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Slap to status quo - The Times of India

Editorial ()
March 4, 1998

Title: Slap to status quo
Author: Editorial
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 4, 1998

Complaints of biases notwithstanding, the national level
predictions of the TIMES poll - both opinion and exit - have
proved fairly accurate. The BJP and its allies are clearly in the
lead bagging about 250 seats, though still short of a simple
majority; the runner-up is the Congress group with close to 170
seats, and the United Front, a distant third, hovering around a
100. What, however, the polls missed, as did the analysts, are
the big surprises of Elections 1998. Contrary to all
expectations, the BJP, once described as a party of the north-
west has swamped the south, of course, with the help of its
allies. Similarly, the Congress has reclaimed the West, recently
something of a BJP bastion. Several individual heads rolled,
chief among them being Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Pramod Mahajan and Mr
Sunderlal Patwa of the BJP, Mr Arjun Singh and Mr N D Tiwari of
the Congress and Mr Chaturanan Mishra of the CPI. In Tamil Nadu,
where the upsets were of an incredible order, voters handed out
huge losses to the DMK-TMC combine only two years after they had
won all the 39 seats. The ruling regime was devastated by the
Jayalalitha-led AIADMK-BJP alliance whose principal architect
decisively avenged her earlier defeat. In Maharashtra, the Shiv
Sena-BJP beat a retreat in the face of the powerful combination
put up by the Congress's Mr Sharad Pawar with the RPI and
Samajwadi Party. Obviously, an overpowering anti-incumbency mood
claimed the ruling parties in both states.

Though Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are outstanding examples of
what voter anger can do, the same phenomenon operated, if to a
lesser extent, in as many as a dozen states, making that the
driving force behind the mandate of 1998. The only two states to
escape the popular wrath were Punjab and West Bengal; in all
other states, the party in power lost ground to the challengers,
Since the UF partners were in government in most of the states,
they proved to be the biggest losers 'm the country as a whole.
But this anti-establishment phenomenon obtained irrespective of
the party in power. The BJP, which was in power in Rajasthan and
Maharashtra was trounced in those two major states, while the
Congress was hurt in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. This resounding
slap is surely a reminder to the politician that the largely
unlettered voters of the largest democracy can and will take
recourse to retributive justice: they have punished political
parties across the spectrum for total non-performance while in
power. The sluggishness of the economy combined with rising
inflation hit the consumers where it hurts most. Clearly, the
mandate is neither against corruption nor for stability but
against the failure to deliver election-eve promises. Evidently,
parties which concentrate on divisive agendas such as communalism
and caste in preference to more basic voter-related issues like
drinking water, adequate infra structure and total collapse of
health facilities and primary education, will continue to meet
the same fate as those in 1998.

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