Unexpected margin of victory for the incumbents and a slap in the face for the BJP. Firstly, congratulations to the UPA and its supporters but I won't count myself amongst them. As I mentioned earlier, it is reflective of the leadership vacuum at BJP's top rung that Congress was voted back to power after five years of sleep walking through the government and leading the country into a mire.
Although knowledgeable people all over the world are lauding the return to significance of nationalist parties and marginalisation of regional ones, I wouldn't hold out my breath for this trend(if it is one). The cumulative vote share of Congres, BJP and CPI(M) (which are the three parties to hold nationalist aspirations) has remained close to 48% where it was even in 2004. In addition, the vote share of Congress improved by 1.99% overall, which puts to rest the theories that voters voted enmasse for a "stable government at center".
During the elections, there was a chorus of opinion that this election was less a national election and more a cumulative of 543 mini elections. Although the results don't point to that, I still stand by that theory. On a cumulative note, Congress deserved to lose this election, but BJP deserved to lose it just as well. So, it came down to individual constituencies. A bunch of factors like Chiranjeevi's PRP cutting into 16% of vote share in A.P(which might have gone to TDP+ otherwise), Mulayam Singh's connection to Kalyan Singh in the U.P which led to shifting of anti-BJP vote to Congress, riots in Orissa and Varun Gandhi's mad ramblings leading to a (welcome) feedback agains the BJP, to mention nothing of the incoherence and infighting within the BJP ranks all led to a significant decrease in the voteshare of BJP to a tune of 4.5%.
All these are legitimate and welcome trends in exercise of franchise, yet one aspect still gets my goat. The crown prince who was derided until the results came out suddenly became a genius. "Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan." His pathetic stumbling at the press conference, failure in first attempts at diplomacy all lay forgotten and his "masterstroke" of going it alone in U.P is suddenly his ticket to the seat at the top. Here is a more complete dissection of the selective amnesia.
Unfortunately, I believe that this attitude of servitude and obsequious fawning in wait of a Hero to deliver us from the ills of the world is common to all around the world(Oba-mania anyone?). The trouble with Indians is the continued importance of familial ties and inheritance of profession (Engineer's son being anything other than engineer is a shame, similarly politician's son has to be a politician etc.)
Why were the exit polls off by such a big margin then? I would like to propose a new effect along the lines of "Bradley effect." In India, infatuation with the "first" family is a guilty pleasure. So, people won't admit that they are going to vote for the family, yet secretly do so. The sample space is extremely limited, but I believe that there IS a correlation. I will leave it to the interested or the jobless to prove or disprove this theory.
What lies ahead for the parties? As M.J.Akbar points out, "India is a secular country not because the Indian muslims(minorities) want it to be secular, but because the Indian Hindus want it to be secular" (italics mine.) BJP should realize this and give up on the fanatical elements amongst its ranks. They shouldn't be worried about losing the support of these factions as they can't vote for anyone else anyway. A cursory look at some of the rants by these factions is enough to put off many centrist votes which would've gone BJP's way had it tempered its voice.
And it IS important that BJP gets its message across effectively. Modi, Advani have been making the right sounds for ages, (one unbiased listen to any of their speeches or interviews ought to make this clear) but it is not emulated by the rest.
For the Congress: They must not count this as a verdict for populist measures and against reforms. Kamal Nath already is on record as having stated, "We've done enough reforms." If that doesn't send the alarm bells ringing to our media lapdogs, I wonder what will. If five years of soporific ramblings and somniatic perambulations are enough to win them 200 seats, they should see the potential in five years of good governance to win them 300.
For the CPI(M)/CPI: I'm glad that they've lost, but realistically, we are far from discarding their defeatist ideologies yet. In case we forget, it was Mamata Banerjee and her coterie who caused the eviction of Nano project from Bengal. The UDF in kerala isn't that different to the LDF in terms of policies. In other words, it was a replacement of like for like. I eagerly await the day when their ideas will be put to rest in the sewers where they belong, but it may be empty hope.
PS: I am still ambivalent about Congress/UPA. Yet, Chidambaram as the Home Minister, Pranab Da as the EA minister did a decent job and if the sycophants like Arjun Singh and Shivraj Patil and unscrupulous devils like A.Raja(Telecom ministry) are kept out, I think we have a decent chance at some redemption in the next five years.