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|May 21, 2001||
T V R Shenoy
Winners, half-winners and losers
This round of assembly elections comes in the wake of the Budget session of Parliament -- the ideal time to take account. So who are the winners and losers of this round of polling?
There are, to my mind, two clear winners, two clear losers, and two half-winners. But one thing is common to all six: not one of them actually stood for election.
Before going on, I should point out that my list contains neither Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor Sonia Gandhi. There was never any chance of the Bharatiya Janata Party coming to power in any of the four states or the Union territory of Pondicherry.
While National Democratic Alliance partners have done badly, that will not affect the BJP too much on the ground. (But, of course, the party's confidence has taken a battering.) Similarly, the Congress performance in Kerala and Assam owes more to the anti-incumbency factor than to Sonia Gandhi.
So who are the winners? First and foremost, Jayalalitha. She has the unique distinction not just of beating her foes but also of outmanoeuvring her allies. Karunanidhi has been beaten soundly in what he himself proclaimed would be his last campaign.
I say 'Jayalalitha' rather than the AIADMK since it was really her victory. She campaigned without her allies. She made it clear that she would be the chief minister and that her ministry would be a pure AIADMK administration. And she succeeded in ensuring that her party won 133 seats of the 140 that it contested.
Frankly it didn't matter whether she became chief minister or if she put a puppet in Fort St George. In fact, in the short run, I suspect it would have been profitable for her if she hadn't become chief minister.
So who is the second victor in this round of polls? Well, I think I would name the veteran Jyoti Basu. He gave up the chief minister's chair several months ago, but that does not mean he has snapped all links with politics.
In fact, he, rather like Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, was his party's chief campaigner. (Much more so than his successor as chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya!) In some quarters of rural West Bengal, several voters seemed to be under the impression that Jyoti Basu is still in power. (Given the byzantine power structure of the CPI-M, who is to say that they are wrong!)
There are, I suspect, two reasons why Jyoti Basu was so energetic. (He is, please remember, well into his eighties -- but campaigned with a vim that would have exhausted men half his age.) The first reason is that he is a proud man who knew that this assembly poll was the people's judgement on his long rule. The second is that he did not want an unfriendly government for family reasons.
Like him or hate him, one must admit that Jyoti Basu has succeeded. He has done his best for both his party colleagues and for his relatives.
So who are the losers? Well, I think we must begin with Mamata Banerjee. The results in West Bengal are probably the single biggest shock of the current polls. Most people had expected a close contest. I must say I never thought that this was on the cards, but I confess I never expected the Left Front to do quite so well.
Three months ago, Mamata Banerjee was the railway minister of India. She had a seat in the Union Cabinet and was widely touted as a potential chief minister. Today, her party is on the verge of a split, she has angered the prime minister and her former colleagues, and she hasn't even gained Writer's Building for all her pains. What is the best she can hope for but that her former colleagues in the Congress allow her to creep back humbly?
Moving on, who was the second major loser in these polls? I have already mentioned Karunanidhi, but the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has known worse defeats in its history. No, I think the loser's crown in Tamil Nadu fits better on the head of Dr Ramadoss, the PMK leader. His desire to make his son the chief minister in Pondicherry plunged the Union Territory into chaos. And his own party hasn't done terribly well in Tamil Nadu.
So much for the winners and the losers. Who were the half-winners? Well, the first man is Vaiko of the MDMK. He was forced out of the DMK-led front because Karunanidhi believed him to be a threat to Stalin. While the MDMK's performance has been less than stellar, Vaiko has proved his point. Stalin, whatever his fond father may believe, is not acceptable to the people of Tamil Nadu.
The second half-winner is Ajit Kumar Panja. He had the foresight to see that Mamata Banerjee was making herself unacceptable to the genteel bhadralok of West Bengal. She was simply too whimsical for those staid middle-class voters. But he is still acceptable to the BJP -- meaning that he can still return to the Union Cabinet...
Two winners. Two losers. Two half-winners. Yet not one of the six stood for an assembly seat!
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