File photo of PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Photograph:( Reuters )
Recent developments have revived its prospects of a return in the coming general election. Congress needs to do better.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress are different in many ways. But one striking difference is the manner in which these parties react to electoral outcomes. In victory, the BJP turns its attention to the next challenge instead of spending too much time basking in glory. The Congress exults so much that it loses sight of the new obstacles ahead. Following a setback, the BJP quickly rethinks its strategy, even going to the extent of casting away earlier narratives. Congress, on the other hand, sinks into despair and nearly loses the ability to emerge from the crisis.
Let us consider a few instances. Late last year, the BJP lost three important north Indian states which it had ruled. Stung by the result, it swung into action to summon whatever leverage it had to reach out to allies it had antagonised earlier. It kept aside past acrimony with the Shiv Sena, even the latter’s open criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and saved the partnership which was as good as dead. It’s a fact that Shiv Sena too saw merit in burying the past in its own interest, but had the BJP not demonstrated a desire to let bygones be bygones, the Shiv Sena would have kept its promise of going it alone in the Lok Sabha elections. Ideological similarities, which was cited by both parties to justify the alliance, would not have come in the way of a parting of ways. Now, suddenly, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, which were salivating at the prospect of the Sena and the BJP contesting against each other, are on the back foot.
In the south, the BJP moved swiftly to forge an alliance with the AIADMK and the PMK. There is speculation that the DMDK too will join the coalition. The BJP’s speed took many by surprise, given that it happened before even the Congress and the DMK, who have been virtually together for a long time, could formally announce their partnership. Nobody is predicting that the BJP-AIADMK combine will trounce the Congress-DMK, but at least there may not be a one-sided contest.
In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP faces a formidable opponent in the SP-BSP coalition, the party has sought to placate disgruntled regional allies, and there are prospects that the outreach will bear fruit. Neither the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party OP Rajbhar nor the Apna Dal (Sonelal) of Anupriya Patel, whom the senior leadership of the BJP has moved to retain in the NDA fold, has real chances if it goes with the Congress.
Now contrast the Congress’s reaction after its victory in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It is so confident (over-confident) that it spurned repeated attempts by the Aam Aadmi Party for an alliance in Delhi. The party’s Delhi unit under the leadership of Sheila Dikshit put its foot down in opposing the partnership, despite the high command seemingly eager for the alliance. Both the Congress and the AAP realise that together they had a better chance to take on the BJP, yet personal animosity came in the way of an electoral understanding. The result is, most opinion polls are predicting a clean sweep for the BJP in the seven seats in Delhi.
Cussedness, apart, there is also tepidness in the Congress’s actions post the wins late last year. The party initially grabbed the headlines with the announcement of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra being made general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh. But after the impressive roadshow in Lucknow, nothing has been heard of her. The Congress, instead of helming a new narrative with Priyanka in the front seat, is back to its tired old Rafale lament and ‘Chowkidar is a thief’ refrain. To make matters worse for itself, it appears to have caught the wrong end of the stick on the air strikes the Indian Air Force has conducted deep inside Pakistan.
The BJP had followed the 2014 victory with a series of wins in state Assembly elections, including breaking the glass ceiling, so to say, in states such as Tripura and Assam. It recorded a massive win in Uttar Pradesh. Meanwhile, it renewed its alliance with the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and performed well enough in Karnataka, though it could not form the government there.
Whether in victory or defeat, the BJP has studiously concentrated on greenfield states — Odisha and West Bengal — where it is expected to perform well. The Congress, on the other hand, despite the booster shot it got recently, has failed to make any headway in either of the two states. In the first, it stands no chance, and in the second it depends on Mamata Banerjee to contain the BJP. Incidentally, unlike the BJP, the Congress had once upon a time ruled these states for long periods of time.
While it is not clear if the BJP has regained all of the ground it had lost in the past months, recent developments have revived its prospects of a return in the coming general election. Congress needs to do better if it hopes to oust the Modi regime.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)