Congress still has one trump card to play, but does its leadership even know it exists?

Shubham Ghosh
Congress still has one trump card to play, but does its leadership even know it exists?

An average Congress supporter has definitely been left bemoaning the party's failure in forming governments in Goa and Manipur in the latest Assembly elections, despite finishing as the largest party in those two states. The tales in the two small states were really shocking, for they saw the lead the party had gained amid the Narendra Modi super cyclone getting wasted.

The Congress could only win a total of 140 seats in five states while the BJP bagged 405. Of these 140, the tally of 77 in Punjab was of some realistic help as that was the only state where the Grand-Old Party could win power.

And yet, amid all the ruins, there is one silver lining for the Congress, and its top leadership cannot afford to lose sight of that aspect if they harbour an iota of ambition to make a comeback. And that silver lining is the party's vote-share.

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The Congress' vote-share in BJP-dominated states is not too bad

If the results of the elections that have taken place in Gujarat and nationwide after the occurrence of the phenomenon called Narendra Modi are closely analysed, one finds two aspects. The more obvious aspect is the rout of the Congress in terms of seat shares. In states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam and Maharashtra, the BJP has buried the Congress' chances in terms of seats. There is very little possibility of the latter crossing the majority mark in the Assemblies of these states in the near future. But if one notices the other aspect, which is more implicit as compared to the seats since ours is a first-past-the-post system, the Congress has not done too badly in these states, where the politics is largely bipolar.

Following is the table for the Congress' vote-shares in BJP-dominated states in the last elections:

Congress vote and seat shares in some BJP-dominated states
States (last election) Congress vote-share seat share/total seats BJP vote-share seat share
Gujarat (2012) 38.9 61/182 47.9 115
Rajasthan (2013) 33.7 21/200 46 163
Madhya Pradesh (2013) 37.1 58/230 45.7 165
Chhattisgarh (2013) 41.6 39/90 42.3 49
Maharashtra (2014) 18.1 42/288 28.1 122
Assam (2016) 31.3 26/126 29.8 60
Goa (2017) 28.4 17/40 32.5 13

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This factor proves that the Congress is yet to be completely wiped out from India as many BJP leaders, including the PM, have been aspiring for. The substantial vote-shares suggest that there are still opinions in this country that do not endorse Modi's politics and they need a force which would unite them, just as Mahatma Gandhi did in the past.

Even in the Lok Sabha election three years ago, which was the worst ever for the Congress in terms of seats, it got nearly 20 percent vote share, finishing second after the BJP's 31.3 per cent. The vote-share was the Congress' worst in parliamentary elections so far but yet it proved that the Congress has not lost its national space yet.

But to transform those vote-shares into seats, the Congress has to reconnect to the ground

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For that to happen, however, the Congress' leadership needs to reach out to the grassroots to understand the pulse of the voters who are looking for an alternative national forum. These voters are gradually turning towards regional outfits, finding the Congress unreliable. And this anti-Congress sentiment will only get bolstered by events that took place in Goa and Manipur. The Congress' last realistic hope is its vote-share but it needs to play a proactive role in strengthening and transforming it into seats. Unfortunately, the party has no charismatic leader to do that job.

Uttar Pradesh is one state where the party has seen the ominous signs of both its seat and vote-shares plummeting over the years. From 309 seats and 37.7 percent vote-share in the Assembly elections of 1980, the Congress' corresponding figures in 2017 have come down to a mere seven and 6.2 percent. This has happened because the Congress has failed to address its still hopeful vote-share. The same would be repeated in other states if the party is not alert enough to protect its final asset left in the political arena.

Congress seat and vote-shares in UP Assembly elections since 1980
Year 1980 '85 '89 '91 '93 '96 2002 2007 2012 2017
Congress 309 (37.7) 269 (39.2) 94 (27.9) 46 (17.3) 28 (15.1) 33 (8.3) 25 (9) 22 (8.6) 28 (11.6) 07 (6.2)

There are scores of issues in India that have still not benefited from the Modi magic. The Congress can capitalise on that opportunity. But does it have the will?

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