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Swinging Fortunes

Cyclone and schisms hit the Congress in Orissa, Haryana

Swinging Fortunes
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Such an irony could only have been thrown up by the fractious politics that currently rules the earth in India. The BJD-BJD combine in Orissa faces a more difficult opposition in its dissidents, than the Congress, in the ongoing assembly elections. The alliance will have to contend with 51 rebel candidates-a thorny problem that has emerged after the last-minute expulsion of Bijay Kumar Mohapatra, Naveen Patnaik’s long-time bete noire, from the BJD. The consequent glee in the Congress ranks could nonetheless turn out to be a phoney high. For, the party needs a massive swing of 10 per cent to retain power and that, as of now, seems a far-cry.

The Congress government in the state faces a strong anti-incumbency feeling, particularly in the coastal districts of the state which were ravaged by the super-cyclone. This is significant because the coast has been the Congress’ stronghold. Voters of the coastal districts are not exactly amused with the way relief operations were conducted. In fact, this has compounded the already hostile sentiments the government is facing.

Despite having two consecutive tribal chief ministers, the Congress has failed to mobilise the support of tribal voters. On the other hand, Naveen Patnaik, his tenuous links with his soil (can barely speak Oriya) notwithstanding, is viewed as a better chief ministerial choice.

That apart, Orissa’s voters are happy with the Vajpayee government. If the 1999 Lok Sabha results are indicative of the electorate’s mood, the BJD-BJD are certainly poised to grab power from the Congress. The alliance is likely to win three-fourths of the seats, though they might also be down by 5 per cent from the votes polled in the Lok Sabha election.

In such a scenario, the Congress will have done well if it wins about 25 seats, a significant loss from the 80 it currently holds. The cyclone has only quickened its demise, for Congress votes have been shifting BJD-ward in any case.

The game in Haryana, another state going to the polls, is also bipolar (BJD-INLD combine versus the Congress), but with a difference. Anti-incumbency will not be the decisive factor in the state. And that is precisely why the alliance, that had under O.P. Chautala’s leadership ruled Haryana till the other day and had called for the dissolution of the assembly without any perceptible pressure or reason, is on a strong wicket.

This despite the BJD-INLD having lost some ground since the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, thanks to unfulfilled promises on the power and water fronts. The Congress’ failure to cash in is owing to its own state of affairs.

The much-hyped reunion of Bhajan Lal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda remains only on paper. The problem has been further compounded after the party high command decided to leave the final selection of candidates to the state committee. This led to the Congress satraps distributing tickets to their supporters, irrespective of their winnability. Besides, the brief and rather diffident dalliance of the party with the discredited Bansi Lal government also contributed its bit.

The BJD-INLD alliance had swept the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in the state, polling over 50 per cent of the popular vote and leading in 85 assembly segments. The Congress was ahead in only five assembly constituencies. That, however, would be too simplistic a basis to draw conclusions for the assembly elections. They are a different ball game, with local issues and the candidate image becoming more amplified.

The Jat voters are firmly behind the INLD. The party is likely to perform commendably in the Jat heartland of Rohtak, Bhiwani and Hissar. As for the Haryana Vikas Party, it’s only left with a few pockets of influence.

Meanwhile, the BSP, over the past few years, has been able to generate some support in the northern parts of Haryana (Nariangarh, Sadhura, Chhachhrauli, Yamunanagar, Jagadhari and Naggal). Thus the Congress’ chances in that area would depend upon the BSP inroads into the Dalit votebank.

Going by the current trends, the BJD-INLD alliance is likely to win over two-thirds of the assembly seats. The Congress should thank its stars if it wins 20 seats. The party will need an impossibly massive swing of 12 per cent over the votes polled in the Lok Sabha election to gain a simple majority here.

The Congress, therefore, is stumped by its impaired ability to swing, in both Orissa and Haryana. So, shall we blame it all on the swing factor, as they might say.

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