Congress Sweeps Left, Right and Centre
Sunday, 17 May 2009

This election was supposed to be without any national issue. The Indian voter, however, had different ideas — he has voted with his feet for a coherent and stable government. Manmohan Singh is set to take charge as Prime Minister and become the only PM since Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961 to be voted back after completing a full five-year term. What's more, he will head a government without the support of the Left, whimsical partners like Mayawati or any other coercive ally. The middle class would be heaving a sigh of relief.

The scale of the Congress win looks even more stunning when you consider the party did not contest all seats in big states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu. Not just that, it took the field in UP and Bihar on its own, without any preparation. The gamble did not click in Bihar, but it did in UP — and handsomely. In Bihar, too, it has been able to get many Muslim votes.

The election marked an emphatic endorsement of Manmohan Singh as PM, a triumph of Sonia Gandhi who took the right calls — from a robust backing of Manmohan as PM to allowing Rahul to take over from her as the party's main campaigner which, in turn, saw her son come into his own.

National parties fail to up seat share

Many commentators have called this election a return of national parties — no doubt, on the basis of the performance of Congress and BJP in UP, a state which has been in the hands of regional outfits for over a decade. But that would be misreading the election. While in UP, voters seem to have viewed national parties with favour, the BSP is still the state's No. 1 party, having emerging as either the winner or runner-up in 68 of the 80 seats.

Rahul Gandhi with Priyanka Gandhi after receiving victory certificate for Amethi seat in UP. (PTI Photo)

But more than that, there is another statistic that is more telling. The combined strength of all national parties — Congress, BJP and the Left — remain the same in this election as it was the last time. In 2004, these national parties had a combined tally of 345 seats; this time they have a tally of 344. In other words, some regional parties might have lost, but some have gained. Ditto for the national parties.

So, why has Congress done so well? What went right for it? It would appear it was seen as a more sincere party than its rivals — possibly a result of Manmohan Singh's earnest and honest image and Sonia Gandhi's understated style. It was also seen as a party for the ‘‘aam admi'', and the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme and loan waiver for indebted farmers made it appear a pro-poor party.

In short, the Congress was seen as a party with its heart in the right place. Even for the middle class, Manmohan Singh's passionate espousal of the nuclear deal seems to shown him up as a man of conviction. It was also seen as a party for the youth, with most urban youth connecting more with young leaders like Rahul Gandhi than BJP's gen-next.

For the BJP, the election has been something of a disaster with Narendra Modi being touted as L K Advani's successor right in the middle of the poll campaign, and Varun Gandhi usurping the party's agenda with his personal positioning exercise as UP's Modi. At the end of it, the BJP was left with a negative campaign and could hardly convey to the electorate what it would bring to the table.

Advani is now likely to call it quits. On Saturday, as the results came in, he offered his resignation as leader of the opposition which was turned down by the party.

With great power, comes great responsibility. The people of India have reposed their faith in the Congress, the Gandhis and Manmohan Singh. The party and its leaders can do one of two things: become complacent, even arrogant, and abuse the mandate they have been entrusted with; or, they can choose to carry this enormous burden of expectation with humility and honesty, and deliver on their promise of a better tomorrow. This paper has ceaselessly campaigned, through Lead India, for greater transparency and public accountability, and for better, cleaner governance. We have also onsistently sought to empower our readers with the kind of information, analysis and insight that would help them make a more informed decision when choosing their MPs.

Manmohan Singh returns to office largely unencumbered by the demands and conditions that his UPA partners have placed on him, leading to compromises that weren't in the best interest of the nation. This time, there will be no excuses for shying away from doing what is right. To their great credit, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka have shown a gentleness of touch that dynasties aren't always known for. That, combined with their sense of commitment, bodes well.

There's an amazing grace and beauty about the way India goes to elections every five years. As the dust of competitive politics settles, we pray that our leaders will honour their contract with the people, and that the next five years will be transformational for the country. After all, elections are only a means to a higher end.

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