Why 2022 may decide the future of Congress and Indian opposition parties
The year 2021 has been another forgettable year for the Indian GOP, the Indian National Congress. He lost power in the Union Territory of Pondicherry, went white in West Bengal, and failed to wrest power from the left in the state of Kerala. Despite forming a large alliance of like-minded opposition parties in Assam, Congress has failed to return to power in the key northeastern state. He has come under heavy criticism for rolling back his alliance in Assam. Congress, which contested 95 of the state’s 126 seats, recorded a dismal 30% strike rate. Its allies fared much better, managing to win 21 of the 31 seats they contested with a much more impressive strike rate of almost 70%.
The free fall of Congress coincided with the rise of regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin and Pinarayi Vijayan. The results of the assembly elections held in 2021 and subsequent political developments have reinforced the idea that the balance of power in the Indian opposition has shifted in favor of the regional satraps. A lethargic, faction-dominated Congress is seen as an electoral handicap by many supporters of the Indian opposition. Some have even raised the possibility of forming a national anti-BJP front of regional parties without Congress.
Despite his far from impressive electoral record, his inability to appoint even a full-time president since 2019, and his dire situation, it will be virtually impossible for anti-BJP forces not to include Congress in their plans for 2024. To understand the electoral calculation, we can divide the country into five groups. It then becomes obvious why the Congress becomes an indispensable part of any pan-Indian formation which aims to stop the juggernaut of the BJP.
Dominant political scenario (based on the results of the 2019 LS elections and the most recent Assembly elections.)
|States||Number of seats Lok Sabha|
|Group A||States where Congress and the BJP are engaged in direct struggle.||
Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and UTs-Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.
States where Congress as well as other regional outfits are major challengers for the BJP. For example, JD (S) in Karnataka, Shiv Sena and NCP in Maharashtra.
|Assam, Karnataka, Maharashtra and UTs- Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi.||102|
States where Congress is a capable junior ally in an anti-BJP alliance led by strong regional formations.
|Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu.||93|
States where Congress is a dominant electoral force and the BJP struggles to assert itself.
|Punjab, Kerala, Meghalaya and UT Pondicherry and Lakshadweep.||37|
States where Congress is almost non-existent and strong regional parties are the main opposition to the BJP.
|Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Sikkim.||186|
Group A: This includes 125 Lok Sabha constituencies from 13 states and 4 Union Territories where Congress and BJP are engaged in direct competition. To date, Congress is the only major opposition to the BJP in this group of seats. However, other opposition parties like the TMC in Goa and Manipur and the AAP in Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand have started campaigning aggressively to make inroads in some of these states. However, it seems highly unlikely that they will move Congress before the 2024 election. So, for all intents and purposes, Congress will be locked into a direct battle with the BJP in those 125 seats.
Group B: consists of 102 seats from the states of Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Union Territories of Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir. In most of these seats, the nature of political competition is completely bipolar between Congress and the BJP. But in some of these states, regional parties are dominant and are the main challengers of the BJP. For example, the Janata Dal Secular) in Karnataka (especially in the Old Mysore region), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in some districts of the ‘Assam and Aam Aadmi Feast in Delhi.
However, in a majority of these seats, the regional parties play the second fiddle to Congress and the big old party is the main challenger to the Saffron party.
Group C: The three states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu have a total of 93 seats. Although in decline in these states, Congress continues to be a practical junior ally in those states. To this day, Congress is a junior ally in the ruling alliance governments in the states of Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. In Bihar, Congress severed ties with its ally Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) during indirect Assembly votes in October 2021. The parties will put aside all their differences to argue together in 2024.
Group D: This group includes states where Congress is a dominant electoral force and where the BJP is struggling to break through. In Punjab, where the BJP continues to be on the fringes, the INC is engaged in a fight with the Aam Aadmi party and the Shiromani Akali Dal. In Kerala, the BJP / NDA managed to maintain a 10-15 percentage point share of the vote in recent Assembly and Parliament polls, but failed to win seats. Kerala politics, on the whole, remain bipolar. The two-party system appears to be rooted in state electoral politics. With the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI (M)-led Democratic Left Front (LDF) having a very stable base of support, the chances of the BJP making significant short-term gains are slim.
