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BJP routed in assembly elections 

New Delhi: Results of legislative assembly elections in four states have spread panic in the BJP camp. The party's humpty-dumpty coalition at the Center will come under serious strain in the coming months as a result of its poor showing. The Hindu rightist party has been routed in three states where it was in power. Elections were held in the four states in three phases from 14 to 21 February.

The hope that the BJP can be saved by some magic in at least Uttaranchal (22 million voters), the Himalayan state it carved out of Uttar Pradesh (UP) a year ago, vanished in thin air very soon. It faced a total rout in Uttranchal, where several of its top leaders including a former chief minister who was replaced just months ago, was defeated. BJP lost to the Congress, winning only 19 seats in a house of 70 against the impressive 36 seats of the Congress. 

In the northern state of Punjab the BJP and its partner, the ruling Akali Dal were defeated by the Congress. The BJP was able to win a mere three seats in Punjab, while its ally Akali Dal was able to secure 41 seats. The Congress Party won a simple majority by winning 63 seats. Punjab (18 million voters) legislative assembly has a total of 117 seats. 

Results in the North-eastern mini-state, Manipur, which has a small base of 0.8 million voters, are still not clear. But the BJP is far behind Congress according to the results declared so far. Congress Party leaders are slated to take over as chief ministers in Uttaranchal and Punjab today. 

BJP's comprehensive defeat in UP (100 million voters) came as a rude shock to its leaders who employed every gimmick up their sleeve, from the slogans of 'development', to fighting 'terrorism', to raking the Ram Temple issue through their proxy, the VHP. Even after the elections, while counting was in progress, they were claiming that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party in the state. 

The BJP has been relegated to the third slot in UP behind the socialist Samajwadi Party (SP) and Dalit's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). SP emerged as the single largest party in a house of 403 members, winning 143 seats followed by the BSP which secured 98 seats in the state. The BJP was able to get a mere 88 seats.

The state that scripted the rightist Hindu party's spectacular rise in the national politics only a decade ago has confined it to the margins. It is just little over a decade ago when it rolled on to the centre-stage of India's politics riding on the Ram Temple issue by demolishing the historical Babri Masjid.

BJP leaders have started emphasizing that the elections cannot be seen as a verdict on their shaky coalition government at the centre. 'The results will have no bearing on the stability of the government at the centre' claimed Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan. But only the naive will buy that the outcome will not affect the national politics in the run up to the next general elections two years ahead. While anti-incumbency factor can be taken as a reason for the party's defeat in Punjab and Uttaranchal, only shoddy governance, corruption and utter mismanagement can explain its debacle in UP.

The hung assembly in UP has opened the floodgates of horse-trading and new coalitions. The BJP is trying to cobble a coalition with the BSP in order to rob SP of its right to form the next government in the most crucial Indian state. SP has not staked its claim so far to form the next government and its supremo, former defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, has conceded that his party cannot form the government alone. 

Mulayam Singh is camping in the national capital, Delhi and is reportedly trying to use his good relations with Communist leaders to persuade the Congress Party to align with his party in order to form the next government in UP. Congress, with 24 seats, can make or break SP's chances to rule the state once again. Its dilly-dallying may allow the BJP to return to power in the state behind the BSP. 

There is an effort to unite the secular parties in a single front to form a government. The Congress, which earlier was not inclined to enter coalitions, is now ready to consider such possibilities in order to keep communal forces at bay. Several senior Congressmen have expressed an inclination to adjust with secular parties to help form secular governments in states as well as at the Center. 

The probability of Congress supporting a secular government with SP included cannot be ruled out. But SP supremo, Mulayam Singh can himself play a spoilsport. He has openly exhibited personal antipathy towards Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Sonia too publicly attacked Mulayem Singh during her election speeches. The Congress sees SP as its main rival in UP.

But the arithmetic even with Congress included will not be complete. SP will still need some 40 more members in order to reach the magic figure of 202 to be able to muster majority in the UP state legislative assembly. SP is reportedly trying to persuade smaller parties and independent candidates to support it. 

If there is one party that seems to have been happy with the results of a hung assembly it is BSP, led by it charismatic leader Ms. Mayawati. The party, which had secured only 61 seats in the previous UP assembly, has amazed political pundits by winning 97 seats pushing the BJP to the third place in the state. The party that mostly banks on the votes of the most backward castes went on to lure Muslim voters by offering around 90 seats to Muslim candidates. And the gamble paid off handsomely.

The BSP's spectacular showing in the state has kept the BJP's hopes afloat of defeating Mulayam Singh's plans to grab the chief minister's post in the state. There are speculations that the BJP may let the BSP form the next government and lend even outside support to its government. 

With its extremely poor showing in UP, the BJP fears that there might be a realignment of political forces in the near future and its current allies may start pressuring it or even desert to safeguard their own interests. BJP's allies are very disheartened with the poll results.

Voters have sent a clear message by defeating the BJP so comprehensively in three important Indian states. It is the outright rejection of the BJP and its erroneous policies. Instead of giving emphasis to issues concerning the development of one of the most underdeveloped states of the country, the BJP tried to divert the attention of the populace towards militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and international terrorism. Its defeat is the clear indication that the people of the state have outright rejected the superfluous issues the party tried to champion. 

The vote against the BJP also shows that the voter has also rejected the BJP's Ram Temple plank which divided the nation on communal lines as nothing else has done since independence half a century ago. Employing its proxies, the BJP had tried to project the construction of Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site as a political issue. 

With BJP's defeat, internal infighting too has accelerated. A whisper campaign seems to have already started against none other than the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Prime Minister's rival camp, led by Home Minister LK Advani, has started raising questions over his capability to lead the party to the future polls.

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