Co-author (with Christophe Jaffrelot) of the recent Rise of the Plebeians? The Changing Face of Indian Legislative Assemblies he enlightens A Ganesh Nadar about how he saw the results from Election 2009.
How do you see these election results?
I see it as a positive result. It has given a majority to a single party -- the Congress. It might be a coalition, but the Congress has big numbers of its own. It can pursue its own foreign and economic policies without succumbing to pressures from its partners, which will provide stability.
Do you see any particular trend in the voting pattern?
We all expected the Congress to be the single largest party and the United Progressive Alliance to be the single largest alliance. But no one expected the Congress to fare so well. It was a wave in favour of the party.
Look at Tamil Nadu, Assam, Punjab -- North, South, East, West -- the Congress did well everywhere. Except in states like Bihar where Nitish Kumar held sway. If not for Nitish Kumar, the Congress would have swept that too.
See Madhya Pradesh. The Congress was expected to get very few seats, but it did much better. Every state has its own voting pattern. You will see that if you compare Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But on a national level, the Congress has attracted the vote of the Muslims, the Dalits, the Adivasis and the poor. This has worked in their favour.
The Congress had improved its voting percent by four, while the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone down by 4 percent. Now the Congress has a vote bank of 29% and the BJP about 18 or 19%. The margin between the two is huge.
What do you have to say about the 'Rahul factor' in these results?
Rahul Gandhi campaigned in 109 constituencies. The Congress has done well in these ones. But you cannot give the whole credit to him. It might have been a Congress stronghold. The candidate could have been good.
But he did make a difference. He has sincerely worked for the Congress has indeed worked very hard. Not only in the campaigning period, but also in the last two years. He has toured the country extensively. He has stayed in villages. People called it a gimmick. But now you see the visit has improved the Congress's standing.
We knew that the Congress would do better. How much Rahul's staying in villages helped I cannot say, but it has certainly given a positive effect, that much is confirmed.
I don't know whether he has become a visionary from a novice. What I know is that the decision to go it alone in UP and Bihar was his. In Bihar they came second in four seats and won only 2. But that was because of Nitish.
In UP they have done much beyond their own expectations and Rahul Gandhi can claim full credit for that.
What role has Sonia Gandhi played in fielding Rahul as a politician?
She has played a hands-off role. The best thing was she left him alone. She did not push him nor did she push the party in his direction. She never ever declared that Rahul was a leader of the party or the nation. When you asked her she always said, I am doing my duty and he is doing something on his own.
If she had declared him a leader, that would have been her biggest mistake. She did not do that.
She allowed him his space and his own speed. She never hurried him up. He has come up slowly and steadily and if today he is respected in the party, he has earned that himself.
He should thank his mother for not interfering with his prerogatives, which worked miracles.
Do you think Priyanka Gandhi will enter electoral politics?
Yes! She will. Not now or in the next election, but she will definitely enter in the election after that.
What worked for the Congress and what did not work for the BJP?
What did not work for the BJP are the issues they picked on. They were targeting foreign policy, the nuclear deal, urban terrorism, the Mumbai attacks and so on. They should have picked up issues that affect the common man like price rise, bijli, sadak (electricity, roads) or paani (water).
The Congress has benefited from its schemes of the last five years. ParticularLy the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which undoubtedly is the government's greatest achievement. Where people did get 100 days of work where none was earlier available, they would definitely vote for that government.
Our studies also show that the urban middle class, which was earlier with the BJP, has now moved towards the Congress. It has caught their imagination for reasons which we are still working on. But they have definitely shifted to the Congress and this has given a big boost to the party in the cities.
Where will the BJP go from Karnataka in the south?
In Karnataka they are strongly placed. Now they will try to expand into Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, they don't stand a chance. In Kerala, they have a 10% vote base, but that is not enough. In Kerala there are two strong alliances. Standing outside these two and trying to break in is almost impossible. But they will try. They cannot make huge strides in the south like they have done in the past in the north.
Let us talk about West Bengal.
What happened earlier there was those who did not like the Left stayed at home on election day. As they never saw a viable alternative. This time in the Trinamool-Congress combine they saw an alternative that could take on the Left. That worked in their favour.
The urban middle class would prefer the Congress, but the urban poor is what worked for the Trinamool. Mamta is very popular among the urban poor. This gave her a major boost. If you see the voting percentage, the Trinamool-Congress alliance had 5% more votes than the Left.
This was a quantam jump. That's why they won hands down.
Orissa does not have a sizeable minority vote. Even then Chief Minister Navin Patnaik knew that his Biju Janata Dal government had become unpopular with the people of the state because of what was happening there.
The cause of the unpopularity was the BJP. He knew that many months ago and had then already made up his mind to break the alliance. He just waited for the appropriate time and executed it.
He basically gambled and it paid off. He had made the right decision.
What about Rajasthan?
In Rajasthan the Congress had just won the assembly election and that carried forward to the Lok Sabha. The Congress continued its winning streak and in-fighting among the BJP leadership also helped their cause.
But in Madhya Pradesh the BJP had just won the assembly election, but could not repeat it in the Lok sabha poll?
True! That is why I say that every state has its own voting pattern and its own particular reasons for how it votes and why.
Varun Gandhi won his seat, but now NDA politicians are blaming him for driving the Muslims into the Congress's arms.
Varun Gandhi's actions and speeches in Uttar Pradesh did polarise voters. The Muslims have never voted for the BJP. We thought the Bahujan Samaj Party would get the Muslim vote as Mayawati had put up 23 Muslim candidates. Though she did get the Muslim vote in the assembly, this time it didn't click.
The Samajwadi Party lost the Muslim vote because of its alliance with Kalyan Singh. The Kalyan factor made sure that the Muslims did not vote for the Samajwadi Party.
The Congress must thank Varun for pushing the Muslims to them.
People are talking about four Gandhis and three Scindias winning the election.
Lineage does matter in some areas in the country. Royalty still plays a role where people have this respect for them.
What trends do you see for the 2014 election?
What I see is the re-emergence of national parties in the Lok Sabha election, which was true in the 1980s. Only after 1996 did we see regional parties making waves at the Centre.
This has now ended. For Lok Sabha 2014, only national parties and national issues will matter. It will be polarised between two parties.
The assembly elections will throw up more fragmented results, but the Lok Sabha election will not be fragmented on regional issues or regional parties.