and Punjab, the Congress has managed to defeat the ruling BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance, respectively, garnering the majority of the votes.

The Congress decision to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh after being unable to arrive at a seat-sharing understanding with the Samajwadi Party has also paid unexpected dividends. The Congress Party has garner ed 21 seats (vote share of 18%) – its highest tally for years in the state. While the r easons for this astounding performance would be clear only after a detailed analysis at the vote shares in the state, the less than expected performance of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) suggests a shift of


some of its targeted social base – particularly the upper castes and the Muslims – to the Congress. Overall, the Congress managed to increase its vote share nationally from 26.4% in 2004 to 28.5% in 2009 and a seat increase from 145 to 206.

BJP Thwarted Again

The BJP tried to focus on “national security” as its core issue and attempted to make the elections a referendum between personalities pitting its prime ministerial candidate L K Advani against the UPA leadership and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The NDA since 2004 v ictory of the JD(U)-BJP alliance, which pitched its state government’s “development record” as the agenda for the elections.

The TF – an assorted set of regional parties, and anchored by the Left Front (LF) – performed dismally. Though the BJD shrugged off its alliance with the BJP

State-wise Seats Tally
State UPA NDA TF FF Others
Andhra Pradesh 34 8
Arunachal Pradesh 2
Assam 8 5 1
Bihar 2 32 4 2
Chhattisgarh 1 10

In West Bengal, the left suffered a historic defeat, polling much fewer votes than in the 2006 assembly elections and wilting against the united opposition of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress. Reduced to merely 15 seats (43.3% vote share) from a previous tally of 35 (50.7%), the Left’s loss could be attributed much to its state government’s series of policy and governance disasters since 2006 as the opposition fought the elections as a referendum against the longstanding LF government. Issues such as land acquisition for industrialisation, high-handedness of the administration,

had shrunk and the BJP was left only NCT of Delhi 7 and minority anger after the Sachar Com

with the Janata Dal-United (JD (U)), the Goa 1 1 mittee findings are the discernible rea-

Shiv Sena, the SAD and other minor parties as its allies. The erstwhile NDA allies

– the Telugu Desam Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the BJD had all left the NDA at some point or the other citing the communal politics of the BJP. This had made the NDA’s prospects dimmer even before the elections and expectedly, the

Gujarat 11 15 sons, apart from the fact that the idea of a Haryana 9 1

“third front” did not really appeal to vot-

Himachal Pradesh 1 3

ers. The Lok Sabha election results point

Jammu and Kashmir 5 1

to a possible defeat of the left front for the

Jharkhand 1 8 5

first time in 35 years in the assembly elec-

Karnataka 6 19 3

tions in 2011. Infighting in the left and

Kerala 16 4

governance issues resulted in a UPA

Madhya Pradesh 12 16 1

v ictory which was also bolstered by

Maharashtra 25 20 3 Manipur 2 m inority support in Kerala.

NDA managed a tally of only 159 seats, Meghalaya 2 The BSP was not able to replicate its

way behind in second place to the UPA. Mizoram 1 2007 assembly election performance in

The BJP’s overall tally was reduced to 116 (18.8% vote share) from 138 (22.2%) in 2004. Both the defection of erstwhile partners as well as the reduction in the party’s overall vote share was indicative of the decline in resonance of the party’s communal Hindutva agenda, which came again to the fore in the run-up to the elections. (In retrospect, the thrusting forward of Narendra Modi of Gujarat as a

Nagaland 1 Uttar Pradesh, suggesting the non-Orissa 6 15

realisation of the “wider castes and m inority

Punjab 8 5

support” that the party hoped to garner.

Rajasthan 20 4 1

Overall, the idea of the “third front” –

Sikkim 1

an amorphous alliance of motley regional

Tamil Nadu 27 12

and left parties without a common agenda

Tripura 2

beyond an anti-Congress, anti-BJP posi-

Uttar Pradesh 21 15 20 23 1

tion, was rejected by the voters.

Uttarakhand 5 West Bengal 25 1 15 1


Andaman and Nicobar 1

f uture prime ministerial candidate of the Dadra and Nagar Haveli 1 The increased tally of the UPA despite

NDA also backfired.) Modi, now under i nvestigation by a Supreme Courtappointed Special Investigation Team, just about managed to hold on to his seat count in his home state.

The BJP managed to win with reduced margins in its strongholds such as G ujarat and Madhya Pradesh, but won handsomely in Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. The performance of the JD(U) was significant as Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya J anata Dal (RJD) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party were trounced in B ihar. It is too early however to suggest that the politics and efficacy of caste a lliances in the state has been overcome, as many claim to be the reason for the

Daman and Diu 1

Chandigarh 1

Puducherry 1

Lakshadweep 1

Total 261 157 80 27 18

Source: Election Commission Web Site.

and managed to win a majority of seats both in the assembly as well as in the Lok Sabha elections in Orissa and the A IADMK managed to improve its tally (from zero) in Tamil Nadu, the defeat of the left parties in Kerala, West Bengal and the ordinary performance of the BSP drag ged the TF’s tally down. The TF contested directly against the Congress and its a llies in most of the states where the front was “viable”.

may 23, 2009

the division in “secular votes” because of the presence of the TF and the improved performance in the Congress even in BJP strongholds are pointers towards a conjuncture of local and national issues favouring the UPA. The UPA contested the elections on its national record of initiating programmes such as the NREGA and other social and welfare measures and highlighted its state governments’ populist record. The BJP failed to inspire confidence in its national security and personality based platform among the electorate, while the alliance of convenience that forged the TF did not m aterialise in any gains for its constituent parties.

vol xliv no 21

Economic & Political Weekly

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