Congress sweeps back to office; Jayalalitha’s Eelam call rejected

Special report

By Gen. Ashok Mehta

With the Congress Party-led alliance retaining control of the Indian parliament, winning more than 255 seats in a house of 545, there should be greater clarity in policy for a number of reasons.

First, it is a coalition government but the Congress is an undisputed senior partner. After its victory, the party spokesman said: “we will stand by our allies, new allies are welcome but no one is indispensable”. This suggests that instead of mollycoddling coalition partners as it had been forced to do after its alliance won the 2004 elections, the Congress will dictate policy in a manner that is more confident and self-assured.

The most important feature of the verdict is that the alliance will no longer have to rely on the crutches of the Left parties. Hamstrung by policy intervention by the Left and constantly forced to look over its shoulder, the Congress was unable to move ahead decisively in several areas of policy reform including judicial reform and changes in foreign policy nuances. This did not change even after the left withdrew support following the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement which the Left argued, made India the backyard of US imperialism.

In the case of the result in Tamil Nadu, an old adage came true again: That whichever regional party that aligns with Indian National Congress would win the election.

However two Congress heavyweights union home minister P Chidambaram and former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar lost the elections. But recounting was ordered in Sivaganga, where Chidambaram is contesting the elections, and results are being awaited.

Early trends indicate that Dravida Munnetra Kazahagam (DMK)-Congress alliance is likely to win 26 out of 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The opposition led by All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which boasted of a large number of partners, could secure only 10seats.

Significantly, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which was with UPA alliance till March this year before switching over to AIADMK alliance, lost all the seven seats it contested. This party, so far, was credited to be on the winning side on every election that was held in the last decade.

PMK had so far gained electoral strength because of strong support from Vanniyar community especially in Northern Tamil Nadu. With AIADMK-PMK combine not doing well, the DMK swept the polls in this region which also includes the state capital Chennai - their traditional stronghold. The DMK won in 18 out of 21 seats it contested, thus having a winning record of 85 per cent. Last time, the DMK won all the 16 seats it contested.

However the winning percentage of its alliance partner is not high. Congress could win only eight out of 16 seats it contested. This, according to a political analyst, could be due to Tamil Ealem issue in Sri Lanka where Congress is blamed for not acting early enough to avert the crisis, although others say the Congress MPs were not attentive enough to their constituencies.

The performance of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, where AIADMK has strong presence, has surprised experts. Tamil Nadu chief minister’s son M Azhagiri, who contested from Madurai constituency, won comfortably. It is his electoral debut.

AIADMK alliance performed well in western and central Tamil Nadu, which included industrial belts of Coimbatore, Tirupur and Karur.

The acute power scarcity, which adversely affected production, along with recent economic slowdown resulting in job losses was cited as reasons for the AIADMK’s strong performance in this Western region.

The other three alliance partners of AIADMK – CPI, CPM and MDMK – won only one seat each. The two communist parties won two seats each in the last general election, while MDMK led by Vaiko- who also lost the election this time -- won only one out of four seats it contested, suggesting the total absence of any resonance of the Sri Lanka Tamil issue in the election.

The state’s third force led by filmstar Vijaykanth’s party Desiya Mutpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) did not win any of the seats it contested. But it is expected that this party must have cut into the opposition vote share. Detailed break up of votes secured by each candidate was not available at the time of writing this report.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which contested the election alone, also did not win any seats in Tamil Nadu. Also missing in action were the rabidly Tamil parties. The Congress-led government will set about drafting its foreign policy with new confidence, unfettered by considerations of pressure from allies.

The unremarkable performance of Jayalalitha suggests that interference in Sri Lanka is not going to be demanded anytime soon, although humanitarian action will continue to be a major policy element.

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