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Monday, October 17, 2011

With four-zero score, electoral rout for Congress

New Delhi/Hisar: In a bruising electoral blow, India's ruling Congress Monday lost the deposit in the Hisar Lok Sabha by-election in Haryana, where Anna Hazare campaigned against it, and was also defeated in the three assembly by-polls in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.

It was a sorry nought for the Congress, which rules in all the states barring Bihar. And a moment to savour for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with three of the candidates it backed winning their Oct 13 elections.

In Hisar, the Haryana Janhit Congress' (HJC) Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi won with 355,541 votes while Ajay Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal was 5,923 votes behind. Three-time Congress MP Jai Parkash finished a poor third with 149,785 votes and forfeited his security deposit.

In Maharashtra's Khadakwasla assembly, the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance lost to the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. In Andhra Pradesh's Telangana region, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) bagged Banswada. In Bihar, the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) retained Darounda.

Defeat is always "sad", Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in the national capital. "We shall have to analyse why we have lost."

The Anna factor was also under debate.

The Hisar seat, which fell vacant in June after three-time chief minister Bhajan Lal died, was the first time that Team Anna had actively entered the electoral fray.

But Bishnoi, Bhajan Lal's son who had welcomed the initiative, said he owed nothing to the anti-corruption crusader.

"I attribute it only to my father and the (alliance with) BJP," Bishnoi told reporters in Hisar.

The Congress also underplayed the Anna factor that had propelled Hisar on the national consciousness. Jai Parkash, who had come third in the last election as well though he had managed 2.04 lakh votes, denied that Hazare had anything to do with the result. "The caste factor undid me," he said.

Congress general secretary B.K. Hari Prasad added that Jai Parkash lost his deposit because of "sympathy for Kuldeep's father Bhajan Lal and the development work done by the former chief minister".

"Team Anna is shining on borrowed feather," Hari Prasad said.

As the debate intensified, Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal said: "We have no enmity with the Congress."

Activist Medha Patkar, however, insisted that the Anna factor had made an impact and cited Jai Parkash's diminishing vote share to back her point.

The sympathy factor that the Congress believes played out against it in Hisar did not work as anticipated in Maharashtra's Khadakwasla.

The Congress-NCP's gamble of getting the widow of the late Maharashtra Navnirman Sena legislator Ramesh Wanjale did not pay off. Harshada Wanjale, the NCP candidate, was unable to get the sympathy vote and lost to the BJP's Bhimrao Tapkir, who also had the backing of Shiv Sena.

Wanjale had died three months ago, necessitating the by-poll. The MNS, which did not put up a candidate as a tribute to Wanjale's memory, said Harshada Wanjale lost the sympathy of the electorate.

In Andhra Pradesh's Banswada, the TRS rode on the demand for a separate Telangana and wrested the seat from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) by nearly 50,000 votes.

The TDP did not contest in view of the Telangana sentiment but the Congress soldiered on. P. Srinivas Reddy, the TDP winner of 2009, was re-elected, this time as the TRS candidate, over S. Srinivas Goud of the Congress.

In a sense, the only saving grace was Bihar where the Congress is neither in power nor a main player.

The Darounda assembly seat went to JD-U's Kavita Singh, who defeated her nearest rival, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), by over 20,000 votes.

As the Congress counted its losses, the BJP labelled it a "victory of democracy".

"The results show the people of India have voted against corruption and the Congress... It indicates which way the political wind is blowing," he said.

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