Bye Polls: Questioning the Wave

By Cleofato A Coutinho
27 September 2014 23:49 IST

Normally after a massive mandate there is what is called ‘honeymoon’ period for the elected government. Hundred days is certainly within that period but within the first hundred days the ruling party which got an unprecedented mandate since the past two and half decades, lost the bye elections in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, to an extent in Rajasthan and Karnataka and even in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.  No government can be adjudged within 100 days of office. But it cannot be ignored that the total number of seats were about 50 spread over the country. The reversal of the BJP fortunes in the Hindi Heart land of UP and Bihar is decisive.  Most of the seats where bye polls were conducted were held by the ruling BJP and the only consistent trend across several states is a reversal of the 2014 general election verdict. The overall loss cannot be by coincidence .The pattern is loud and clear.

The question is whether there was at all a wave in favour of Narendra Modi or it was only the decline in the Congress party’s fortunes which was harvested by the Prime Minister. Since 1967 no prime minister has come back after completing the full term except Manmohan Singh who got a second term. The government of Maharashtra is bound to get voted out after a period of 15 years. Similarly the government of Haryana is likely to be shown the door after a decade. You don’t require a wave for them to be voted out.  If we look at the 2014 general elections from historical perspective it was time for the congress party to be voted out but the decimation pushed the party into serious crises which made political pundits question whether the party can recover and revive itself.

It may be said that bye elections and particularly the assembly bye polls are based upon local issues and that the central government’s performance cannot be subject matter for people to vote. But then let us not forget that 2004 election built a cult like intensely personal campaign around Narendra Mod­­i. His government is looking more presidential and less parliamentary with the decision making centralized and the party to which the Prime Minister belongs is taken over by his close aide. Who else can take the blame for this slide? When credit is given for wining Delhi University Student’s Council elections why no debit for loss at assembly bye polls?

In the seventies after Indira Gandhi took over, she had little respect for the party and took systematic steps to change party into a centralized organization veering around her in much the same way as the present central government has centralized power around Narendra Modi. If the decline of the Congress in 1977 was attributed to Indira Gandhi, its rise in 1980 also gave her full credit.  If   verdict at the general elections in 2014 is due to Narendra Modi, then the sharp decline in the bye elections must also be laid at his door. 

The hype created around ‘Achhe din’ based upon the development plank which this country’s  middle class yearns  for permitted the harvesting of the decline of the Congress party, accelerated  by the demand for accountability in governance by the civil society.  In the first 100 days of governance,  ‘Achhe din’ appears to be a mirage.  The new regime started by amending the TRAI Act through an ordinance to permit the former TRAI chairman to be the principal secretary to the prime minister. The way the issue  of Gopal Subramanyam was handled shows  that the present regime is no different.  A serious issue of appointing the Chief vigilance commissioner through an ‘in house’ selection panel  was frowned upon by the Supreme Court a few days back. The appointment of governors and particularly the appointment of former Chief Justice of India as Governor of a state have proved that there is no reversal from the past. The fear of going back to the electorate in Delhi proves  that there is no difference in the manipulative  tactics  while price rise continue to haunt us we have to live on a diet of speeches waiting for the ‘Achhe din’.   

The bye elections results have come at the right time. Though Narendra Modi spoke of developments and attacked corruption and the lack of governance in UPA  and promised the electorate the ‘Gujarat Model’ during the national elections, it appears the party mistook the mandate in their favour in Uttar Pradesh due to  the Muzafarnagar laboratory of polarization. The last two months before the bye elections are demonstrated that the basic aim of the campaign managed by Amit shah and local leaders coupled with  complete silence from the prime minister was intended to further polarize   through love Jihad and anti beef campaigns. The  western UP decisively  rejected such mobilization. Certainly western UP has provided lessons to the ruling

Looking at the elections from a different perspective it could be seen that Congress party’s  success in Uttarkhand and to some extent in Karnataka Punjab and Rajasthan is due to the local leaders like Harish Rawat, Sidharamaiah and Sachin Pilot as Rahul Gandhi went missing  The revival of Congress fortunes now  depends upon the party’s  ability to encourage state leaders and function as an effective opposition inside  and outside the parliament. Congress ought to take a few lessons from Samajwadi Party which pressed all forces at its command, though everything was stacked against them Besides the issues of accountability in governance, the failure of the government in handling the rising prices and rising communal polarization provide clear openings for the Congress to lead opposition  from the front and to rally the other state parties behind it.

But 100 days is too short a period to write off any leader. Yet it would be unwise to underestimate the clear pattern  of the bye poll results which may not be lethal to the ruling party but has certainly given lessons for the ruling party and the opposition to ponder upon. Are our parties smart enough to  admit their mistakes,  learn from the past and strong enough to correct their path? 

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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