Home alone with defeat and despair
Pat on back & advice for Mamata
LS flock in unity chorus as Panjas turn up heat
Bitter foes lend helping hand to Buddha brigade
Priya, Somen back in race as Delhi beckons Pranab
Door ajar for Mamata but on BJP’s terms
Party can’t forget Basu
‘Forgiven’ Amma raring to rule
Kerala score stumps winners and losers
Congress readies for triple coronation

 
 
HOME ALONE WITH DEFEAT AND DESPAIR 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
She rose early all right — at 6 am — but didn’t follow the doc’s other orders for a healthy, wealthy and wise life; after a light breakfast, she chose to fill herself with cups of tea and only two biscuits till late evening.

Mamata Banerjee was crestfallen in defeat, ashamed to show her face to the media; she shut herself in with the idiot box and the constantly-ringing telephone and didn’t come out of her 30B-Harish Chatterjee Street residence after a brief glimpse early in the morning.

She was also sullen in defeat, dishing out yet another resignation threat — this one to her party; she threatened to resign from the chairpersonship of her party, owning responsibility for the defeat. But like other threats, this one was not entertained as well; her party’s “policy-making body” asked her to reconsider her decision. She was doing so till late tonight.

But the morning didn’t begin like that. Before 9 am she showed her face to the television camera, smiled and went back to her room. This was to be her day, the day she expected to know that people had EVM-ed their approval for her anti-Left fight.

But this was one morning which didn’t show the day. The scene had changed three hours later. “Even I am not entering her room easily,” a gentleman, clad in a white kurta-pyjama, said before steering clear of his leader’s room and entering the party office. And, for once, the “even” wasn’t a Trinamul hyperbole; the speaker was Gautam Basu, who usually knows in advance every step Mamata is going to take. And that, when said about Mamata, is saying a lot.

“She’s glued to the TV and the phone,” said one of her sisters-in-law around 2 pm. The television, however, offered her little solace. As the hours flowed by, the scene in front of her house reflected that on the television inside her home and those put up outside for her followers’ benefit; if they showed some silver linings in the morning, when news came in that Ashok Bhattacharyya and Subhas Chakraborty were trailing, the afternoon had only dark clouds that forebade ill for the lady and her party.

But there were others who came to give — and get — solace. There was Pankaj Banerjee who entered his leader’s lair after a hard-fought victory in Tollygunge. He came out in a few minutes to say that people hadn’t been allowed to vote.

There was Tapas Pal, victor from Alipore who hadn’t got Mamata’s vote on Thursday but still managed to win. He was feeling 20 years younger, he said; he made a similarly-triumphant debut on the silver screen two decades ago. Accompanied by wife and daughter, he left after visiting his leader.

There was Madhabi Chakraborty who lost to the chief minister without putting up much fight. She didn’t remember the gap between her and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, she said; a month ago, she predicted she would win Jadavpur by “lakhs and lakhs” of votes.

There were Subrata Mukherjee, who won Chowringhee in the same style Madhabi had lost Jadavpur, and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay who retained Rashbehari. “Ar bolar ki achhe (What’s left to say)?” the mayor asked reporters but then went on to say much more than others in the “hoy ebar, noy never” party: “There’s no room for despair in politics. The fight will go on.”

There was also Sonali Guha who came in late in the afternoon after her giant-killing act; she defeated Gokul Bairagi, former chief minister Jyoti Basu’s Man Friday in Satgachhia. But she knew where her preferences lay; she saw her leader but only after seeing “her mother” at the nearby Kalighat temple.

Trinamul activists tried their best to make up for their leader’s still-unfulfilled dream of becoming chief minister by cheering the woman who’d bagged the former CM’s constituency. But the lengthening shadows — and the somewhat muted response to the “Ek, dui, teen, char, CPM puncture” slogans — showed it would be five more years away from the sun for the party that hoped to deflate the CPM balloon.

   

 
 
PAT ON BACK & ADVICE FOR MAMATA 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
Amid the restrained celebrations of a victory that also surprised the victors by its margin, one man in the CPM apparatchik stood out for being himself: “It is time someone gifted Mamata an untorn sari, a hairband and a bottle of ‘Eleen’ shampoo. Maybe she could even aspire to be an athlete, given the speed at which she fled from the TV cameras today!”

