The outcome of the 2011 elections will largely be interpreted as a decisive vote against the corruption and family rule of the DMK, a vote for change in West Bengal, but overall a reprieve for the scam struck Congress party which has retained Assam and wrested Kerala from the Left Democratic Front.
A major insight that might however be missed is the signal from the present round of elections that the Congress party is headed for major reverses in the electorally crucial southern states that had given a rich harvest of seats for the Congress party and its allies in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Two of the major states that went to polls in the present round are Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh crucial by-elections have been held.
In Kerala, the trend in the recent years has been one of the winning front posting big wins. In 2001, the United Democratic Front (UDF) won a big majority of 97 seats, and in 2006 the LDF won 91 seats to form a government in the state. Maintaining the tradition of change of governments every five years, the UDF has managed to wrest Kerala from the LDF but only by a whisker, winning just 72 seats.
In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress party-led UDF led in 98 segments with a 48 percent vote share, while the LDF led in only 39 segments with 41 percent vote share. Going by the present result, it is evident that the Congress party has lost considerable ground as the UDF lead in vote share in the present election is just 1 per cent.
In Tamil Nadu again, a reversal of trend has been observed. In the recent past, elections in Tamil Nadu have been a close affair. Bucking this trend, the AIADMK alliance has won a landslide majority in the present assembly elections. Here again, the Congress-DMK combine has suffered a humiliating defeat. Compared to 2009 the Lok Sabha polls, when the DMK-Congress combine had led in 153 assembly segments with 43 percent vote share, the DMK-Congress alliance is down to just 31 seats and has trailed the AIADMK combine by nearly 20 percentage points in votes.
These losses in Kerala and Tamil Nadu assembly elections translate into a loss of 12 seats for the Congress party alone and 32 seats for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The Congress party has much worse news emanating from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In crucial by-elections to Kadapa Lok Sabha and Pulivendula assembly constituencies, challenger Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother have won landslide victories. Jagan has won the by-poll by a record margin of over 5.4 lakh votes. This is a sign of things to come in Andhra Pradesh and a large chunk of the Congress vote base has moved towards Jagan. Even if the Congress government in the state survives for a while, it is already looking like a lame duck government. As things stand now, the Congress party would draw a blank in coastal and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh from where they won a whopping 21 of the 25 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls. It will be keenly watched if the Congress party tries some damage control to retain its foothold in the Telangana region.
In Karanataka, the Congress party continues to languish. It has lost in all the three assembly seats for which by-polls were held last month. Two of these seats belonged to the Congress and one to the Janata Dal (Secular). The BJP wrested all the three seats.
All in all, the Congress party alone is down by 45 seats from its impressive performance in the four southern states in 2009 polls when it won 60 of the 130 seats.
Can the Congress party recoup the losses in the south by making gains in states that are scheduled to go to polls before Lok Sabha 2014? That seems unlikely.
In Uttar Pradesh, despite the noise generated by Rahul Gandhi’s forays into Mayawati’s domain, the Congress is likely to come a cropper and may end up with below 20 assembly seats. In Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP is on a very strong wicket and is likely to return to power with strong victories in 2012 and 2013. The Congress party can hope to wrest Punjab but is likely to lose Rajasthan and Delhi. That is when the countdown for 2014 will begin assuming the UPA government, under the weight of mounting scandals and its inability to fight back, somehow survives in office until 2014.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a well known poll analyst