Debating India

STATE ELECTIONS 2006

Left gets muscle, UPA strength

Friday 12 May 2006, by CHATTERJEE*Manini

As Third Front fears evaporate, UPA breathes easy, Cong counts scores

NEW DELHI, May 11 : Two years after its historic victory on May 13, 2004, the Assembly elections results from four key states and one Union Territory came as a perfect second anniversary gift to the Left-backed United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre today-reinforcing the increasing marginalisation of the opposition NDA and also scuttling prospects of a Third Front that was threatening to take shape this summer.

There were smiles on UPA faces all around but the CPI(M)-with ample justification-sported the broadest grin today as the party led the Left Front to the seventh successive win in West Bengal and wrested Kerala from the Congress-led United Democratic Front.

For the CPI(M), the victory in West Bengal was particularly awesome because not only did the Left Front defeat ??anti-incumbency’’ yet again to secure a three-fourths majority but it also quashed once and for all the charge of ??scientific rigging’’ levelled at the party for close to three decades now.

The Congress-barring Sonia Gandhi’s thumping win in the Rae Bareli byelection-did not achieve anything quite as spectacular. But it had reasons to be happy with its modest-and unexpected-gains in other states that went to polls. It lost the government in Kerala but managed to emerge as the single largest party in Assam-a state, like Kerala, which has a tradition of voting out incumbent governments.

The Congress received an additional bonus in the form of 30 seats in Tamil Nadu which will be crucial for the formation of a DMK-led government in the state. The party secured a clear majority in neighbouring Pondicherry, underlining that the Congress still had pockets of influence that could withstand the force of anti-incumbency even in this era of rising aspirations and impatient voters.

Although the DMK failed to secure a simple majority on its own (unlike the CPI(M) which alone won 176 of the 294 seats in West Bengal), the victory of the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance has also come as a shot in the arm for the UPA government at the Centre. The DMK-PMK-MDMK contingent with its 26 MPs is a crucial component of the UPA government. Even if assembly elections do not have a direct bearing on the configuration in the Lok Sabha, the Left victories in Kerala and West Bengal and the DMK-led front’s success in wresting power from an apparently resurgent AIADMK have only strengthened the overall mass base of the UPA-Left formation at the Centre.

The BJP was no force in any of the states that went to polls but its desperate dreams of making an entry into the Kerala and Bengal assemblies came a cropper. The drubbing received by key NDA partner Trinamool Congress in West Bengal may persuade Mamata Banerjee to follow in the footsteps of the AGP and AIADMK to abandon the BJP-which is becoming more a liability than an asset as a partner. The AGP’s refusal to ally with the BJP may have lost the regional party some votes but it also prevented the BJP from making its much hoped for ??breakthrough’’ in Assam.

In case the AGP had won Assam and AIADMK retained Tamil Nadu, the moves to form a Third Front would have certainly got a boost. Both Mulayam Singh Yadav and N Chandrababu Naidu had campaigned in Assam and repeatedly told reporters in Delhi and elsewhere that after the assembly elections, a number of other ??non-Congress, non-BJP’’ parties (including AGP and AIADMK) would join the new front. The results in Assam and Tamil Nadu, therefore, have come as a bit of a dampener, although efforts to build a third front of sorts are unlikely to be abandoned.

The Left leaders have already made it clear that their ideological battle with the UPA on economic and foreign policies will now intensify. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said,??We have been fighting for the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme for the past two years and will continue to do so.’’ Veteran leader Jyoti Basu gave an interesting twist to that resolve by telling reporters in Kolkata that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ??now will have to play a more crucial role in Delhi in view of the differences between the Left parties and the ruling UPA.’’

That might not be bad news for PM Manmohan Singh who has praised Bhattacharjee’s ??reforms-friendly’’ approach time and again in a subtle bid to contrast it with the more ??hardline’’ stance adopted by the CPI(M) central leadership. In fact, a section of the Congress is quite happy with the resounding Left victory in West Bengal and Kerala. Their argument is that if the Left had fared badly in these polls, the Congress-Left tussle over policy issues would have further intensified.

Left leaders, though, do not agree with this assessment and are certain to step up their opposition to issues such as FDI in retail, petroleum price hike and Indo-US strategic alliance. The Left’s role as the ??real opposition’’ may increase but that is preferable to a resurgent NDA or a troublesome Third Front, UPA leaders reckon.

See online : The Indian Express

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