The results of the assembly elections have turned conventional wisdom on its head. The BJP has retained Madhya Pradesh comfortably and Chhatisgarh by a small margin. But the Congress has surprised the pundits by its better-than-expected showing in Delhi, Rajasthan and Mizoram.
At one level, the poll results show how hot-button issues like terrorism influenced the outcome. MP went to the poll on the morning after the Bombay attack and Delhi a couple of days later, and the differing verdicts in both States indicate that there is no common strand to detect.
At another level, issues like inflation, price rise, Amarnath shrine, Orissa church attacks seem to have had little or no national resonance. At least not a durable one.
BSP, which everybody said eats into the Congress vote, seems to have actually eaten into the BJP vote. In Delhi, the urban-educated seem to have backed the Congress, while the poor plumped for the BJP. If NREGA clicked in one State for the Congress, why not in the others?
“Anti-incumbency”, the ultimate escape route, too is closed. Shiela Dikshit has won a third term while accusing the BJP of changing three chief ministers during its tenure, while Shivraj Chauhan has won a second term despite the BJP changing three chief ministers during its tenure. If Dikshit’s image carried the day in Delhi, Vasundhara Raje Scindia came up short in spite of it in Rajasthan.
The long and short of all this is what every mature poll-watcher knows: that “the wise Indian voter” has various different ways of making up her mind in different States, and it is foolish to decipher by watching television or reading the papers. What is also becoming clear is that neither BJP or Congress (in alphabetical order) have the steam to come to power on their own at the Centre.
All of which makes the general elections next year very interesting, although as the BJP found out in 2004, it is suicidal to count your general election chickens after the assembly election eggs are hatched.
So, who do you think will win the big one?