That man is Biman Bose, easily the most outspoken of the top CPM leaders in the state. Unable to conceal his delight, unwanting, in fact, to restrain his euphoria, Biman Bose was feeling vindicated.

“When I told this comrade and that, that we will win 200 seats, it was dismissed. Even Jyotibabu was given to understand that I was being over-optimistic.”

Industrialist Harshvardhan Neotia had just drifted into the party secretariat room where Bose was watching television. Neotia was accompanied by Rajesh Shah of Mukund. Both stayed on till the evening, congratulating the party’s leading figures. Both were effusive in their congratulations to “Bimanda”.

Across the corridor, bouquet after bouquet of yellow and red roses were brought in with increasing frequency.

In the evening, only Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu did not have abir sprinkled over them. “I requested the boys not to put abir on me. I don’t like it,” Bhattacharjee said. Nobody dared ask Basu if he liked abir.

Bhattacharjee carried over the tone and tenor of his campaign speeches to his first news conference after the victory. “‘We’, not ‘You’”, he replied when asked “Do you think you turned the election around for the Left Front?”

“The Left Front is not an electoral alliance alone. It has a definite programme that it has been implementing. Bengal stands out in this country for that reason. Remember, of all the cities in this country, you still get the cheapest meal in Calcutta hotels,” said Bhattacharjee.

From 10 in the morning, supporters gathered in front of Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan. Television crew took positions on the ground floor parking lot. In a first floor room, activists worked the phones, calling first, counting centres, and then — after Anil Biswas, Bhattacharjee and Bose instructed them — the districts committee offices.

Biswas, Bose and Bhattacharjee locked themselves in a room for about half an hour. Loudspeakers relayed results to the crowd. Shyamal Chakraborty, candidate for Maniktala, arrived much before Biswas. He was tense and chain-smoked. Sukhendu Panigrahi and Sailen Dassharma were monitoring the poll results. “Sukhendu, what about Maniktala?” Chakraborty kept badgering Panigrahi.

In the evening, after it was clear that the Left’s tally will not drop significantly from their 1996 total, sympathisers began turning up. Actor Biplab Ray Chaudhuri came with his wife and son. “There’s been no cooking in our house the whole day! Nobody wanted to eat till we were sure of victory,” gushed his wife to Biman.

Bhattacharjee left Alimuddin Street around 2 pm to receive his certificate. Before that he went home to his Palm Avenue government flat.

   

 
 
LS FLOCK IN UNITY CHORUS AS PANJAS TURN UP HEAT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
With the exception of the brothers Panja, Trinamul Congress MPs rallied behind Mamata Banerjee in her hour of crisis, pledging to stand by her despite her failure to dislodge the Left from Bengal.

Ajit Panja, who had fired the first salvo against Mamata shortly before the Assembly elections, launched a fresh offensive against the Trinamul leader today, saying her “dictatorial attitude” had led to the defeat of party nominees in many constituencies.

“The party would have gained had our leader rectified her mistakes, but apparently it was too late,” he said.

The brothers Panja, however, stopped short of trying to engineer a split, saying they have no intention of leaving the party. Ajit Panja claimed that Trinamul had not taken any official decision to withdraw from the NDA.

Other Trinamul leaders like Akbar Ali Khondekar, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Krishna Bose and Bikram Sarkar said they stood firmly behind Mamata in the hour of crisis and there was no question of deserting the party. “I will be with didi whatever the outcome of the Assembly polls,” Khondekar said in Srirampur.

Krishna Bose said there was no possibility of her joining the NDA and pledged her support to Mamata.

Bikram Sarkar, who was backed to the hilt by Mamata during last year’s Panskura bypoll, said: “I will be with Mamata irrespective of the party’s electoral performance.” He, however, did not rule out the possibility of a review of the party’s political strategy in the post-election scenario.

Ajit Panja, who had forecast the party’s poll debacle in the wake of its electoral alliance with the Congress, said Mamata could have faced the elections without seeking the Congress’ help.

