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HVK Archives: Voters' message: Don't take us for granted

Voters' message: Don't take us for granted - The Times of India

Shubhabrata Bhattacharya ()
15 February 1997

Title : Voters' message: Don't take us for granted
Author : Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
Publication : The Times of India
Date : February 15, 1997

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies have emerged as the
single largest block in the electoral college for the Presidential
election, due in July. Members of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha
and the state vidhan sabhas constitute this electoral college, with
the relative values of MPs' votes and the votes of vidhan sabha
members being determined by a population-weighted formula. This
will be the first presidential election in which the Congress will
not be the dominating factor, and also the first time that the
ruling party at the Centre will not be the single largest
constituent of the electoral college.

This month's round of elections saw further decimation of the
Congress. The United Front, despite the setbacks suffered in
Karnataka, seems on balance to have gained a further lease of life.
Ale BJP certainly has emerged as the gainer. It won two of the
four Lok Sabha byelections (with another seat being won by its
ally, Shiromani Akali Dal), four of the 14 Vidhan Sabha
by-elections (its ally, Shiv Sena, won one seat), and along with
the Shiromani Akali Dal swept into power in Punjab.

What the BJP had failed to achieve in June 1996 seems to have been
partially achieved eight months later, with the party coming very
near to occupying the niche reserved for the Congress in the past
50 years.

The United Front's constituent, the Bharatiya Kisan Kamgar Party
(BKKP), has kept the ruling combine's flag flying by winning the
Baghpat Lok Sabha scat. Baghpat is Ajit Singh's pocket borough.
Except in 1971, when a Congress- backed CPI candidate defeated
Chaudhary Charan Singh, this seat has been won by Ajit Singh's
family or its nominees. The by-election was caused by Ajit Singh's
decision to leave the Congress and join the UF. The Congress tried
to checkmate him by putting up a defector from the Samajwadi Party
(who is said to have enjoyed his former party's support).

However, the electorate of Baghpat, which had enthusiastically
greeted H.D. Deve Gowda when he came to west UP sonic months ago,
seemed to endorse Ajit Singh's defection from the Congress and to
reject the idea of the Congress putting up an SP defector. A
traditional Congressman of Baghpat may have put up a better show
against Ajit Singh. After all, there was a Congress organisation
in Baghpat prior to Ajit Singh joining the Congress which had
politically opposed Chaudhary Charan Singh over the years.

The wrong selection of candidates seems to have plagued the
Congress in most constituencies. In Nagaur, Rajasthan, the late
Nathu Ram Mirdha's son, Bhanu Prakash, sought the Congress ticket
for the Lok Sabha by-election caused by his father's death. His
father had consistently won the seat, whether in or out of the
Congress. Even in 1977, Nathu Ram Mirdha had been victorious.

When the Congress ticket was given to Bhanu Prakash's uncle, Ram
Niwas Mirdha, who had headed the Joint Parliamentary Committee
(JPC) on the bank securities seam in the tenth Lok Sabha, the BJP,
which had never won from Nagaur before, decided to let Bhanu
Prakash use its lotus symbol along with his deceased father's
charisma. The BJP has won the seat handsomely.

The by-elections in Rajasthan and Gujarat seem to suggest that the
infighting in the BJP ranks has not adversely affected the party's
electoral prospects in these states.

Apart from Nagaur, Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh is yet another
first time acquisition for the BJP. The by-election was held
because Kamal Nath's ego got the better of him. His wife, who had
been given the Congress ticket as a proxy in 1996 because of Mr
Nath's name appearing in the Jain hawala diaries, had won by a
slender margin. In the present context, when every party needs to
retain its Lok Sabha seats at any cost, the Congress leadership
should not have so easily given in to Me Nath's plea to let his
wife resign so he could get back to Parliament.

The verdict of Chhindwara, which for the first time since 1952 has
rejected a Congress candidate, not only goes against Mr Nath but
raises serious questions about the decision-making process in the
Congress party.

If Nagaur and Phulera have won kudos for Shekhawat, then Chhindwara
certainly is not a feather in Digvijay Singh's cap. The return to
the Congress fold of the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Party of Madhavrao
Scindia and the -rebel faction led by Arjun Singh does not seem to
have "strengthened" the Congress in Madhya Pradesh.

The by-elections in the South have also given an anti-incumbency
message. The loss of the Ramanagaram scat (held by H.D. Deve Gowda
before he moved to New Delhi) and the Chikkanayakanahalli seat are
major setbacks for the Janata Dal in Karnataka. The DMK, a
constituent of the UF, has retained the Pudukottai seat in Tamil
Nadu by defeating the AIADMK candidate by 12,024 votes. The fact
that a rebel AIADMK candidate polled 12,842 votes and the
Marumalarchi DMK (a rebel DMK outfit) 13,504 votes shows how close
the contest was.

In the Punjab elections, the Congress, though it lost power, can
take solace from the fact that while its vote percentage fell from
37 to 27 per cent, the Shiromani Akali Dal (at 37 per cent) and the
BJP (at nine per cent) registered a growth of only two per cent

The 26 per cent tally of "others and independents" has a fair share
of Congress votes, polled by party rebels, some of whom have even
won as independents. The reason, again, was that the selection of
candidates left much to be desired.

The victory of O.P. Soni in Amritsar an independent after he
assaulted senior party leaders at Chandigarh's Congress Bhavan,
accusing them of "selling" party tickets, is an interesting

The Congress is shrinking. The BJP is rising. And the United
Front is cruising along for the moment. The way egos were
punctured by the electorate in the February 1997 polls - of an
individual (Kamal Nath), of a party (the Bahujan Samaj Party in
Punjab), and of the prime minister himself (in the constituency
nursed by him) -should make politicians and political parties sit
up and ponder how much or how little they appeal to the electorate.

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