Thursday, 19 May 2016

Congress Bags a Pair

Today, 19th May 2016 could prove a historic day in the evolution of the political landscape in India. Having had a track record for getting predictions spectacularly wrong, I believe that for once, I have reason to myself pat myself in the back. 

About eighteen months ago, I had said in this very blog that we might be witnessing the beginning of the end for the Indian National Congress. Today's election results confirm the trend. The Congress has lost power in Assam and Kerala. The opportunistic alliances it forged with DMK in Tamil Nadu and its leftist partners in West Bengal have both bitten the dust. Just as significantly, BJP has made inroads in states like Assam and Kerala, where it has historically never even had a presence.

There is not the least doubt now, that the BJP is rapidly coming to occupy the position that the Congress once did. The 'grand old' party is rapidly descending into the dustbin of history. Only a miracle can save it now. 

To explain my point, I have given below the political map of India as it stood in July 2013 (With apologies for my designing skills- or rather the lack thereof). The green shade denotes states ruled by the Congress either singly or in coalition back then. The states shaded in Orange were ruled by BJP- either singly or in coalition. The ones in Red were communist ruled state, while those in blue were ruled by other parties.

Map 1: Political Landscape of India (2013)

Witness the pre-dominantly green (Congress ruled) landscape, with the odd smattering of Orange (BJP Ruled) as of July 2013. BJP had just ceded Karnataka to Congress at the time and it was just a few weeks since Nitish Kumar had broken off his alliance with them. 

Contrast that with the political landscape as it stands today. Witness how the BJP (Orange) has assumed power- singly or in coalition- all the way from Kashmir to Goa, while Congress now retains only one major state (I have shaded Andhra Pradesh in Blue, even though the BJP is part of the ruling alliance there).

Map 2: Political Landscape of India (2016)

The situation could soon turn much worse for the Congress due to two factors. One, north-eastern states tend to swing in favour of the party in power at the centre. With Assam gone, it is perfectly possible that other north-eastern states will follow suit (elections in most north-eastern states are due in 2017-18). Two, popular dissatisfaction in Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh- the remaining states where it is still in power- could see the party suffer reverses there too. Sonia Gandhi & Co have their task cut out if they are to even remain in the race leading up to 2019.

The shrinking electoral footprint naturally means that the numerical superiority which the Congress currently enjoys in Rajya Sabha- the main reason why they still remain relevant in national politics- will erode even further in 2017, when many current members will lay down office, to be replaced by nominees from states no longer controlled by the party.

To be sure, temporary downturns in fortunes are not unusual in politics. However, the Congress is experiencing something far more serious than a cyclical phenomenon. It has historically never managed to win back any major state where it lost power (The only exception being Maharashtra, but there too, the Congress was the single biggest party when it lost power in 1995). Out of the 10 electorally most important states (which account for 382 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha), Karnataka is the only state where they are in power. 

Political Landscape of India (2013 v 2016)

Dig deeper, and the situation looks even worse. In five out of the remaining nine states, they have not been in power for at least two decades now. In Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh (lost in 2014), anti-Congress sentiment is strong after a decade of corruption and misgovernance. Chances of their regaining power in those states are pretty slim. It does not help that they do not have a single prominent leader in any of those states, thanks to the vice like grip exercised by the party's first family.

In fact the first family has successfully ensured that no other leader of stature has risen in its ranks, which means that they alone will have to shoulder the burden of turning around the party's fortunes. To say that their prospects are bleak would be optimistic, struggling as they are with a fragmented leadership distributed between an aged matriarch and a man who seems to have neither the aptitude nor the desire for it.

Writing on this subject in November 2014, I had said "Whisper it if you may, but we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the Congress,". You can say it out loud now.

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