Indian Elections 2006—Voters Send a Message

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI—The recent elections have spelt a major victory for Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, individually, but party-wise, it has been a grand show for the Left bloc. Gandhi was compelled to face by-polls to Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli (Uttar Pradesh) as controversy raised over her holding an office of profit prompted her to hand in her resignation from the seat in March. Lest she be disqualified from the Parliament for being chairperson of the National Advisory Council, she quit this post also on the same day, March 23. Despite voters’ turnout being 43.36, Gandhi created a record of sorts by winning the seat with a margin of 417,888 votes. Against 249,765 votes she polled last time, this time Gandhi secured 474,891 votes against 57,003 polled by Samajwadi Party candidate Raj Kumar Chowdhury. This is the largest ever victory margin secured in this constituency. While her victory spelt celebration for her supporters in Delhi as well as Rae Bareli, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described it as “magnificent and glorious.”

State-wise, the biggest gainer has been the Left bloc. In West Bengal, led by the Marxist Communist Party of India, the Left front has returned to power for a record seventh term. Against 235 seats won by the Left for the 294-member assembly, the Congress could win only 21. Prospects of Tranamol Congress displaying its strength were shattered by the party’s securing only 29 seats. In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been pushed out of power by the Left Democratic Front (LDF). With 140 seats in the Kerala assembly, LDF won 98 against the 41 secured by UDF.

Congress fared better in Tamil Nadu not as a leading party, but as an ally of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), spelling a major blow for All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). In the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly, while DMK won 163 seats, AIADMK was left with only 69. Though the verdict of Assamese voters was a fractured one, as the largest single-party in the 126-member assembly, the Congress has managed to form a government again with the support of an ally, the Hagrama Mohilary faction of the Bodo People’s Progressive Front (BPPF-H), which won 11 seats. Congress managed to win 54, while BJP secured 12. Elections to Pondicherry assembly have also spelt a return to power for Congress.

Here, Congress and its allies won 21 seats leaving six for AIADMK and its allies and three for others in the fray.

Victory in West Bengal has spelt the return of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya as the chief minister for the second term. Congress has retained N. Rangaswamy as chief minister in Pondicherry and Tarun Gogoi in Assam. With the electoral verdict spelling a major change in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK chief Jayalalitha has had to make way for DMK leader M. Karunanidhi as the state’s chief minister. The Left front’s victory in Kerala has brought the state’s chief ministerial position to veteran CPI (M) leader V.S. Achuthanandan.

Though in these elections Congress has fared better than expected, the gains made by Left front have raised several questions, particularly regarding the shift in Muslim votes. The percentage of Muslims is around 28.43 percent in Assam, 23.33 percent in Kerala, 6.54 percent in Pondicherry, 5.47 percent in Tamil Nadu, and 23.61 in West Bengal. Assam and Kerala are the states where the shift in Muslim-vote stands out significantly. In Assam, this was marked by the formation of the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), headed by Badurddin Ajmal. Despite being a new entrant in the political field, this party won 10 seats. Formation of AUDF and its success in securing these many seats in itself has been painted as a sign of Assamese Muslims displaying their anti-Congress approach. In Kerala, the Muslim-vote has pushed the Congress-led UDF to the opposition and has failed to secure any seat for the Muslim League.

The poor performance of Congress in West Bengal is also partly attributed to Muslims turning against the party.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders are still reviewing their dismal performance. Except for securing BJP a few seats in Assam, the elections have not helped the party in other states.

Though Congress has not fared poorly, the party needs to pay serious attention to what is turning away the Indian Muslim away from it and also on why has the Left front been favored by the average Indian voter. The timing is appropriate for the Congress to take another look its economic policies and the pro-American tilt in its foreign policy. The arguments given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about recent developments in Indo-US relations being beneficial for the country have certainly not convinced either the Left bloc or the Indian Muslim.

Besides, the government’s economic policies favoring liberalization and privatization have apparently not been viewed favorably by the average Indian voter. From this angle, these election results have also been regarded as a warning signal for Congress, calling on it to seriously review the importance given to its economic and foreign policies by the average Indian voter.

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