Hardnews Bureau Delhi
Exit polls have a way of preparing the people to the outcome even if they go wrong in their analysis. Surprises cease to be surprises when talking heads on TV channels predict practically all the results. After Election Commission banned exit polls in staggered elections to the five assemblies for fear of contaminating the poll process, there was no way to ascertain even pseudo-scientifically of how anti-incumbency or the Mumbai terror attacks would impact the voting pattern during the assembly elections. Expectedly Sheila Dikshit, Delhi's chief minister who was seeking a third term, was uncertain on the day of the counting of votes what lay in store for her. She had little reason to be apprehensive though.
Electronic voting brings quick results and the big event of December 8 was the resounding return of Dikshit and her Congress party. She was the first Congress chief minister to have won three times in a row. Last time Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh tried to accomplish this difficult feat, but found himself badly tripped by pot holed roads of his state. Inadequate and poor quality of governance that Singh provided for eight long years ensured that the Congress does not come to power in that state for a long time.
In direct contrast, Dikshit did not allow her focus to waver. She was conscious of her responsibility of charting a path of development for the capital that would serve as a paradigm for other cities in the country. Dikshit, as she shared in many interviews to Hardnews over the last few years, wanted the city's growth to be inclusive. She did not want the poor to be left behind in urban planners' fetish to confuse growth with creation of large physical structures like flyovers, skyscrapers, malls and houses for the rich. Dikshit wanted Delhi, not to be just an administrative city like Washington, but an organic entity where people from all walks of life have space to work and lead their lives.
Despite all the criticism that came from vested interest, she set new transport systems, besides the hugely popular Metro. BRT, which gives precedence to public transport and cyclists at the expense of private automobiles, is a case in point.Dikshit can also be given credit for politically providing a formula for neutralising both anti-incumbency as well as the presence of the spoiler Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Her strategy, as stated above, was very simple. She wanted to be seen as the only person who can meet the aspirations of a demanding and exacting Delhi electorate. So strong was her grip on her supporters that even the Mumbai atrocities did not sway the voters towards the BJP- a party that tried to position itself as better equipped to handle terror. Congress under her maintained that they had to show a lot more in terms of her performance than the wild promises that her opponents were making. Our correspondent who went around on the day of polling found that the Congress candidates were far ahead of others.
Presence of BSP, too, helped the Congress. The fledgling party, which is in power in UP, cushioned anti-incumbency by taking all those votes that, would have helped in leavening the vote share of the BJP. In other words what it means is that all those who voted for BSP (17 per cent of them) had more faith in it then the BJP.
Congress and Sheila Dikshit have her work cut for the next five years. The immediate target is to create an infrastructure for the Commonwealth games of 2010. Turf battle and court intervention has delayed in putting to speed any completion of stadiums and games village. Diskhit has come running into the third term and the results to some of the immediate objectives that she has would show up soon. She has been helped in her success by the steadfast support that she has got from Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who ensured that all attempts to upstage her by her sneaky opponents do not succeed.
Sheila Dikshit has to do a few more things before she moves to better things. She has to countenance how her administration and party countenances economic slowdown. That would involve establishing safety nets and creating new jobs to ensure that joblessness and falling incomes do not cause social turmoil and feed anti-incumbency before the parliament elections scheduled for April- May 2009.