Congress’s anger against voters and EVMs is pointless - Hindustan Times
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Congress’s anger against voters and EVMs is pointless

Dec 08, 2023 10:30 PM IST

On leadership, narrative and organisation, the party has yet to find an effective counter to Moditiva. It is fighting – and losing – on Modi’s terms

Since the election results, there has been a persistent whisper from some Congress leaders and many of their supporters about a North-South divide that may explain the BJP’s handsome dominance of the Hindi heartland. They do not intend this as an academic analysis of why some regions in the country vote the way they do or even a study of varying socio-economic indices. They mean it as a moral judgment of the voter. The subtext implied by these commentators is that the southern states are somehow more evolved because they have contained (so far) the BJP’s expansionist impulse.

Congress leaders Rahul gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge (ANI) PREMIUM
Congress leaders Rahul gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge (ANI)

Since the election results, there has been a persistent whisper from some Congress leaders and many of their supporters about a North-South divide that may explain the BJP’s handsome dominance of the Hindi heartland. They do not intend this as an academic analysis of why some regions in the country vote the way they do or even a study of varying socio-economic indices. They mean it as a moral judgment of the voter. The subtext implied by these commentators is that the southern states are somehow more evolved because they have contained (so far) the BJP’s expansionist impulse.

Quite apart from the fact that the BJP swept the Karnataka Lok Sabha elections in 2019, taking 25 of the 28 seats and doubled its vote share in Telangana in these polls; for the Congress to be supercilious towards voters and patronise them for their choices is hardly going to endear the party to them the next time. Besides, the response is anti-democratic. It reminded me of the time that Hillary Clinton made the mistake of calling “half of Trump’s supporters… a basket of deplorables”. You can lash out at your opponent all you want; you cannot — and must not — attack the citizen for making a free choice however much you may disagree with her preference.

The other terrible mistake Congress leaders, especially in Madhya Pradesh, are making is to challenge the electronic voting machines (EVMs), while simultaneously making the argument that the party has polled more votes than the BJP if you include all five states. Apart from sounding like sore losers, surely you can’t cherry-pick an argument about supposed malpractice without being self-aware of the inherent contradiction. The argument has unfortunately persisted with the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Congress tweeting it out. It may assuage a section of the base but it will not win any credibility with new would-be Congress voters.

A deep dive into the data shows how tightly fought and narrowly won many of the contests were. Thirty-two of the candidates in Rajasthan (from both parties) won their seats with a margin of less than 2% votes, according to Centre for Policy Research’s data analysis. Some candidates have won by just a few hundred votes. Again, staying with Rajasthan, Sanjay Kumar of CSDS points out that in 44 constituencies, independents polled higher than the victory margin of the BJP. In these seats, he underlines, the Congress was the runner-up. In other words, had the Congress focused on alliances with some regional parties, the outcome in these seats could have been different. Instead of focusing on these details and what they reveal, like the proverbial poor workman, the Congress leaders are focused on blaming the tools, the EVMs.

Congress supporters have emphasised how the vote share of the two parties is not dramatically apart. This is true. What is also true is that while the BJP has been able to successfully add anti-Congress votes to its kitty, the Congress has not been able to do the reverse. So, while the Congress vote share has remained stagnant, the BJP’s vote share has risen. What should worry the Congress is that communities it has typically assumed are partial to it have voted for the BJP in greater numbers. This applies to both Scheduled Tribe seats and Scheduled Caste seats. In 98 reserved seats across four states (excluding Mizoram), the BJP took 57 of the wins compared to the Congress’s 40. Of this, the Congress did best in SC seats in Telangana. In other states, the BJP has made significant gains among both tribal and Dalit social groups.

Thus, while the BJP has been able to grow beyond its traditional voters, the Congress is limited to the already converted. Its post-poll huddle should reflect on the reasons for this. Attacking the PM personally also did not help. — “panauti” used by Rahul Gandhi for PM Modi’s meeting with the cricket team is the “Chowkidar Chor Hai” mistake of this election. The fixation on the Adani issue is the Rafale of this election, a subject too dry and technical to emotionally move the individual voter into changing her option. Of course, the dissonance between the attacks on Adani by the party leadership and the state Congress leaders who have welcomed his investment in their backyards is also evident.

The Congress put up a spirited fight. But on leadership, narrative and organisation it is yet to find an effective, clear-headed or imaginative counter to Moditva. It has defined its politics entirely vis-à-vis and against Modi, a policy with diminishing returns for its negativity and failure to woo the aspirational Indian. It is fighting — and losing — on Modi’s terms.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author. The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Barkha Dutt is consulting editor, NDTV, and founding member, Ideas Collective. She tweets as @BDUTT.

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