“It is time she realises her limitations and behaves in a democratic manner. CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee have apparently finished her political career,” he said.

Asked to comment on Mamata’s decision to step down as the party’s chairperson, Panja said: “This shows that she has conceded defeat.”

He kept the pressure up on the Trinamul leader, saying: “I hope I will get a new Mamata by my side to re-construct the party.”

Ranjit Panja shared his younger brother’s view, saying Mamata’s decision to quit the NDA and join hands with the Congress was “somewhat hasty”. “She also appeared to be in a hurry to select candidates without much consultation,” he said.

He felt the Trinamul leader should have given due weightage to Ajit Panja’s views on political issues instead of ignoring them. Asked to comment on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s open invitation to Trinamul MPs to return to the NDA after the Assembly elections, Ranjit Panja said: “We have not considered the issue. I don’t think a split in the party will serve any useful purpose.”

Nitish Sengupta, Trinamul MP from Tamluk, was away in Delhi. State Trinamul leaders, however, claimed he stood solidly behind Mamata. “We have seen him campaigning for our party candidates and have no reason to question his integrity,” they said.

   

 
 
BITTER FOES LEND HELPING HAND TO BUDDHA BRIGADE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 13: 
The BJP and, to a lesser extent, the PDS might have ended up doing just the opposite of what they had purportedly set out to do. The share of votes they garnered ended up buoying the Left Front instead of sinking it.

For the BJP, it may be pay-back time as well: its candidates, throughout south and central Bengal, ended up getting a larger number of votes than the difference between the winning Left Front candidates and runners-up Trinamul-Congress alliance nominees in about one out of every five seats the latter lost.

In the process, the BJP has just about nudged above the seven per cent mark in the popular vote-share. According to BJP MP and Union minister of state for telecommunications Tapan Sikdar’s personal assessment, it’s about half a per cent more than its share in the 1996 Assembly polls — the last time the party went it alone in Bengal — but that has been enough to help the CPM push towards the absolute majority mark besides helping the Left Front bag 199 seats in the 294-member Vidhan Sabha.

After it was clear from the trends that the BJP had been able to inflict a not-very-light damage on Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s dreams of unseating the Left Front, Sikdar did not try to hide his glee. “Her whimsical attitude, evident in her snapping ties with us midway into campaigning, is responsible for the CPM win,” he said.

The list of seats where the margin of Trinamul-Congress defeat was less than the number of votes polled by the BJP would be seemingly endless: Ballygunge, Jorabagan, Bansberia, Balagarh, Chinsurah, Old Malda, Englishbazar, Habibpur, Nadanghat, Chanditala, Patharpratima, Hasnabad, Narghat, Nalhati, Suri, Murarai....

Though PDS leader and nominee from Ballygunge Tapas Basu was candid enough to admit that the party was not satisfied with its performance, the party — which was formed this February and contested 99 seats — ended up getting about three per cent of the share of anti-government votes. “We aren’t disappointed,” Basu said but admitted that the polarisation of votes between the two main contenders did it in.

   

 
 
PRIYA, SOMEN BACK IN RACE AS DELHI BECKONS PRANAB 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 13: 
The Bengal poll outcome is set to mark changes within the West Bengal Congress unit and renew Sonia Gandhi’s efforts to unify the party in the state and Tamil Nadu.

Bengal party chief Pranab Mukherjee is tipped to relinquish his post to concentrate on national politics as he is the party chief whip in the Rajya Sabha and member of several Congress and parliamentary panels. Pranab’s occupation with the state unit was preventing him from taking up other “meaningful” assignments.

Sources close to Sonia said if Pranab insists on leaving, she will promote someone younger to revive the party, thus pushing up the political stock of Somen Mitra and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. The leadership is upset with A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Murshidabad MP Adhir Chowdhury for creating problems for the Congress-Trinamul combine. Sonia believes if the leaders and some Trinamul supporters had put in “cent per cent”, things would have been better.

In Sonia’s scheme of things, all is not lost in Bengal. While she is disappointed with the tally, Sonia is viewing Mamata Banerjee as a long-term ally and a member of the “Congress parivar”. However, she will not immediately ask her to “come back” and will wait for an appropriate moment to extend the offer.

