Defeated In India
By Harish Khare
14 May, 2004
electorate has decisively rejected the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National
Democratic Alliance and has voted in a Congress-led coalition spearheaded
by Sonia Gandhi. A clean sweep by the Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu
and Andhra Pradesh are central to the upset verdict, first of its kind
Mr. Vajpayee has
resigned as Prime Minister and the mood within the Congress is overwhelmingly
in favour of Ms. Sonia Gandhi assuming the prime ministerial mantle.
Ms. Gandhi is scheduled to be elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary
party on Saturday.
With the Left Front
indicating that it would have no problem with Ms. Gandhi in a prime
ministerial role, a Sonia Gandhi-led government has emerged as a viable
proposition. Also, indications are that the Left may consider joining
such a coalition. However, the Left has let it be known that it would
be disinclined to let the Congress call all the shots.
The Congress has
already begun work on a Common Minimum Programme to be discussed and
agreed on with the allies. The party has constituted a drafting committee
headed by Manmohan Singh for this purpose. The members include Pranab
Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Jaipal Reddy and Jairam Ramesh.
Contrary to the
expectations and predictions of a "hung parliament," the final
figures for the 14th Lok Sabha indicate an unambiguous mandate for the
Congress and its pre-election allies. On its own the Congress has emerged
as the largest single party, with 145 seats under its belt. Along with
the Left parties (62 seats), the Congress coalition (with 216 seats)
is comfortably placed to cross the halfway mark in the new Lok Sabha.
The BJP, which till
last night still entertained some hopes, threw in the towel within the
first two hours of the counting of votes. The defeat of over half a
dozen Cabinet Ministers and the BJP's failure to retain its position
as the single largest party brought home the extent of the rebuff. By
noon the BJP and the NDA leaders gathered at the Prime Minister's residence
and decided to accept the verdict of rejection.
Mr. Vajpayee presided
over, for the last time, a Cabinet meeting at which it was formally
decided that the Council of Ministers should resign. Later, accompanied
by the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, the Prime Minister drove
to Rashtrapati Bhavan to hand in his resignation. According to a Rashtrapati
Bhavan press communiqué, the President has asked Mr. Vajpayee
to continue "in office till alternative arrangements are made."
Later, the Prime
Minister addressed the nation and noted that "my party and alliance
may have lost, but India has won." Mr. Vajpayee will be the Leader
of the Opposition and will not retire from public life, according to
Sushma Swaraj, the outgoing Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, who
briefed reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
The Samajwadi Party,
with 35 seats, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, with 19 seats, have emerged
as key players. But the Left Front, with a tally of 62, has replaced
the Telugu Desam Party as the most influential bloc. Ms. Mayawati of
the BSP has already pledged support to a "secular government"
and the Samajwadi Party is also expected to pitch in with its numbers,
though the party is likely to name a price for its support and the stability
it would bring to the new governing arrangement.
Though a Sonia Gandhi-led
coalition looks inevitable, its passage will still have to be negotiated
over the next couple of days; all of the Congress' allies are not equally
excited about Ms. Gandhi assuming prime ministership. The Nationalist
Congress Party of Sharad Pawar will have to be given an escape route
in the matter.
winners include Mr. Vajpayee, Mr. Advani, George Fernandes, Kalyan Singh,
Ms. Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Pranab
Mukherjee, Ajit Jogi, Chandra Shekhar, Ajit Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav,
Mayawati, P.A. Sangma, Somnath Chatterjee, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti,
S. Bangarappa, Suresh Prabhu, and P. Chidambaram. Among the prominent
losers were Murli Manohar Joshi, Sharad Yadav, Ram Naik, Jagmohan, Sahib
Singh Verma, Yashwant Sinha, P.M. Sayeed, Shivraj Patil, Buta Singh,
Balram Jhakhar, and C.K. Jaffar Sharief.