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Permutations & Combinations

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Although a month has passed since polling took place
in Uttarakhand for the state assembly, nobody has a clue to what kind of a verdict will have been delivered by the electorate. The same is the case, more or less, with Punjab. In the case of UP, a consensus has developed, more or less, that SP has the advantage, but nobody is confident of a majority. Indeed, the kind of sweep that took place under the earlier SC-Brahmin tie-up of the BSP is not expected to be repeated, particularly in light of what is popularly believed to be insensitive and corrupt governance by Mayawati. She did cater to her constituency and worked hard on her concept of development, but succeeded also in alienating important sections, in particular, the farmers of West UP and the Muslims. So, while the SP is expected to make inroads at the cost of the other regional combine, BSP, Rahul Gandhi’s long campaign is likely to take away votes mainly from its national rival, the BJP. It is possible that the threat to impose President’s rule in the state could have stampeded the voters towards parties more likely to win than the Congress. Post poll analysis of the results of each phase should prove interesting. It could leave much egg on Sriprakash Jaiswal’s face.
Only a few months ago, Congress victories were being taken for granted in Punjab and Uttarakhand. For a variety of reasons, however, it became a more equal contest by the time it came to voting. There has also been a nationwide disillusionment with the political class after the Anna agitation, and it is the Congress that is expected to face the brunt of it. In Uttarakhand, in particular, a conscious attempt was made to harvest the anti-Congress angst and it was certainly effective enough to bring the BJP back into the fight. The big question is, of course, was it enough? The margins between the two parties have always been small in the state, and even the 3 percent increase in turnout is almost twice the number of votes needed to turn the tide. Under the circumstances, it would be logical to assume that a hung assembly is in the offing, with ‘others’ holding the cards.
In Punjab, too, the ruling combine made a late rally – some say on the basis of a huge mobilisation of money power by the Akali Dal. Of course, the issues in both states are very different – Uttarakhand is still looking to consolidate the initial steps it has made on the development front, while Punjab struggles with problems of development in decline. There should be a clear winner here simply because it is a straight contest in this state.
Obtaining support from ‘others’ would not be a new thing in Uttarakhand politics for a ruling party and, by and large, enough collaborators should be available to both in cobbling a majority together. However, in UP, the likely allies are going to be the SP and Congress, both of which are already together at the Centre. This would push the Congress in a subordinate role, again, thereby defeating the very purpose of the aggressive campaign undertaken by Rahul Gandhi. It would deny the party the chance to become the prominent opposition so as to make a more significant bid in the future. If, however, Congress opts out, it would leave the way open for a BSP-BJP combine. Which would be the greater evil? The greed for the loaves and fishes of office among the Congressmen of UP should settle the issue and it is unlikely that Rahul Gandhi will have the courage of conviction to hold out.
The issue will be settled either way on 6 March, which does not seem so distant as it did a month ago.

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