A source close to Sonia said: “First there will be stock-taking on both sides. A lot will depend on the local sentiments of the two Congresses. We, at the national level, are keen to have Mamata and (G.K.) Moopanar in Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively.”

Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Digvijay Singh thought the alliance would have been more potent had Mamata left the NDA six months ago. “There would have been more time for the cadres to come together,” said Diggy Raja, who campaigned in Bengal. “When I was there, I realised that while there was widespread support for Mamata and us, there was no well-oiled organisational machinery to encash it,” he said.

Digvijay’s view is shared by many who feel unification would solve several organisational problems. “The experience showed that while leaders had struck an alliance, the workers lacked cohesiveness. It was all too sudden, too demanding,” a CWC member said.

Leaders like Kamal Nath do not see problems in unification as there are no sharp ideological differences. Nath also ruled out a possibility of Mamata going back to the NDA.

In Calcutta, Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said: “There is no question of snapping our ties with the Congress after the Assembly poll outcome. We also do not intend to return to the NDA.”

The Congress, however, anticipates a problem if it teams up with the Left to bring down the Vajpayee regime. “In such a scenario, we would draw Mamata’s wrath. But the composition of the 13th Lok Sabha is such that unless we join hands with the Left, we cannot dump the Vajpayee regime,” the leader said.

Reeling under the shock, the Congress leadership is likely to crystallise its strategy in the next few days and renew contact with Mamata after consulting Pranab, Das Munshi and Somen Mitra.

   

 
 
DOOR AJAR FOR MAMATA BUT ON BJP’S TERMS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 13: 
BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi today said Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee will not be given “free entry” to the NDA government if she expresses interest in rejoining it.

Asked to comment on Mamata’s future after the Trinamul’s poll debacle, he said: “Her future is for her to think about. But there will be no free entry inside the NDA. The NDA will have to seriously consider the issue. In any case, the situation does not arise right now.”

BJP sources, however, said they foresee an immediate split in the Trinamul, led possibly by Lok Sabha MP Ajit Panja. The former Union minister, who shared the dais with Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the Bengal poll campaign, had made it clear that he was willing to join the Centre if his Cabinet berth was returned, while the Prime Minister had publicly reassured him of one.

BJP sources conceded that the open offer of a ministership is meant to be a “positive bait” for prospective Trinamul defectors.

The BJP hopes its numerical strength in Delhi will ward off any negative fallout the NDA’s defeat in the Assembly elections may have. Far from destabilising the government, party sources hope that the BJP’s allies will rally around Vajpayee more firmly. Second, there will be an accretion of strength by splitting parties like the Trinamul and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Numbers alone are what the BJP is focused upon at the moment. Asked if the Congress’ victories in Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry will make it more aggressive towards the Centre and possibly put the government on the mat in the monsoon session of Parliament, sources said: “What can the Congress do? We challenge them to bring a vote of no-confidence if they think we have lost the popular mandate. We can assure them it will be resoundingly defeated.”

Claiming that the results were largely on predictable lines, Krishnamurthi said the only surprise was sprung by Tamil Nadu. “It was a big surprise because there was no sign of an anti-incumbency wave,” he explained.

The BJP chief did not think that ADMK chief Jayalalitha’s disqualification from contesting the elections played a role in evoking sympathy. “People wanted a change of government,” he said. Neither did the projection of M.K. Stalin as DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s successor matter in the ultimate analysis, he added. Krishnamurthi attributed the DMK’s rout to the low voter turnout. “It was complacency on the part of DMK workers. The BJP has not failed but our ally has,” he said.

He admitted that the BJP is unhappy with its failure to open its account in Kerala, where the party eyed the Majeshwar seat in Kasargode district. “We had lost this seat by just 2,000 votes the last time and we were hoping to make up because influential communities like the Nairs and Ezhawas had promised us support,” said Krishnamurthi. Despite defeat staring in the face, Krishnamurthi maintained that the AGP-BJP alliance in Assam has paid off. “But for this combination, the Congress would have swept the elections. At least we managed to contain the Congress,” he said.

