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Since 1st March, 1999
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Loser & winner: The whys
Lessons from Verdict 2004

New Delhi, May 13: Pollsters, internal assessments, astrologers — they all went wrong.

The general prognosis was the National Democratic Alliance would “somehow” make it and the Congress was destined to sit in the Opposition for another five years. In this stunner of an election, the only person who got it right was the voter who knew who his choice was, untouched by “informed” opinion.

BJP sources rued their over-reliance on party surveys and exit polls and felt it was time they started trusting their political instincts. So what does Verdict 2004 signify'

• Smart alliances work, irrespective of who cobbles them: Complacent that the NDA would get a majority with its nine allies and consolidate its position later, courtesy new friends, the BJP had jettisoned two reliable team-mates: the DMK and its constituents, including the PMK and the MDMK, and the Indian National Lok Dal. The result was a wipeout in Tamil Nadu and one seat in Haryana.

The Congress, on the other hand, did not allow the memories of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the LTTE and the DMK “link” and the Jain Commission report to cloud its political imperatives. It cemented a coalition with the DMK and the Left in Tamil Nadu, a state which eluded its grasp for decades. The alliance worked and resulted in a complete sweep.

The BJP made the mistake of rebuffing the Asom Gana Parishad in the knowledge that it had emerged as the “anti-Congress” pole in Assam. The AGP belied the claim by picking up more seats than the Congress.

In Maharashtra, the alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party came in handy in offsetting the anti-incumbency sentiment against the Sushil Kumar Shinde government.

The other states where alliances came in handy for the Congress were Bihar — though the Rashtriya Janata Dal ladled out only four seats — and Jharkhand, where the Congress-RJD-JMM combine swept the polls.

In Uttar Pradesh, however, the BJP cut its losses by ensuring that the Congress did not tie up with either the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party.

In Karnataka, had the Congress teamed up with H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), the story might have been different.

• Failure of the India Shining and “feel-good” campaign: The India Shining campaign may have been one of the most glitzy publicity exercises after the Congress campaign of 1984. While the latter — which conjured up images of an India “under siege” after Indira Gandhi’s assassination — worked wonders for the Congress, India Shining burnt itself out after a few flickers.

Even BJP strategist Pramod Mahajan said he decided halfway to pull out the campaign once he gauged the extent of what he said was “middle-class anger”.

The middle-class was put off by the perception that the government had allegedly poured crores of taxpayers’ money into the campaign. In rural areas, the “feel-good” catchline was the butt of jokes among people for whom basic amenities like electricity, water and roads were a distant dream.

The idea behind the campaign, BJP strategists said, was to fuel the “aspirations and ambitions” of the poor and the marginalised classes.

• Anti-incumbency: It is difficult to assess the extent to which the anti-incumbency factor operated because there is no general pattern. In Andhra Pradesh, . Chandrababu Naidu was handicapped by the double baggage of his own nine-year rule and the five-year NDA regime. It swept his party and the BJP out.

In Karnataka, S.M. Krishna’s government brought about his own downfall and that of his party, the Congress, in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls to the BJP’s advantage. In Maharashtra, on the other hand, the Congress-NCP could stave off a far greater anti-incumbency disadvantage through a pre-poll coalition, which checked the BJP-Shiv Sena’s march.

In Punjab, chief minister Amarinder Singh had to pay a price for his alleged high-handedness against the Akali Dal.

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