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Not the end of the road for the Congress

comment Updated: May 27, 2016 10:49 IST

After a series of election def eats since 2014, it’s tempting to write off the Congress as a leading national force. With few visible sign sofa revival, some argue that India’ s regional parties are now the bulwark against the BJP.

This seems to be the case with the next big state poll: Uttar Pradesh in 2017. The Congress is the underdog, with the BSP seemingly best positioned to beat back the BJP. But it may well be premature to write off the Congress. Even in its present na dir, the Congress is either the ruling party or the principal Opposition in six of India’ s 12 largest states( which account for 80% of the Lok Sabha seats). The BJP, at its current zenith, is one or the other in six states, although it hopes to add UP to this list. The Congress remains the only feasible alternative in a big swath of the country. Recall that the party ruled only two states( Or issa and Madhya Pradesh) when Son ia Gandhi too koveri n 1998.

Things will remain tricky for the party through early 2017. It will need to put in a respectable performance in UP. It will have to fight off a challenge from AAP in Punjab and retain some of the smaller states. Thiswon’tbeeasy: The BJP could lose a third of its 2014 UP vote of 42% and in a four-way race still have a chance of winning the state.

But once the Congress is past this stage, opportunities may begin to open up in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Raj as than and Chhattisgarh, all of which are ruled by the B JP and together account for 91 of the 543 parliamentary seats. The Congress won three of the 91 in 2014. As tempting as it is to project BJP’s invincibility indefinitely into the future, the fact is that all of these governments are vulnerable to a challenge, and the Congress will be the only party positioned to take advantage.

Gujarat has been plagued by a Pat id ar agitation and its CM is facing allegations of crony ism. The three-term Madhya Pradesh and Ch hat tis ga rh governments are also battling corruption charges, while Rajasthan tends to seesaw between the B JP and Congress. The Congress will be in danger of losing its last major state, Karnataka, but the risks will weigh against the BJP.

So how does any of this matter? Despite the 2014 Mo di wave, the national landscape is still shaped by state politics. Whiled issatisfaction with the UP A was a factor, the data from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies show that satisfaction with the ruling state government was perhaps the most important determinant of voting. Consider that the Congress’ 2014 vote share in Karnataka rose in comparison with 2009; but the B JP gained seats because of its merger with BS Yeddyurappa’s splinter party.

It is possible, as many commentators assert, that the voter’s disenchantment with the Congress is ir reversible. Butit’s too easy to extrapolate the most recent trend into the future. Nationally, the Congress is positioned to the left of the BJP, ready to reap any disappointment with Narendra Modi’s development rhetoric, possess es a deep bench of younger leaders and has more boots on the ground than any othercontender.

And if the party shakes off its stupor and survives the UP and Punjab elections, it has the chance to take the battle to the B JP heartland.

Amitabh Dubeyis an analyst of politics and economic policy

The views expressed are personal