Krishnamurthi said the BJP will continue to work with both its allies, the DMK and the AGP. The party intends have an introspection on the polls at a meeting of central office-bearers in the last week of May in Mussourie.

   

 
 
PARTY CAN’T FORGET BASU 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 13: 
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may appear to many to be the man who turned round the Assembly elections for the CPM, but the party’s central leadership is maintaining that it has been a vote for “Jyoti Basu’s Bengal”.

“It is not only Buddhadeb, but the entire party has worked for this victory. It is a vote for Jyoti Basu,” said CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet at a news conference this evening.

The party is still to look into the factors which led to the return of the Left Front in Bengal. The leaders were ready for a loss of margin and were pleasantly surprised by the party’s ability to hold on to its base.

Though the party had projected Buddhadeb, who is beginning a fresh innings as an “agent of change” in the CPM, the leaders are steering clear of attributing too much credit to the chief minister.

One reason is, this would mean belittling the Jyoti Basu regime — the man who suddenly seems to have moved away from the spotlight that had rivetted on him for all these years.

The other reason is that the Communists, as a rule, put the party above the individual, though personalities have often dominated the party and its politics.

As far as the central leadership was concerned, people in Bengal were not ready to accept an “unprincipled” gang-up of anti-Marxist forces. “This line has been totally rejected,” said party politburo member Prakash Karat.

The CPM general secretary is leaving for Calcutta tomorrow to attend the state secretariat meeting. The party politburo will meet here on Wednesday.

The Bengal results have left the CPM upbeat. The party is looking at the outcome as a turning point for a realignment at the national level.

“This will trigger changes in the National Democratic Alliance and the allies will now have to rethink their partnership with the BJP,” said Surjeet. After the first round of Assembly polls, the Left is now shifting its attention to the Uttar Pradesh elections.

The CPM is training its guns on the Congress for teaming up with the Trinamul Congress, a party that not even formally “disowned” the BJP. The Congress is also being accused of having an undercover alliance with the RSS in Kerala, where the Left Front has taken a severe beating from the Congress-led United Democratic Front. “The Congress has proved it is not concerned about secularism but is only interested in defeating the Left,” said Surjeet.

Explaining the party’s dismal show, the CPM general secretary alleged that there was a transfer of RSS votes to the Congress and that people were misled by the UDF into believing that the E.K. Nayanar government was responsible for the economic policies that were affecting them.

“Instead of targeting the Centre which is initiating these disastrous policies, the Congress mischievously laid the blame at the door of the ruling Left Democratic Front government,” said Karat.

   

 
 
‘FORGIVEN’ AMMA RARING TO RULE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, May 13: 
It is a come-back with a vengeance. Jayalalitha Jayaram stunned friends and foes alike as the ADMK crossed the majority mark on its own.

Jayalalitha, who has often made it clear that she does not favour a coalition government, is now expected to form a ministry without allies.

A victorious Jayalalitha has also kept her options open on future alignments. She said today that “nothing can be achieved by pursuing a confrontationist attitude with the Centre”, reviving speculation that she was not averse to returning to the BJP in the long term.

By giving her a thumping majority, the Tamil voters made it clear that Jayalalitha has been forgiven in the people’s court. Perhaps in gratitude, 53-year-old Jayalalitha, in her moment of victory, displayed uncharacteristic humility, repeating her mentor MGR’s mantra: “Makkal theerpei mahesan theerpu… (People’s verdict is god’s own).”

She did not talk of wreaking revenge on M. Karunanidhi in a brief interaction with the media, she only promised to “put the state back on the rails”. Reiterating the charge of a DMK vendetta against her, she conceded that the economic difficulties of the people might have played a key role in its defeat.

As speculation on whether she will stake claim to form the government reached fever pitch, she told a TV channel: “If I opt out, it’d be unfair to the people who voted so massively for my front only in the hope of seeing me as the next chief minister…”

Whether she stages a comeback to Fort St. George or one of her minions is installed as the “interim” chief minister, it is clear that she would not go behind bars in any of the cases against her.

