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Congress’s revival: An uphill task, and party leaders aren’t serious about it

It was clear that the Congress leaders failed to understand ground realities. In the last two years, the Congress has been struggling to perform its role of the main Opposition party effectively...

mumbai Updated: Mar 14, 2017 16:07 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Shiv Sena,BJP,elections
Congress Mumbai president Sanjay Nirupam tendered his resignation following the party’s debacle in the BMC polls last month.(HT file )

There is a common element between the civic polls in Maharashtra that took place in February and the recent assembly elections in the five states — the manner in which the Congress lost the plot. In a healthy democracy, existence of a strong Opposition is necessary. But the message from both the elections is identical: the revival of the Congress looks like an uphill task .

Let’s talk about Maharashtra.

During 2014 assembly election, the Congress lost power in the state which was considered as its stronghold since Independence. Even after Sharad Pawar parted ways to form the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 1999, the Congress managed to put up a good show in three assembly elections in a row and retained power in alliance with the NCP. The Congress-NCP alliance lost badly in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections because of the Modi wave. Out of the 48 parliamentary seats, they won just 6 (NCP 4, Congress 2). By that standard, they should not have won more than 35-40 seats (a single parliamentary constituency consists of six assembly segments). To make matters worse, the two parties called off their alliance right before of the assembly polls. Still, the two parties collectively won 83 seats (Congress 42, NCP 41).

The BJP could not win majority on its own despite winning 42 parliamentary seats in the elections held six months ago and 166 out of 288 assembly seats were won by other parties, mostly Shiv Sena (62) as well as the Congress-NCP. This happened partly because the Sena split its votes and partly because Congress-NCP managed to retain their 83 seats despite a strong anti-incumbency and Modi effect.

In comparison, the municipal and district polls in February 2017 were easier for the Congress and the NCP to win. The local elections were a good opportunity for the Congress to launch its campaign against the BJP and the Shiv Sena, who are in power in the state government. However, the results show the main Opposition party failed in using this opportunity. It was the BJP which took advantage of the situation.

It doesn’t need a divine intervention to pinpoint the reasons for this debacle.

First, the Maharashtra BJP under the leadership of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis planned election strategy well in advance. Second, it came up with an effective election campaign that reached the desired voter. Third, one person — Fadnavis — was in charge and all the BJP leaders followed his instructions. There were some other reasons as well. However, none of these were visible in the Congress. It didn’t seem to have a strategy for Maharashtra where it has mass base and network of party workers. It ran a hotchpotch campaign, and the ego clashes between its leaders were such that nobody cared whether the party was winning or losing. In cities like Mumbai,Thane, Pune or in other districts, the Congress was not seen as a party strong enough to provide an alternative. This was the failure of its campaign strategy — if it had any.

It was clear that the Congress leaders failed to understand ground realities. In the last two years, the Congress has been struggling to perform its role of the main Opposition party effectively.

Typically, an opposition party uses controversies, decisions or lack of decisions by the government to target the ruling party and point out how it has failed the people who voted for it. The Congress’ front-line leaders have failed in doing so. They level allegations against the ruling party or raise issues and then fail to keep up the heat. In fact, it is the Shiv Sena which is in the government but still playing the role of the Opposition party. If this remains the situation, the Congress’ revival seems difficult, especially when it faces an adversary like the BJP which is way ahead of the former when it comes to planning strategies, handling election management and above all, communicating with the people.

Also read: Mumbai after BMC poll: An opportunity for Thackeray and Fadnavis

First Published: Mar 14, 2017 15:52 IST