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There exists a tide in Indian politics, that tide is anti-Congressism. This has carried the Bharatiya Janata Party to victories in four states. The results are not unexpected but the scale of it is. The people have rejected India’s oldest political party, the Indian National Congress, in no uncertain terms. The Congress president remarked after the defeat that the party needed deep introspection. This is an utterly superfluous statement. Similarly, her comment that the prevalence of inflation contributed to the defeat begs the question about the cause of the inflation and the failure of the government to tackle the problem. The reasons for the debacle run deeper. There was the persistent perception that Congress governments at the Centre and the state levels were incapable of effective governance and that they lacked a coherent direction. This impression of inefficiency was aggravated by charges of corruption. This created a general ambience in which the Congress was not seen by voters as their first choice for ruling their states. The Congress made no attempt to combat this adverse image. The prime minister was silent; the Congress president hardly seen; and the vice president made no impact when all his supporters had great expectations from him. Thus the party was taken by the flood of its own failures.

The principal beneficiary of the decline in support for the Congress was the BJP. In each of the states where the BJP won, it had strong regional organizations that could exploit the weakness of the Congress. The BJP could, in at least three states, project a leadership that appeared to be decisive. This was seen to be in sharp contrast to the Congress’s lack of decision and delivery. The BJP thus represented a hope for change. Here a contributing factor was the presence of Narendra Modi, seen as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Mr Modi successfully imbued the BJP’s campaign with hope and aspirations; his speeches also galvanized the party workers at the provincial levels. The popular vote was against the Congress and in most places the BJP gained from this negative vote. The results convey the impression that the Congress is a party in terminal decline since it lacks both leadership and direction. The vacuum created by that decline is forcing the Indian voter to seek alternatives. The BJP is one alternative; it should not assume that it is the only one.