The Art of Losing Congress-Style
- With Congress losing Punjab, many believe the grand old party has come to a tipping point
- Congress was expecting to do well in four of the five states that went to polls
- Congress now holds power in only four states
Going into the Assembly elections 2022, the Congress was already on the backfoot. Of the five states that went to polls – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur – Congress was in power only in one state. Now, with just about two years to go before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the grand old party, the imagined principal alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has lost another state. In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has trounced the Congress.
While the Congress has been losing major elections for years now, political analysts believe that this is indeed a tipping point for the party that led India’s Independence movement against the British and then post-independence India for over three decades. The Congress, once exclusively dominating the Indian political scene, now remains in power in only four states -- Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Of these, in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the Congress is only a minor alliance partner.
As of 11:30 am on Thursday, the Congress was not only nowhere close to scoring any of the states, but has lost seats in four of the five states that went to polls, with the exception of Uttarakhand.
In Uttar Pradesh, where Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the last card in the Gandhi family deck, led the campaign with women on the forefront, the Congress has lost three seats. In the 2017 elections, the Congress fought in alliance with Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP). This time, however, no alliance could be worked out.
It was probable that the Congress would think of a post-poll alliance if the grand old party and the SP performed well. However, with the BJP clearly leading with majority, no alliances will now work. The Congress’ campaign slogan, “Ladki Hun Lad Sakti Hun” (I’m a woman, I can fight), may have energised sections of the Congress party but as is evidenced from the results, the slogan had little to no real-world impact.
Punjab, where the Congress had a solid government in numbers in 2017 with Captain Amarinder Singh leading from the front, is now virtually seeing the party wiped out. As per current estimates, the party has lost 63 seats from the previous election.
Congress’ loss in Punjab has several reasons, but the political instability that the state saw amid raging farmers’ protests, showed how the party lost the plot. Having brought in Navjot Singh Sidhu from the BJP, the Congress had to suffer a battle of massive egos between Sidhu and Amarinder Singh. To the surprise of many, the Congress leadership in Delhi came out in favour of Sidhu instead of Singh. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra later accused the veteran Congressman of working with the BJP instead of working for the Congress.
Later, when Charanjit Singh Channi was appointed the chief minister of Punjab, the first Dalit CM of the border state, Sidhu had problems with that too. Leading up to the polls, Sidhu kept pressuring the Congress to declare him the CM face in Punjab, something the Congress does not usually do. However, under pressure, Congress changed its usual method. While declining Sidhu’s appeal to be made the CM face, Congress named Charanjit Singh Channi as its chief ministerial candidate.
In Goa, the Congress is currently leading in 12 seats, down from 17 seats in 2017. In India’s smallest state, Congress imagined it would position itself squarely against the BJP, see a hung Assembly and rally anti-BJP parties to form a government together. In such a bid, the Congress took its leaders to a resort to counter horse-trading by the BJP and made an appointment with the Governor of Goa PS Sreedharan Pillai, in the hopes of staking a claim to form the government. Such hopes, it now seems increasingly safe to say, have been dashed.
Manipur, docked away in India’s northeast, has the Congress is leading in 11 seats. In 2017, the Congress had won 28 seats out of 60, becoming the single-largest party, However, it was not able to form the government. The BJP is leading in 25 seats in Manipur and the NPP in 13 seats. The Congress, once at the top spot, is now down to the third place.
The only state where Congress has done better that in the last polls is Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand, located on the foothills of the Himalayas, is a state that changes governments every five years. Thus, it was Congress’ turn to rule the state anyway with Harish Rawat leading the charge. Rawat, however, was busy handling Congress’ crises in Punjab. The Congress is currently leading in 22 seats out of 70, having gained 11 seats from the 2017 polls.
The Congress’ decimation might indicate complete domination of the BJP in the domain of national politics. However, that doesn’t give the full picture. In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has shown that when people realise the political establishment is rotten, they do seek out an alternative where one is available. Thus, as Congress loses Punjab, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Sukhbir Singh Badal is also trailing in Jalalabad.
Meanwhile, though the Samajwadi Party is far from coming to power in Uttar Pradesh, a state whose fate is largely sealed, the Akhilesh Yadav-led party has seen a rise in its seats and vote share from the previous polls. From 47 seats in 2017, the Samajwadi Party is currently leading in 121 seats, 69 seats more than in the last elections.