For Karunanidhi, it is a bitter swan song. It was the last polls the 77-year-old DMK chief was actively campaigning in and he has been dropping hints that he was grooming his son, M.K. Stalin, as his successor.

A bitter Karunanidhi sardonically remarked that it was perhaps the reward for his good governance and claimed that the voters were fooled by the false propaganda that he had conspired to have Jayalalitha disqualified.

Ultimately, the new economic policies turned the people against him. Besides, Karunanidhi dug his own grave by allowing allies like Ramadoss and Vaiko to slip out of his grasp. Further, rallying the Dalits seems to have turned the non-Dalit votes against him.

It was decimation for the DMK, many of its leaders falling by the wayside, others managing to scrape through. The leaders of the casteist outfits he took on board came to grief, too.

The DMK lost four of the 14 seats in Chennai, indicating the agonising times the party is going through. Most of the Cabinet ministers, including Speaker P.T.R. Palanivel Rajan, bit the dust.

While Karunanidhi and Stalin won comfortably from city seats, party general secretary K. Anbazhagan squeaked past by a razor-thin margin of 300-odd votes.

Deputy Speaker Parithi Ilamvazhudhi was declared a winner by only 85 votes in another city constituency, a DMK stronghold he had won during the more humiliating rout of 1991.

In the ADMK front, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) made handsome gains. Against the four seats it had won in the last elections contesting independently, it has bagged many more this time as a key ally of the ADMK.

Though party chief Ramadoss helped Amma win a number of seats in the northern districts, she failed to return the compliment in Pondicherry, where the PMK was to have had the first shot at chief ministership.

The party was routed, failing to win even a single seat. It is sweet revenge for the Congress, which could form the government.

The results have come as a boost for the ailing G. Karuppiah Moopanar, who has managed to infuse some life into the Tamil Maanila Congress. Even the moribund Congress bagged a couple of seats.

The two communist partners, too, have notched up 11 seats. “Certainly we didn’t expect this kind of a sweep… There’s no knowing whether she (Jayalalitha) would not be back to her arrogant and autocratic ways, but at the moment we have the satisfaction of worsting Karunanidhi who betrayed the secular cause,” observed a communist leader, perhaps summing up the feelings of several others in the alliance.

   

 
 
KERALA SCORE STUMPS WINNERS AND LOSERS 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Thiruvananthapuram, May 13: 
The landslide victory of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala has taken both the winners and the losing CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) by surprise.

Though the UDF leadership expected to win the polls, the mood in its camp during the last two days certainly did not corroborate the exit polls, which had predicted between 95 and 100 seats for the front. The UDF has won 99 seats and the LDF 40.

Many UDF leaders had maintained in private even last night that the Front would not gain two-thirds majority. After the announcement of results, senior Congress leaders K. Karunakaran and A.K. Antony admitted that the margin of victory was greater than expected.

The LDF leadership, on its part, believed even as the counting began that it would get a slender majority. They had rejected the exit polls as non–representative because the sample was collected only from 20 seats out of 140. They even brushed aside early trends that suggested huge wins for the UDF.

Significant among the other winners is Congress rebel M.M. Wahid, who contested as independent and captured the Kazhakootam seat in Thiruvananthapuram district defeating both the UDF and LDF.

LDF’s rout is all the more painful because many heavyweights lost. They include M. Vijayakumar, Speaker of the outgoing Assembly and four ministers — K.E. Ismail and Krishnan Kaniyamparambil of the CPI, V.P. Ramakrishna Pillai of the RSP and P.J. Joseph of the Kerala Congress. CPM state secretariat member P.K. Gurudasan also bit the dust at Varkkala, which has been considered a Red bastion for long.

Initial estimates indicate that three major factors have caused the LDF debacle. An overriding anti-incumbency feeling against the LDF government, the transfer of votes by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the UDF in about 30 selected constituencies across the state and the unprecedented failure of the LDF’s organisational machinery in assessing the actual political situation in the constituencies.

The anti-incumbency factor is obvious from the reduction of LDF votes from 46.03 per cent in 1996 to 43.70 per cent this time. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the LDF had got 43.77 per cent of the votes.

