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BW Businessworld

New Centres Of Power

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The Left was shown the door in West Bengal; the DMK-Congress combine was defeated by J. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu; the Left-led LDF had a narrow miss in Kerala; the Congress won a third-term in Assam, but failed to retain Puducherry.

Of the five states that went to polls, the outcome in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu would impact national politics the most since it involves Congress' key coalition partners, Trinamul Congress and the DMK. The victory of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal will see a more assertive Trinamul, while the rout in Tamil Nadu will make the DMK a meek partner at the Centre.

Curtains on 34 years of Left rule in West Bengal and the rise of Banerjee would engage observers of politics and business with equal excitement. The Left parties were widely considered a roadblock to modernisation. Its defeat is sure to give some relief to policy makers.

The defeat of the Left, however, does not mean the end of its brand of politics in West Bengal. Banerjee is known to be more Left than the Left — she rode the wave of protests against land acquisition in Nandigram for a proposed chemical hub and Tata's Nano factory in Singur to gain politcal mileage.

Banerjee's influence will not be limited to West Bengal. Her party is the second largest in the UPA. Her veto continues to hold the passage of an amended land acquisition bill.
The presence of Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra in Banerjee's rainbow coalition, however, could be the silver lining for policy makers. Mitra is tipped to become West Bengal's finance minister and could also advise Banerjee on economic issues. Further, Banerjee herself has been assuring that she is not against industry.
"Bengal will show the way," Banerjee declared after the victory and promised industrialisation as well as protection of farmers' rights. It appears to be a difficult proposition.

Signals from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and most importantly a by-election in Andhra Pradesh do not bode well for the Congress. The rout of the DMK-Congress alliance and the Congress barely crossing the halfway mark in Kerala show that the issue of corruption swayed voters.

Polls in Tamil Nadu were fought in the backdrop of the 2G spectrum scam and it had formed Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK's main poll plank. Similarly in Kerala, LDF leader V.S. Achuthanandan had turned the corruption tide against the Congress-led UDF leaders. With a host of scandals rocking the UPA government, the Congress faces the danger of the disaffection spreading across the country. Another setback for the UPA came from the Kadappa by-election in Andhra Pradesh where Jagan Mohan Reddy won by a record margin. His rise could topple the Congress government in the state.

Assam was the only solace for Congress, where it returned to power for a third term with a decisive victory. The northeastern state, however, is not expected to bring much relief to the Manmohan Singh government. Assam may have been more a case of lack of a cohesive local opposition to the Congress than anything else.

The real challenge for the Congress will come in Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls next year. And what the UPA does in the meantime to rid itself of the many stains of corruption will come to bear upon that verdict.

The author is special correspondent, The Telegraph

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 23-05-2011)