Beating the NDA at its own game, Sonia Gandhi cobbled together formidable alliances that worked wonders for the Congress in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The party went on to bag 145 seats even though its vote share reduced by 1.5 per cent since the last general elections.
As a result, the Congress, which got one seat more than it did in 1999, handed out a stunning and unexpected defeat to the NDA-led coalition, even though the BJP and its allies managed to poll 35.31 per cent of the vote. This was 0.12 per cent more than the vote polled by the coalition led by Gandhi.
The BJP -- with 182 seats, it was the single largest party in the dissolved House -- suffered a negative swing of 1.68 per cent, heavily bringing its tally down to 138 after the recent elections.
This was because the Congress came up with more effective alliances.
As a result, the Congress' vote share in the overall kitty was bound to go down but the alliance won more seats because they contested from constituencies where they were strong, says Naveen Surapaneni of the Centre for Media Studies.
Alliances work wonders in that the Index of Opposition Unity for the parties goes down drastically, improving their chances of victory, he explained.
In the last elections, the BJP, which had into entered alliances with several regional parties, got only 23.75 of the vote though it won a total of 182 seats. But the Congress, which trudged a lonely path, got just 114 seats even though it had a vote share of 28.3 per cent.
This time, the BJP lost many of its alliance partners. This benefited the Congress which, for the first time in its history, forged electoral tie-ups at the national level. As a result, the BJP's vote share dipped from 23.75 per cent in 1999 to 22.07 per cent in 2004.
Another highlight of this year's polls -- which demolished the projections and predictions made by most pollsters and experts -- is the strength of the 'other' parties, mainly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Communist Party of India and the Janata Dal (Secular).
This is because the Left parties, who are ideologically opposed to the BJP, helped the Congress gain strength as they contested in tandem with secular parties in select states excluding their own strongholds, West Bengal and Kerala.
Fighting under a separate umbrella, the CPI (M) gained substantially. It registered 43 wins, a gain of 14 seats, while the CPI gained 10 seats, an increase of seven since 1999.
Interestingly, the CPI (M)'s vote share increased by 0.37 per cent from 5.4 to 5.77 per cent while the CPI saw a decline of 0.6 per cent -- from 1.48 to 1.42 per cent -- in its vote share.
In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, who are arch detractors, went to the polls on their own and registered a career best of 36 and 19 seats respectively. In the process, they dealt the BJP a body blow.
Despite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's aggressive campaign, the spectacular result brought by these two parties dashed all hopes the BJP entertained of a second term at the Centre.
Ironically, the BSP's vote share saw a 1.04 per cent increase from 4.16 to 5.2, though it got fewer seats than the SP.
The SP, on the other hand, increased its vote percentage from 3.76 to 4.16 per cent -- a mere increase of 0.4 per cent -- but reaped rich dividends.
A reason for this contradiction could be the fact that the BSP fielded more candidates than the SP.
Another reason for the SP's excellent performance was its tie-up with the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal in western Uttar Pradesh.
The RLD, which won three seats, saw a positive swing of 0.22 per cent, taking its vote share to 0.59 per cent. This alliance worked wonders for the SP as well as it helped bind a Jat-Thakur-Muslim combination in western UP and a Yadav-Muslim-Thakur combination elsewhere in the state.
The political environment has become very dynamic. A lot of region-specific factors are coming into play and these factors are getting reflected in the final results, says Suprepaneni.
The JD (S) led by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda sprang a similar surprise in Karnataka with a 0.66 per cent positive swing. This saw his party's vote share rise from 0.91 to 1.57 per cent.
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav's decision to align with the Congress, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Jan Shakti and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party did the trick for him in Bihar. His party gained as many as 17 seats, raising his tally to 21. This, despite a negative swing of 1.14 per cent that reduced the RJD's vote share from 2.79 to 1.65 per cent.
But the Congress's biggest success story is Tamil Nadu where Gandhi, despite criticism, joined hands with Muthuvel Karunanidhi's Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a party that has been accused of having links with those involved in the assassination of her husband, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The tie-up between the DMK, V Gopalaswamy aka Vaiko's Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Dr S Ramadoss' Pattali Makkal Katchi -- which were part of the BJP-led alliance in 1999 -- and the Congress swept Tamil Nadu leaving the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (led by J Jayalalithaa)-BJP alliance without a single seat.
While the DMK's vote percentage increased by a mere 0.12 per cent -- from 1.73 per cent to 1.85 per cent -- its seat count increased from 11 to 16.
The PMK also gained; its seats went up from five to six, though its vote share reduced by 0.08 per cent -- from 0.65 to 0.57 per cent.
Both the MDMK's tally and its vote share remained static at four seats and 0.44 per cent respectively.
The irony in Tamil Nadu could be gauged from the fact that, for want of a formidable alliance, the ruling AIADMK did not get a single seat even though its vote share saw a increase of 0.31 per cent from 1.93 per cent to 2.24 per cent.
Pawar's NCP, which was formed on the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, saw its vote tally reduce from 2.27 to 1.81 although it won nine seats -- the same number it won in the previous elections. This too happened because the party entered into a pact with the Congress.