Assembly polls: The inability to retain mandate haunts Congress
The Congress’s loss in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh this time is symptomatic of a bigger crisis facing the party.
New Delhi The Congress party will have just three chief ministers in the country after Sunday’s election results. India’s grand old party has lost two states where it was in power, namely Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and managed to wrest Telangana from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi. The Congress’s loss in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh this time is symptomatic of a bigger crisis facing the party — its inability to consolidate and retain mandates in states where it manages to win elections.
An HT analysis of states and Union territories with legislative assemblies and more than two Lok Sabha constituencies – this excludes the North-East states except Assam, and Puducherry and Goa – shows that the Congress has not been able to return to power in any of these states or UTs even once since it lost power at the centre in 2014.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, has retained six state governments including Madhya Pradesh since 2014. This one statistic underlines, and perhaps explains, the Congress party’s inability to translate state-level victories into national-level gains. As soon as Congress gains power at the level of a state, it perhaps, also begins the process of destroying the credibility of the mandate it has earned.
In fact, in two states, Karnataka in 2018 and Madhya Pradesh later that same year, elected Congress governments could not last even one term -- the first one lasted 14months and the second 15months -- due to a lack of cohesion within the party or the party and its allies. To be sure, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s success at being able to wean away Congressmen or allies is also a factor.
Things were always not so bad for the Congress. An HT analysis of state election results between 1990 – this is when the first BJP chief minister was elected, in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh– and 2014 shows that the Congress managed to retain power in state elections nine times. It was actually ahead of the BJP on this count between 1990 and 2014; the latter managed to do this only in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In the post-2014 period, however, the Congress has the worst record in retaining power when compared not just to the BJP, but also regional parties.
Since 2014, many analyses, including in these pages, have noted the national level disadvantage the Congress has vis-à-vis the BJP.
The Congress’s Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh losses in this election cycle, when seen in the context of the party’s inability to retain state governments since 2014, shows that it needs to figure out its problem at the state level first to get even close to the national level problem.