One Cheer for Each!

Having clearly said what she wanted to say, the voter in the just concluded local body elections quietly returned to her routine chores.  If one rules out a snap poll to the Lok Sabha, not until the 2009 general elections will we see another election on this scale fought on party symbols in the state.  This is, therefore, the last opportunity to tease out authentic messages the voter wanted to convey to the political class. Every ballot is dripping with an instructive message.   The message, however, is not blunt; it is also not an across the board, sweeping, and an undifferentiated one.    It has regional calibration and nuances. The political class needs to take a hard look with a sharp eye for detail.

It is only rarely that in an election, both the winner and the loser at the same time see something to cheer them up.  The voter has managed to cheer both the ruling party as well as its principal adversary.   The overall dominance of the Congress Party in the state has once again become evident.  Even after a little over two years in office, the anti-incumbency factor is not very significant.  The voter did not choose to hit the ruling party hard.  It was only a mild slap on its wrist.  It is indeed a happy signal to the ruling party.  But in the din of euphoric celebration, it is unlikely to hear the warning note said in a hushed tone.  If it chooses to continue with its reckless style of running the government, it will not have the benefit of a loud warning before landing in trouble.  Areas which are supposed to be beneficiaries of the government’s farmer friendly policies such as free power and irrigation projects are at best only lukewarm to the governing party; and areas which are purportedly the chosen locations for high end infrastructure facilities like the Outer Ring Road, Fab City, various Private Ports, Special Economic Zones, etc., have even showed recognizable hostility.  Many important Ministers and prominent leaders of the ruling party were shown their place in their own constituencies.

The voter’s endorsement of the Congress came along with a warning in fine print in the coastal districts.  Although the ruling party did not lose even a single zilla parishad in the region, the voter gave it a run for its money.  The biggest surprise sprung by the voter at the ruling Congress is in Rayalaseema.  It lost Anantapur. A high decibel campaign and undue concentration by the local leadership have cost the Congress dearly.

Telangana ballot is replete with a melange of political dilemmas.  Rather, it threw up a lot of half way house messages.  Khammam grabbed special attention since the beginning of the campaign.  It is here that the CPM chose to test waters for a possible realignment of political forces in the state.  Notwithstanding heavy wheeling-dealing by all the CM’s men, the left party and the TDP brought the situation up to ‘penalty shoot out’.  It is the deft backroom operation that is going to decide who is going to the capture the zilla parishad.

It is too early to say whether the political influence of the BJP and the TRS has waned beyond the hope of revival.  But it is clear that in their present configuration, both of them are no forces to reckon with in the political space of the region.  While the political debility of the BJP was concealed by its alliance with the losing TDP in the 2004 general elections, the alliance with the winning Congress concealed the weakness of the TRS.  If their present decline is no direct reflection of the weakening of support to the demand for a separate statehood for Telangana, their putative might could also be unconnected to the strengthening of the demand.

The impressive performance of TDP and its new found ally, the CPM, should not be seen only as an ex-pression of people’s displeasure with the Congress.  The message is far from blunt. It subtly shows that the voter is not unwilling to consider new combinations. It will be good news for the TDP if the Congress leadership does not keep its ear to the ground. And it continues to fail to keeps its flock together.  However, it will be a miscalculation if the main opposition party thinks that the polls indicated an inevitable resurgence of its political fortunes.  The voter has not yet warmed up to the TDP.

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