BJP’s good showing has Congress worried

via The Hindustan Times published on November 8, 2006

DESPITE BOTH doing well in the local elections in Uttar Pradesh, the results found the BJP and Congress in contrasting moods on Tuesday. While the BJP was happy with its showing, the Congress seemed more worried about the BJP’s ability to consolidate in the urban areas.

While the results lifted the spirits of the BJP rank and file considerably, it is its president Rajnath Singh who drew the greatest comfort from them. The BJP’s presidential poll is due by the month-end, and for Singh, who expects to be re-elected for a full three-year term, the civic elections in his home state were a test of sorts.

Besides, the party’s flagging electoral fortunes in UP showed signs of betterment for the first time since the 1998 Lok Sabha polls. They also came in the wake of the party’s recent victories in the Bada Malhera and Vidisha by-elections in Madhya Pradesh.

The BJP’s internal surveys had worried the party. They indicated the party could fare poorly in the assembly polls, due six months later. But those worries were brushed aside as an elated Singh declared the civic elections “have cleared all confusion on the direction of UP politics”.

Congress leaders admitted the BJP’s emergence “is a cause of worry”. As the results poured in, Congress president Sonia Gandhi took stock at a meeting with AICC general secretary in-charge of UP Ashok Gehlot, Pradesh Congress Committee chief Salman Khurshid and the seven zonal incharges for UP. Khurshid acknowledged the gains for the party, saying the “Congress is out of the ICU. It has to be seen how quickly we can recover for the 2007 assembly polls”. He added that the party’s vote share was expected to cross 20 per cent, compared to 6.5 in the last civic polls.

Assisting the BJP’s turnaround was the strong anti-incumbency against the Mulayam Singh government. Other factors included the RSS, which threw its weight behind Singh, its nominee for party president. Prominent central BJP leaders, including A.B. Vajpayee and Singh, campaigned to boost morale. Tickets to groundlevel party workers chosen on merit rather than recommendations also helped.

The Congress had hoped to gain from the anti-establishment sentiment against the SP, the disarray in the BJP and the BSP’s decision not to allot party symbols to its candidates, many of whom won as Independents. It will have to factor this failure when it draws its assembly poll strategy.

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