By Prakash Karat
What is the meaning of this verdict? How is it to be interpreted? The first point to be noted is that while there has been a pro-Congress trend in some parts of the country, taken overall, there is no big shift in favour of the Congress. In terms of vote share, the Congress has got just about 2 per cent more than in 2004.
According to the Election Commission's figures, the Congress party has got 28.55 per cent of the vote. In 2004, it had got 26.53 per cent. The Congress made big gains in Kerala and Rajasthan and improved its position in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Its allies like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal were also successful. That there was no wave or a strong all-India shift in favour of the Congress can be seen by the party losing ground in states like Orissa, Jharkhand, Assam, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Karnataka to mention a few. Here the Congress vote share and seats have gone down compared to 2004. In Andhra Pradesh, while its seats increased, the vote share of the Congress has gone down.
Another feature is that while Congress gained 2 per cent, the BJP lost around 3 per cent. The loss of the BJP has gone to the Congress but the combined percentage of vote of both parties stands more or less as it was in 2004. In 2004, the two parties combined got 48.69 per cent of the vote and in 2009 it stands at over one per cent less at 47.35 per cent.
This is at a time when the Congress and the BJP fought more seats than in 2004. This is particularly significant since it shows no reversal in the long term decline of the two parties. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties continue to have more than 50 per cent share of the vote.
The second point to note in interpreting the verdict is the failure of the BJP and its political platform. The people have rejected the BJP's claim of providing good governance and defending national security. What they saw in the election campaign was the recurrence of communal rhetoric and the ingrained penchant for communalising all problems including terrorism.
Varun Gandhi's virulent hate speeches and the eulogising of Narendra Modi as the future leader symbolised this campaign. The failure to capitalise on a host of issues such as price rise, unemployment and the continuing agrarian distress by the major opposition party underlines the depth of the rejection of the BJP.
The only NDA partner to do well was the JD (U) in Bihar and that is not due to the BJP but the positive impact of the Nitish Kumar government and the care he took to demarcate himself from the communal platform of the BJP.
Another pointer to the rejection of the BJP comes from Orissa. The BJD, which broke from the BJP just two months before the election, won a spectacular victory getting 103 of the 145 seats in the assembly. In the 2004 assembly election, the BJD-BJP alliance won 93 seats. Thus, the BJD improved its performance after breaking with the BJP.
Reasons for Congress Success
The third point to understand the verdict is that despite the neo-liberal predilections of the Congress-led government, some of the measures adopted have had a positive impact on the people. These are the NREGA, which now extends to the entire country, the Tribal Forest Rights Act and the increase in the minimum support price for rice and wheat, the loan waiver scheme for farmers and some such measures, many of whom were brought under the pressure of the Left parties.
Despite the agrarian crisis, such measures provided some relief to the rural people. Along with this should be seen the measures taken by some of the state governments such as the Rs 2 per kg of rice scheme in Andhra Pradesh and the Re 1 per kg scheme in Tamilnadu and other social welfare measures.
In Orissa too, the Rs 2 per kg of rice bolstered the support for the Navin Patnaik government. At the same time, the fact that four years of high growth of the GDP did not lead to redistribution of resources and incomes and instead sharply increased economic inequalities did play a role in restricting the Congress's capacity to expand its popular base.
The Congress gained more support amongst the minorities who were keen to ensure that the BJP does not make a come back. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties were not seen as a viable alternative in most parts of the country and this accentuated the shift in minority support to the Congress.
The Congress party has also benefited from the concern of the people that the country should face unitedly the threat of terrorism and their fear that communalism can only aggravate the situation.
Setback for the Left
The CPI (M) and the Left have suffered a serious setback with the losses in West Bengal and Kerala. It was expected that the Left would get a lesser number of seats in these elections given the fact that in Kerala, the LDF had won an unprecedented 18 out of the 20 seats and the Congress got none in the 2004 elections.
In West Bengal too, the odds were heavier given the Trinamool Congress and Congress combining and all the anti-Communist forces launching a concerted attack against the CPI (M) and the Left Front. But the extent of the defeat in both these states has led to the CPI(M) getting only 16 seats, the lowest ever in the Lok Sabha.
This calls for a serious examination of the causes for these reverses. We have to conduct a self-critical review to ascertain what are the factors which are responsible for this poor performance.
Both national and state level factors have to be analysed. The electoral-tactical line formulated by the Party at the national level and the national political situation which influenced the Lok Sabha polls must be studied. Along with that, the specific state factors in both West Bengal and Kerala must also be taken into account.
The Politburo, in its meeting held on May 18, 2009, has initiated such a review which will be completed by the Central Committee in its meeting to be held in June. After identifying the reasons for the failure, the Party will have to take the necessary political and organisational measures to overcome the shortcomings and mistakes.
On this basis, the Party will strenuously work to regain the support of those sections of the people who were alienated from the Party and the Left-led fronts. Such a self-critical exercise will also pave the basis for the Party taking up the organisational tasks set out in the Party Congress to strengthen the Party and to expand its mass influence.
Third Front Alliance
In the discussions held in the Politburo, there was a preliminary review of the Party's effort to forge a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance and present it as an electoral alternative. The Central Committee, in its meeting held in Kochi in January 2009, had worked out the electoral-tactical line and given the direction that “the Left parties along with the secular parties should work together to make a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative realizable.”
The CPI(M) and the CPI had an electoral understanding with some of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and seat adjustments in Karnataka. On the basis of these state level understandings forged on the eve of the elections, we attempted to project them as a national level non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.
The defeat of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala and the failure of the alliance in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to win a majority of the seats undermined any effective presence of the “Third Front” at the national level. It is evident that such a combination which had its relevance in the concerned states was not a credible and viable alternative at the national level. Further, the electoral combinations, which were forged state-wise, precluded any national policy platform being projected.
There have been two consequences of the projection of a Third Front. Firstly, the BJP-led NDA was adversely affected by the formation of a non-Congress secular combination. The BJP and the NDA's tally has come down since they were denied any significant ally in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
The second point to be noted is that the secular non-Congress combination has got 21 per cent of the vote and this shows the potential for building up a third alternative on the lines suggested by the CPI (M) in its Party Congress. That is, an alternative which is not merely an electoral alliance but a coming together of the parties and forces on a common platform through movements and struggles for alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP.
A disturbing feature of this Lok Sabha election was the use of money on a scale not seen before. States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka saw an unprecedented use of illegal money. The Madurai constituency in Tamil Nadu was the worst example of the brazen use of money.
In other states too, this trend has grown which is vitiating the democratic process. More and more tickets are being given to moneybags and parties are collecting huge sums of money to be deployed for bribing voters. This is a threat to the entire democratic process and is particularly inimical to the Left's interests which cannot indulge in such unscrupulous use of money power.