After the celebrations must come sobriety. The Congress party and its ally in Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party, have good reasons to celebrate a clear victory, in two states. In Haryana it has been a close call. The verdict is as much an endorsement for the Congress party as it is a comment on the state of the Opposition.
In Maharashtra, in particular, the poor showing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is yet another wake up call to a party that has still not got its act together. It is now so clear that without a change of leadership at the very top, and without capturing the imagination of a new India, the BJP will not be able to pose a challenge to the Congress at the national level, even though it is the case that it is in government in more states than the Congress.
While victors must have their weekend of merrymaking, they must also realise that with victory comes the responsibility to govern. Maharashtra, in particular, has seen a decline in the standards of governance in recent years. The state and its capital have yielded ground to other rising stars in the south and north.
With a clear mandate in their favour, the Congress-NCP combine should have no excuses not to offer an efficient and purposive government. Maharashtra needs one if it wishes to keep pace with other developed states. The city of Mumbai, in particular, is in desperate need of revitalisation. Time was when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Mumbai the 'Shanghai of India'.
That dream still remains a distant one, with Shanghai advancing fast to challenge cities like Tokyo and New York as a global metropolis. The sub-plot in the Maharashtra elections was the rivalry between the inheritors of the Bal Thackeray mantle and the verdict has gone in favour of the more menacing claimant. This cannot augur well for Mumbai's future as a national metropolis, leave alone a global one.
In all the three states, investment in infrastructure development is the key challenge. In Arunachal Pradesh, the state government has to move fast to implement projects in the pipeline. In Haryana, the problem of law and order and widespread corruption and criminality have begun to take a toll on urbanisation and explain the near miss.
The verdict in the three states will help further stabilise the government in New Delhi. The Congress party has no excuses for not doing a good job. The central government now gets a breather from elections for more than a year, since the results from Jharkhand and Bihar, where elections are due in 2010, are unlikely to make any difference to political stability at the Centre.
The next electoral season will be in 2011 when major states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are due to go to polls. This is the political window of opportunity for the Manmohan Singh government to get down to work, take some difficult decisions and deliver on the development and law and order fronts.