Group E: The largest group with 186 seats, which includes the key battlefield state of Uttar Pradesh, also happens to be the weakest area of ââthe Congress party. In these six states, powerful regional parties like the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Biju Janata Dal from Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) fiercely resist BJP. In Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim, Congress and BJP are virtually absent. In Telangana and Odisha, the rise of the BJP coincided with and accelerated the fall of Congress. Without any sign of alliance with the TRS of K. Chandrashekhar Rao or the BJD in Odisha, the Congress is alone in these states. In all likelihood, 2024 will be a straightforward battle between TRS and BJP in India’s youngest state. In Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, Congress is in free fall. The party’s share of the vote in those states has fallen below 7% and there are no visible signs of a recovery or resurgence.
Congress is not essential
It is undeniable that Congress is losing ground across the country. He has been criticized for his dismal record against the BJP and for being the weak link in opposition alliances in recent times. Congress has weakened considerably over the past decade. But the weakened Congress is not weak enough to be excluded from any pan-Indian anti-BJP project – a formal front or an informal understanding of anti-BJP forces.
The big old party still has a share of the vote of around 20%. In 2019, he won 54 seats and was a finalist in 209 Lok Sabha constituencies. A cluster analysis shows very clearly that leaving Congress aside is hardly feasible for a front or a formation that aspires to seriously tackle BJP. Congress is the main opposition to the BJP in the first two groups representing 227 constituencies in Lok Sabha. Of these 227, in nearly 160 constituencies, it is the only opposition that exists in the Bharatiya Janata Party. If one were to add Group D seats where Congress is the dominant political force and where the BJP has yet to make a breakthrough, the number rises to 264. In another 93 seats in the states of Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Bihar, Congress is more than a capable junior ally. Thus, there are at least 350 odd-numbered seats where Congress continues to be electorally relevant.
2022: a pivotal year
While it is evident that given the prevailing political situation it is impossible to fight or stop the BJP without Congress, a serious cause of concern for the party and for Indian opposition forces is the extremely record. unimpressive party in direct competitions with the BJP. The Congress party’s strike rate against the BJP was only 12% in 2014. In 2019, the two parties clashed directly – in position one or two – in 192 seats. The BJP won 176 of those seats as the congressional strike rate fell from 12% to an even meager 8%. This pattern of congressional miserable performance in direct competition with the BJP has also been a recurring theme in Assembly polls since 2013, with the exception of December 2018, when the party defeated the incumbent BJP in three states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have launched an aggressive campaign to expand their base beyond their traditional territories. While the TMC has defended its expansion plans by claiming that it is only foraying into states where there is no strong opposition to the BJP, the real reason behind the aggressive expansion plans may be to give a reality check in Congress. In the past, Congress has been the target of his âbig brotherâ attitude. He was castigated for acting like an old man zamindaar living in illusion, unable to come to terms with his shrinking electoral space. In all likelihood, the wave of expansion of parties like the TMC is aimed at forcing Congress to accept that it can no longer act as the natural leader of an anti-BJP alliance. At the same time, it could force the party to step back in states and seats where other opposition parties are better placed to oust the BJP. In return, opposition parties can put their expansion plans on hold in areas where Congress is strong and better placed to confront the BJP. As a result, Congress could end up competing for less than 350 seats for the first time in 2024. The opposition’s best bet will be to invest in a “horse for the courts” strategy – ensuring that cannibalization opposition votes are avoided and the strongest party / BJP candidate is presented in each state or seat.
The year 2022 will be the perfect litmus test for the GOP to test and prove their ability to take on BJP in direct contests. In three states – Manipur, Uttarakhand, Goa, Congress is in direct struggle with the BJP. In the second half of the year, he will fight the BJP in two other states, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. If Congress manages to make an impressive display in these states, it will strengthen its credentials as the natural leader of anti-BJP training and also act as a huge morale booster for the party which has rarely won in direct competition with the BJP in Lately.
On the other hand, poor performance in these states will strengthen the argument that Congress is a depleted force or an electoral liability. It will also help the cause of other opposition forces like the TMC and AAP who seek to expand beyond their own backyards with the ambition of replacing Congress in many states across the country.
The author is a Bombay-based freelance writer and an alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. His interests range from politics, psephology and journalism to regional Indian cinema. He tweets @Omkarismunlimit and can be contacted at [emailÂ protected]