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Congress’ Cinderella Syndrome

Despite facing reverses in recently held polls, Congress hopes to overcome its troubles

Harish Gupta
Publish Date: Jun 14 2016 3:54PM | Updated Date: Jun 14 2016 3:54PM

Congress’ Cinderella Syndrome

Despite facing reverses in the recently held polls for five State assemblies Congress hopes to overcome its troubles. Yet, trends do not back this up, writes Harish Gupta

 
Results of elections to five assemblies last week have certainly put the BJP in an advantageous position vis-a-vis the Congress. By winning in Assam, a border State with a long history of ethnic conflicts, it has finally been able to pitch its tent in the north-east.
 
Elsewhere, its gains were small yet significant. It won only one seat in the entire southern peninsula—Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry -- but the BJP-BJDS alliance in Kerala, with its 14 percent vote share, comprising mostly the Hindu population, proved the biggest spoiler for Congress-led UDF. The day is not far when Kerala will witness first triangular contest during 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In Bengal, BJP’s penetration with RSS’s help into the tribal belts dealt so heavy a blow to the Congress-Left Front alliance that it never stood up after the three counts. It is only in Tamil Nadu that the near-total domination of the two local champions, AIADMK and DMK, cramped BJP’s style. Even then, it finished with nearly half the vote share of Congress, a party that had ruled the state once. 
 
So, is the BJP poised to step out of its limited identity as a party of the Hindi heartland? Is it ready to take its place as the ‘umbrella’ party, or the default option, which the Congress was till the 1990’s? State Governments under its control are surely collapsing but it is still the runner-up in so many states, like Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab. In most places, it left so recently that its marks are still visible. This is why there is always hope of its revival. 
 
But Congress is on a secular decline as is evident from its being avoided by allies. In a first-past-the-post electoral system, the possibility to be elected to power depends on having powerful allies, and their ability to transfer votes. In the recent Assembly elections, of the 643 seats up for grab, Congress on its own won only 115 and BJP had an even lower tally of 64. But the battle was decided by 465 ‘others’ who were not allies of either BJP or Congress. It may be due to the fact that democracy in India has evolved in a honeycomb-like manner, not leaving much scope for ‘national’ players. The BJP has considerably honed its skill at not only winning new allies but also neutralising potential competitors in local politics. For example, much of the verbal duel between TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a game of deception; in reality, TMC is known to have diverted its votes to BJP in order to ensure defeat of its arch enemy, the Congress-Left Front alliance is certain constituencies. 
 
If such ‘frenemies’ (of BJP) are not many in the Congress bag, the party has none but itself to blame. Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s case is an example. He refused to share power with Himanta Biswa Sarma, his most valuable lieutenant. In retaliation, Sarma moved over to the BJP and crafted a winning alliance with two major ethnic groups, Bodo and Ahom. The rest is history. Congress’ alliance with the Left in West Bengal is of course a rare piece of realpolitik as it proved beneficial to the Congress to the extent that while the cadre-based left parties could manage to transfer their votes to the Congress, the gesture was not returned. In this one-way trade, the Congress gained 45 MLAs and seize the second position, an honour that would have otherwise gone to the Left Front. 
 
The Bengal alliance was an exception unlikely to be repeated in the future. It is rather possible that the Congress will again be left alone in Uttar Pradesh which goes to poll next year. BSP’s Mayawati with her dalit supporters increasingly being spearheaded by a young and empowered generation, is a tough negotiator. She may agree on support only in exchange of something big, like a promise to project her as prime ministerial candidate in 2019. But the Congress may find the price too steep, considering its dynastic game plan, and its unflinching faith that only a ‘Gandhi’ can find place on its banner when it comes to a national election.
 
In the entire South, the Congress has no significant ally except DMK. Hobbling along with DMK, Congress managed to win in eight seats with only 6.4 per cent votes, which shows that it survives only in pockets and is stretching its number of MLAs at the cost of its partners. It is doubtful if such tactic will work in Uttar Pradesh or in Punjab, which too is going to poll next year along with Manipur, Goa and Uttrakhand. Be it in these states, or in the seven states where Congress runs governments, the party is so full of itself that it is not ruffled by the thought of who’d be electoral partners and who’d be chief minister. Except Amarinder Singh, a pukka member of Punjab royalty, it will not stoop to naming its choice of chief minister in UP. 
 
