A helicopter view of the Gangetic Plain: What the poll results mean for the economy

Democracy has gained, but the economy will pay the price. Reforms will now slip into deep freeze and the ruling coalition will become a Disunited Regressive Alliance.

Star of Samajwadi Party's win in Uttar Pradesh: Akhilesh Yadav Star of Samajwadi Party's win in Uttar Pradesh: Akhilesh Yadav
Chaitanya Kalbag
The dusty plains irrigated by the Ganga look quite different from a helicopter, and just a little more distinct from elephant-back. Only a bicycle affords you a better view of the grass, even if the grassroots are obscured.

That is what happened in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party's (SP) bicycle election symbol rode roughshod over the Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) elephant symbol, and Mulayam Singh Yadav once again showed what a fighter he is.

I first met Mulayam in 1982, when, protected by a lone gunman with a bolt-action rifle, he was the UP Lok Dal chief and locked in bitter rivalry with his Yadav casteman Balram Singh from the Congress.

Mulayam Singh
His survival instincts stood him in good stead when dacoit gangs were used as cat's paws by politicians to settle scores in the ravines of the Pachnada, the land that lies between the rivers Yamuna, Chambal, Kunwari, Pahuj and Sindh: but that is another story.

Mulayam sent his son Akhilesh to good universities, and the young man's suave image has more than made up for the estrangement with his once front-man Amar Singh.

Outgoing UP Chief Minister Mayawati
The seeds of Mayawati's downfall were sown when she won an absolute majority in 2007 - her first press conference in Delhi was a show of muscle, noise and overweening contempt for everything in her path.

Smothered by the sight of garlands of banknotes, soaring income-tax returns, and senior bureaucrats falling at her feet, it was difficult to conjure up the grainy black-and-white image of a young Mayawati speaking earnestly into a microphone, watched admiringly by her Svengali, Kanshi Ram.

There was only so much that her edifice complex could achieve. The celebrity had devoured the cause.

It was a situation ripe for exploiting by a different kind of leader, somebody like Rahul Gandhi with the rich history of Allahabad, Phulpur, Rae Bareli and Amethi behind him.

Rahul's journeys across Uttar Pradesh, too, had a ring of history to them. In 1915, fresh back from South Africa, a 45-year-old Mohandas Gandhi travelled across the country to learn, all the while keeping "his ears open but his mouth shut". Now there was a lesson there for a younger namesake nearly a century later.

So what do Tuesday's election results mean for the nation?
Democracy has gained, but the economy will pay the price. Reforms will now slip into deep freeze; the ruling coalition will become a Disunited Regressive Alliance; and worst of all, the finance minister is now faced with the task, over the next week, of constructing a Budget that at once is brazenly populist - although what populism can gain, only our recidivist political class can tell - and fiscally sensible.

Labour, pension, insurance and land-acquisition reforms will hit a brick wall.

India is already a country very difficult to do business in, and the foreign investor will not want to second-guess a slowing global economy by betting on our madhouse of political whimsy, unstable markets, and regulatory quicksand.

For the more superstitious amongst us, the earthquake that shook Delhi and parts of north India on Monday was signal enough.