The UDF’s vote share has increased from 44.84 per cent in 1996 and 47.06 per cent in 1999 to 49.05 per cent this time. This increase of 2 percentage points from 1999 is mainly because of the RSS contribution of votes.

The BJP, which had polled 8.02 per cent of the votes in 1998, has bagged only 5.48 per cent this time — as much as it did in 1996.

The results in constituencies such as Varkala and Thiruvananthapuram West in the capital district, Thodupuzha in Idukki and Karunagapalli in Kollam district clearly point towards the RSS contribution. These seats, which the UDF has won, have been LDF citadels. There was also a dramatic reduction in the BJP vote in these seats.

Ranjit Nair, a BJP youth leader of Thiruvananthapuram resigned from the party a day before counting, alleging that senior leaders colluded with the UDF, transferred votes and harmed the interests of the BJP and the RSS. In Thodupuzha, too, where former education minister P.J. Joseph was defeated, there are rumblings in the BJP about the transfer of votes.

The most stunning blow to the CPM has been the failure to assess the ground situation. Even after polling, the CPM leadership, including party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, had claimed that LDF would get around 85 seats on the basis of polling analysis by booth-level units.

These analyses usually do not exaggerate the party’s chances. In previous elections, even in those lost by the LDF, the post-polling analyses cadre had been correct. This time, however, these reports were completely off the mark. This is seen by many in the party leadership as an indication of organisational machinery’s losing efficiency and the CPM’s growing alienation from the people.

   

 
 
CONGRESS READIES FOR TRIPLE CORONATION 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 13: 
Tarun Gogoi, A.K. Antony and V. Shanmugham are set to be the Congress chief ministers of Assam, Kerala and Pondicherry respectively.

Elated over the poll results, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is sending observers to Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram and Pondicherry to formalise the selection of chief ministers.

The AICC general secretary in charge of Assam, Kamal Nath, will go to Guwahati along with Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir to help elect a new leader. Sonia today phoned Gogoi, congratulating him on the party’s success. In the evening, she chaired a meeting attended by Nath, Ambika Soni, Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, Ghulam Nabi Azad and other AICC functionaries.

The leadership is confident that Gogoi, Antony and Shanmugham’s election will be smooth. Senior party leaders said the three had led the party’s campaign and enjoy the support of the majority of party MLAs.

Karunakaran would not be able to throw a leadership challenge to his arch rival since the Antony camp has the support of 35 MLAs against the former’s tally of 27.

There were fire-crackers, drums, distribution of laddoos at 24 Akbar Road and 10 Janpath. A beaming Sonia told reporters: “It is a reflection on the functioning of the Vajpayee government. It will certainly have an impact on the Vajpayee regime.”

The chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chattisgarh queued up at 10 Janpath attributing victory to “Madam”. Diggy Raja said: “The election results manifest that under dynamic leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress is set on a course of rejuvenation. The truth speaks for itself and it speaks loudly. The Congress now rules 11 states of the Union, that is more than half of India.”

The Congress leadership is confident that the outcome of the polls would hasten the process of disintegration of the NDA. “The message to the allies is that the time has come to have a second thought on the question of going along with Vajpayee and Advani. It is not a coincidence that those who had gone with the BJP were doomed in the course of time,” Diggy said.

Several senior party leaders want Sonia to take the lead to dislodge the Vajpayee regime while a minority view is against such “adventurist course”. Those favouring a shy at Raisina Hills feel the party may not have such a good setting later on. They said the next round of Assembly polls would be in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress today lost the Shahjahanpur Lok Sabha byelection where Jitendra Prasada’s widow was in the fray.

The Congress leadership expressed its unhappiness over party MP Kapil Sibal’s remark on a TV channel that it was not proper for Jayalalitha to be the chief minister of Tamil Nadu on “moral grounds”.

Soni said: “It is for the ADMK MLAs to elect the new leader. As alliance partners, we have accepted Jayalalitha as our leader. There is nothing wrong if she becomes chief minister.”

Ridiculing the morality bit, she asked: “What about the morality of three Ayodhya-tainted ministers continuing in Vajpayee Cabinet? What about action against those figuring in Tehelka tapes? Can morality be applied selectively?”

   
 

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