The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hindutva march halts in Himachal

New Delhi, March 1: The BJP’s Hindutva juggernaut, which started its roll from Gandhinagar, was today stopped in its tracks in Shimla with voters pronouncing a decisive yes to the Congress in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections.

The Congress won 40 of the 65 seats that went to polls and is all set to return to power after a five-year interregnum.

The Congress also emerged as the single largest party in Meghalaya where it will have to secure afresh the support of former allies — the Nationalist Congress Party, the United Democratic Party, the Meghalaya Democratic Party and the Hill State People’s Democratic Party — to cobble together a government. But the news from Nagaland and Tripura was bad for the Congress.

In Tripura, the CPM, the major partner of the ruling Left Front, secured an absolute majority on its own, bagging 32 seats in the 60-member House.

In Nagaland, the Congress faced its worst rout in decades with its strongman and chief minister S.C. Jamir looking like being unseated by the Naga People’s Front, a coalition hurriedly sewn up by Samata Party leader George Fernandes and supposed to have the tacit support of the NSCN (IM).

For the BJP — which faced the added ignominy of losing an Assembly seat held by former chief minister Rajnath Singh to the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh — some cheer came from Nagaland where it opened its account with four seats despite not being a part of the NPF.

Rattled by the Himachal verdict, the BJP brass, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and party president Venkaiah Naidu, will go into a huddle tomorrow.

“The meeting will discuss the outcome of the Himachal elections as also the future course of action by the party in the coming months,” Naidu told reporters after a meeting to take stock of the political scenario in Jharkhand. BJP sources indicated there would be a detailed look into the role played by rebels.

While the BJP attributed the Himachal defeat to an anti-incumbency wave and the presence of a large number of rebels in the fray, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi pinned it to the absence of a “Hindutva wave”.

“The results have proved that the so-called Hindutva wave was not working as they had said and hoped. This is a matter of great satisfaction,” she said.

With the question of who will be chief minister up in the air, Sonia has despatched three central observers to assess the mood among the newly elected legislators and find out whose claims — Veerbhadra Singh or Vidya Stokes — are stronger.

While the Congress victory turned the spotlight on rival personalities, the BJP’s Himachal heavyweights could not cloak differences even in defeat. Its central minister Shanta Kumar — who allegedly worked against chief minister P.K. Dhumal — could not stop smiling on television today.

Blaming the incumbent government of not fulfilling the “promises” it made to the people, Kumar said: “We have to accept the verdict and I congratulate the Congress.”

Unlike the last round of by-elections which coincided with the Gujarat polls and saw the Congress bite dust, this time the party held its own in Karnataka, Assam and Maharashtra, all three of which it rules.

The ADMK won Sattankulam by a 14,000-margin and the People’s Democratic Party bagged Pampore in Jammu and Kashmir. However, Uttar Pradesh saw the defeat of both the Congress and the BJP in Gauriganj and Haidergarh respectively. Gauriganj, which is in Sonia’s Amethi Lok Sabha constituency, went to the BSP.

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