The dream of a Modi defeat is powerful for the Congress, but is it so powerful that the party would be willing to commit harakiri?
The Congress appears to have adopted a strange method to electorally contain the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party. It has decided to squeeze itself out of the photo frame. Now, this would not be such a bad idea given that the party has in any case performed miserably in election after election since 2014, except that the Congress bigwigs actually believe the strategy will strengthen the party. The more it concedes, the more it will gain — seems to be the new formula.
In Bihar too, the Rashtriya Janata Dal is unlikely to be generous to the Congress, since it is hoping to bounce back after the 2014 setback.
Some within the Congress are willing to go to ridiculous extents to make the idea workable. Believe it or not, these leaders are even ready to do business with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. That there would be elements in the AAP who would be prepared to reciprocate, should not surprise anyone; Delhi’s ruling party has long lost the sheen of ethical politics. This is so bizarre that senior Congress leader Ajay Maken had to hastily rubbish the news. But he is not the last word in the Congress, is he? Strange things have happened before in Indian politics to rein in a powerful leader. Morarji Desai and Charan Singh, VP Singh and Devi Lal — as different from each other as chalk is from cheese, joined hands to oust Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi respectively. And so can Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi to keep Narendra Modi at bay.
Let’s not even discuss morality here, let’s talk pure politics and how the Congress hopes to gain. Ever since the Congress was crushed by the AAP wave in Delhi, it has been wondering on ways to make a comeback in a State (or quasi-State) which it had held for close to 15 years with Sheila Dikshit at the helm. If it indeed ties up with the AAP for the Lok Sabha election, it would have to contest on fewer than the total of seven seats. It will be the same story in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where it hopes to align with strong regional players. How many seats can the Congress expect to get in its share, with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (assuming the two tie up for 2019) cornering the major portion? A fair estimate would be 8-10 out of 80. In Bihar too, the Rashtriya Janata Dal is unlikely to be generous to the Congress, since it is hoping to bounce back after the 2014 setback.
The Congress’s hopes rest on Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, where it would be the BJP’s chief opponent
In Karnataka too, the Congress will have to concede seats to the Janata Dal (Secular). In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida party will have the lion’s share. In West Bengal, even if the Congress strike a deal with the Trinamool Congress, it will get only crumbs to contest from. If the Congress manages to rope in YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the latter will drive a hard bargain and leave for the Congress fewer seats than the former would have wanted. Across the country, therefore, barring States where there is a direct BJP versus Congress fight, the Congress would have to give up many seats to its ‘partners’. In fact, too many. Consider the following: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar together account for 120 Lok Sabha seats. Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal are the other major States where regional parties are dominant and don’t need the Congress even. Assuming that they agree to a pre-poll pact with the Congress, the latter will have only a handful of seats to contest from. Incrementally, therefore, the Congress, even in a pre-poll alliance, will have fewer seats to fight from — and fewer still to win from.
There is no need to elaborate on its impact on the party nationally. Already, the Congress has been reduced to a regional entity in terms of rule — it has just three States under its belt. The Congress will not even be the main party in such an alliance and thus the chances of party president Rahul Gandhi becoming Prime Minister in the eventuality of the combine winning the 2019 election, are negligible. The dream of a Modi defeat is powerful for the Congress, but is it so powerful that the party would be willing to commit harakiri? Take the Karnataka example. Already there are rumblings that the party has given to the JD (S) more than it should have — worse, it has given at the cost of the Congress’s own interest. A party which finished third has its Chief Minister and its Finance Minister, while the Congress, which came second, is reduced to a junior level in a State where the BJP is back in the reckoning.
The Congress has another option: Place a larger bet on a post-poll coalition. Here too the party can have a major role only if it does significantly better than the powerful regional outfits. That is a tall order, given that anti-BJP regional parties put together are expected to get far more seats than the Congress. The latter’s hopes rest on Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, where it would be the BJP’s chief opponent. If it does well there, it can stake the claim for dominance in a post-election scenario; if it performs poorly or averagely, Rahul Gandhi, despite his professed desire to become Prime Minister, will have to wait for another day.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.