BJP, on the other hand, has a ‘war room’ abuzz round the year and its backroom boys always on the go. Like for Assam, Ram Madhav was deputed six months ago and given a free hand. Similarly, the operation at Arunachal Pradesh, causing defection from the Congress legislature party and downfall of the Congress government of Nabam Tuki, was reportedly masterminded from Delhi by a senior leader of the BJP. Nor is the party untouchable any longer. In Uttar Pradesh, a mini-India by all reckoning, every player—including Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party -- has working relations with BJP. In a divided polity, majority is a daydream but having a roomful of frenemies is not impossible. -- The writer is Editor Lokmat group) 
Despite facing reverses in the recently held polls for five State assemblies Congress hopes to overcome its troubles. Yet, trends do not back this up, writes Harish Gupta
 
Results of elections to five assemblies last week have certainly put the BJP in an advantageous position vis-a-vis the Congress. By winning in Assam, a border State with a long history of ethnic conflicts, it has finally been able to pitch its tent in the north-east.
 
Elsewhere, its gains were small yet significant. It won only one seat in the entire southern peninsula—Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry -- but the BJP-BJDS alliance in Kerala, with its 14 percent vote share, comprising mostly the Hindu population, proved the biggest spoiler for Congress-led UDF. The day is not far when Kerala will witness first triangular contest during 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In Bengal, BJP’s penetration with RSS’s help into the tribal belts dealt so heavy a blow to the Congress-Left Front alliance that it never stood up after the three counts. It is only in Tamil Nadu that the near-total domination of the two local champions, AIADMK and DMK, cramped BJP’s style. Even then, it finished with nearly half the vote share of Congress, a party that had ruled the state once. 
 
So, is the BJP poised to step out of its limited identity as a party of the Hindi heartland? Is it ready to take its place as the ‘umbrella’ party, or the default option, which the Congress was till the 1990’s? State Governments under its control are surely collapsing but it is still the runner-up in so many states, like Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab. In most places, it left so recently that its marks are still visible. This is why there is always hope of its revival. 
 
But Congress is on a secular decline as is evident from its being avoided by allies. In a first-past-the-post electoral system, the possibility to be elected to power depends on having powerful allies, and their ability to transfer votes. In the recent Assembly elections, of the 643 seats up for grab, Congress on its own won only 115 and BJP had an even lower tally of 64. But the battle was decided by 465 ‘others’ who were not allies of either BJP or Congress. It may be due to the fact that democracy in India has evolved in a honeycomb-like manner, not leaving much scope for ‘national’ players. The BJP has considerably honed its skill at not only winning new allies but also neutralising potential competitors in local politics. For example, much of the verbal duel between TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a game of deception; in reality, TMC is known to have diverted its votes to BJP in order to ensure defeat of its arch enemy, the Congress-Left Front alliance is certain constituencies. 
 
If such ‘frenemies’ (of BJP) are not many in the Congress bag, the party has none but itself to blame. Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s case is an example. He refused to share power with Himanta Biswa Sarma, his most valuable lieutenant. In retaliation, Sarma moved over to the BJP and crafted a winning alliance with two major ethnic groups, Bodo and Ahom. The rest is history. Congress’ alliance with the Left in West Bengal is of course a rare piece of realpolitik as it proved beneficial to the Congress to the extent that while the cadre-based left parties could manage to transfer their votes to the Congress, the gesture was not returned. In this one-way trade, the Congress gained 45 MLAs and seize the second position, an honour that would have otherwise gone to the Left Front. 
 
The Bengal alliance was an exception unlikely to be repeated in the future. It is rather possible that the Congress will again be left alone in Uttar Pradesh which goes to poll next year. BSP’s Mayawati with her dalit supporters increasingly being spearheaded by a young and empowered generation, is a tough negotiator. She may agree on support only in exchange of something big, like a promise to project her as prime ministerial candidate in 2019. But the Congress may find the price too steep, considering its dynastic game plan, and its unflinching faith that only a ‘Gandhi’ can find place on its banner when it comes to a national election.
 
In the entire South, the Congress has no significant ally except DMK. Hobbling along with DMK, Congress managed to win in eight seats with only 6.4 per cent votes, which shows that it survives only in pockets and is stretching its number of MLAs at the cost of its partners. It is doubtful if such tactic will work in Uttar Pradesh or in Punjab, which too is going to poll next year along with Manipur, Goa and Uttrakhand. Be it in these states, or in the seven states where Congress runs governments, the party is so full of itself that it is not ruffled by the thought of who’d be electoral partners and who’d be chief minister. Except Amarinder Singh, a pukka member of Punjab royalty, it will not stoop to naming its choice of chief minister in UP. 
 
BJP, on the other hand, has a ‘war room’ abuzz round the year and its backroom boys always on the go. Like for Assam, Ram Madhav was deputed six months ago and given a free hand. Similarly, the operation at Arunachal Pradesh, causing defection from the Congress legislature party and downfall of the Congress government of Nabam Tuki, was reportedly masterminded from Delhi by a senior leader of the BJP. Nor is the party untouchable any longer. In Uttar Pradesh, a mini-India by all reckoning, every player—including Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party -- has working relations with BJP. In a divided polity, majority is a daydream but having a roomful of frenemies is not impossible.
 
 
-- The writer is Editor. Lokmat group